Who is the voice of Australia's oil and gas industry propaganda?

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(Image via angelabeachsilverthorne.blogspot.com.au)

Dr Norm Sanders analyses a recent edition of The Australian newspaper dedicated almost exclusively to fossil fuel industry propaganda. 

THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper has an undeniable affinity with the fossil fuel industry. 

This was never more apparent than on Friday, 28 April 2017. Stories, editorials and columnists about the gas "crisis" ranged from the front page all the way to the business section, stopping only at the footy pages.

The thrust was always the same: stop the restrictions on coal seam gas production and give the petroleum industry unrestricted access to the entire country. 

On 27 April, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) released a press release entitled, 'Gas export controls no substitute for genuine reform', with an angry red 'Urgent, PRIORITY' stamp at the top.

APPEA Chief Executive Malcolm Roberts stated:

The main obstacle to developing more supply has been the opposition of some State governments.

Queensland and South Australia have shown the political courage and economic common sense to support gas production.

But government failure in New South Wales and Victoria has prevented projects that could have averted the current market conditions. The current moratorium in the Northern Territory is also preventing the development of new gas supplies.

It is bizarre that State governments which ban or frustrate gas projects should also be complaining about tight gas supply and higher prices.

As the Business Council of Australia joined forces with APPEA, Murdoch's minions scurried to their keyboards. The next morning, The Australian's front page carried the headline, 'States lock away 200 years of gas supply: say business leaders'.

This was basically a cut and paste of industry press releases:

'Business leaders have lashed the States for locking up up a potential 200 years of gas supply through development restrictions, sparking a crisis which threatens 65,000 jobs...'

There was no mention of the fact that the crisis was caused by shipping so much gas overseas, or an explanation of how the 65,000 job number was derived.  

It was the Turnbull Government's “unprecedented” move to give the Federal Government the power to curb exports that so annoyed the industry.

The article stated:

The intervention sparked a furious response from the energy sector, which warned the new federal powers to restrict gas exports could create sovereign risk and jeopardise future investment.

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association Chief Executive Malcolm Roberts warned the government intervention might be counterproductive. 

"At a time when we need billions in new investment to create more gas supply, any intervention that creates sovereign risk is alarming," Mr Roberts said.

The article continues in this vein, which smacks more of a scare campaign than objective journalism. At the end of the first-page diatribe is a handy guide to more of the same, on pages 4, 14, 15 and 19.

Page 4 is dripping with dire warnings of doom under the glaring banner: 'THE NATION GAS CRISIS'

One headline by David Crowe reads:

'Permanent cap unless there's a change of tune.'

And continues with: 

'A lasting solution to the gas shortage will be impossible without a political settlement on gas production.'

'Prices soar as CSG bans leave vast reserves untapped', wrote Anthony Klan — who was obviously not exhausted by his page 1 effort:

The Victorian and NSW governments have locked up enough coal seam gas to potentially keep the east coast of Australia in gas for the next 200 years.

Victorian bans and moratoriums in NSW – almost entirely in response to concerns over coal seam gas extraction, which accounts for over 90% of onshore gas production – have drawn criticism from industry which claims they are unfairly causing gas prices to surge.

Again, no mention of gas exports.

'We'll still pay fees three times higher ... ' asserts Matt Chambers. Chambers gives a good analysis of gas pricing but then inserts the mandatory APPEA line: 

'For the effects [of gas diversion from export] to last, more supply needs to be developed. Removal of state-based restrictions, particularly in NSW and the Northern Territory, which have more known, undeveloped onshore resources would help.'

A few pages later comes the editorial. No surprises here. 

Under the headline, 'THE AUSTRALIAN, FOR THE INFORMED AUSTRALIAN', is the strap:

'States deserve business and public wrath over gas, Australia's energy debacle threatens jobs and quality of life.'

The article continues:

At most, market intervention to limit exports can be no more than a short-term measure while the main problem — supply constraints arising from bad state government policies is addressed. Development bans that have locked up about 200 years of gas must be overturned. The NSW Government which has banned the exploration and production of coal seam gas, and the Victorian government which has also banned conventional gas exploration, deserve the wrath of consumers and business groups for caving in to green groups' hysteria and media scare campaigns.

Then there was 'States urged to ease gas curbs', by Andrew White and, again, Matt Chambers:

'State and Territory governments need to recognise their important role in gas supply and urgently assess moratoria which are also constraining supply and urgently reassess moratoria which are also constraining supply and threatening thousands of Australian jobs.'

Veteran economics writer Robert Gottliebsen got the last word on page 31:

'Crisis averted, now force states to open gas fields.... Longer term we must get more gas. Fortunately, there is plenty of gas in Victoria and NSW and the next step should be to punish those state governments for their disregard of the interests of their populations. But more urgently, the nation must force the states to recognise the power crisis they have created and then do something about it quickly.

APPEA and The Australian apparently don't believe in democracy.  

None of these articles and commentaries made any mention of the environmental impact, destruction of farming land and other consequences of coal seam gas operations.   

APPEA calls itself 'The Voice of Australia's Oil and Gas Industry'. Actually, that role has been taken over by The Australian.

Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein said at the recent Whitehouse Correspondents' Dinner:

"Our job is to find the best obtainable version of the truth and put it out there. Period.” 

The Australian obviously has a different job description for its employees.

Dr Norm Sanders is a former academic, TV journalist, Tasmanian MP and Australian Federal senator. 

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