Energy security experts have backed Liberal senator Jim Molan’s warning that Australia is at risk of running out of fuel within weeks and that military strikes on Syria should be a wake-up call to do something about it.
But all insist it is his own federal government that is dropping the ball when it comes to shoring up the nation’s fuel reserves.
US President Donald Trump ordered strikes last weekend targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities, in response to Mr Assad’s gas attacks on his own people.
Senator Molan, a former major general in the Australian Army, has been vocal this week about Australia’s unpreparedness for interruptions to its fuel supply.
Australia is a member of the International Energy Agency, which insists that countries have a 90-day reserve of fuel stocks.
Yet Australia does not maintain that level of reserve.
During a number of media interviews, Senator Molan said action had to be taken to remedy the dire conditions of the fuel reserve, adding that Australia only had enough for another 43 days.
With about 90 per cent of the nation’s motor fuels imported from the Middle East and processed through regional refineries, and 60 per cent of engine fuel used in Asia also coming from the Gulf, Australia could ill afford international conflicts disrupting supply.
But, he said, little was being done about the need for a contingency plan.
“We stand in real trouble and this is a single point of failure for Australia,” Senator Molan said.
“It happens because for too long we have taken a business-as-usual approach.
“The way that we seem to get around this is that we buy credits overseas which ignores the entire problem.”
Senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Malcolm Davis, said Senator Molan was correct in his statements.
“Yes, that’s accurate. The situation is pretty serious,” Dr Davis said.
“At best we have 43 days of reserve. That’s not back-up, we’re going through it now. We are going through these reserves as we sit here.
“The assumption is that more will flow in. But any disruption to that flow and we can go through those reserves pretty quickly. We could go through it in 20 days.”
Because so much of our personal and business activities depend on fossil fuel-based energy, life as we know it would change dramatically, Dr Davis said.
“It’s not just about filling the tank in your car. It’s about how society functions.”
Dr Davis describes what he terms a “Mad Max” scenario where the nation could come to a standstill then plummet into chaos as the energy source dries up.
“There would be blackout after blackout, then food runs out at supermarkets, hospitals close, industry shuts down – meaning people lose their jobs – people can’t get paid,” he said.
“Our society only works the way it does because we have that supply.”
But Dr Davis said the strikes on Syria last weekend had not plunged Australia closer to such a scenario.
It would depend on what caused the disruption, but a major event could turn his “Mad Max” theory into a reality.
“Syria hasn’t directly exacerbated it, but it sends a warning,” he said.
“Any international conflict has the potential to disrupt our supplies. Imagine that on Saturday, President Trump had chosen a more robust course of action and targeted Russia’s defence presence in Syria.
“Russia would have retaliated and it could have gone on escalating for weeks and our fuel supplies would be soon cut off.
“Similarly, any conflict in the South China Sea between China and Taiwan, or with the US involved even – this could really impact on our reserves extremely quickly.”
Dr Davis said the government has been “quite negligent” in not providing for the 90-day fuel reserve and in not building our own refining facilities.
Energy expert at Australian National University James Prest agreed that the Syria conflict should at the very least cause the government to rethink its energy strategy.
“It is a well-known fact that we have a limited number of days of liquid fuel security,” Dr Prest said.
“If Australia was moving towards more electric vehicles and more hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, this would increase our energy.
“It would cut us out to a degree of the international competition for oil.
“There is a complete lack of leadership from the federal government on this.”