20 May 2021

How good is smiling for the cameras outside a Queensland fuel refinery when 600 devastated workers at the BP refinery in Kwinana are still in shock at losing their jobs just a couple of months ago?

How good is smiling for the cameras outside a Queensland fuel refinery when 600 devastated workers at the BP refinery in Kwinana are still in shock at losing their jobs just a couple of months ago?

Images this week of a beaming Scott Morrison at a refinery in Brisbane, going the full thumbs-up alongside the workers he was motivated enough to save, serve as a reminder to West Australians that we do not count in the Prime Minister's political calculations.

The announcement of a $2 billion rescue package for Australia's two remaining fuel refineries - one in Brisbane and one in Geelong - is most welcome.

But it's a stark reminder of just how willing Mr Morrison is to leave many workers behind while he tries to shore up support on the east coast.

I was disgusted to see our smiling Prime Minister taking credit for saving jobs while clearly not giving a second thought for the 600 skilled workers and their families who derived their livelihoods from the Kwinana fuel refinery, in my Federal electorate of Brand.

Then there are the 300 refinery workers at the Altona refinery in Melbourne who were also abandoned by a Federal Government that simply does not care.

Before BP announced the closure of its Kwinana refinery after 65 years of operations, it had been sending out warning signs that closure was imminent unless it received assistance.

The media had been speculating for months about the closure of refineries before the hammer came down on Kwinana. Where was this Government when the Kwinana refinery was in trouble?

And where were Western Australia's Federal Liberals in all of this? Why weren't they fighting for the fuel security of Western Australia?

East-coast backbenchers lobbied the Prime Minister and the Minister for Energy to get this important $2 billion support package for their refineries.

But there was barely a murmur of protest or even disappointment from our local Liberals as they all waved goodbye to the capacity of Western Australia to maintain independent fuel refining capacity and therefore our fuel security.

The Kwinana refinery was the largest refinery in the country, and arguably the most efficient. Something worth saving, you would have thought.

When it was built by BP in the 1950s, the Kwinana refinery was the largest international investment ever made in the nation.

It formed the cornerstone of the Kwinana industrial area that grew around it, and which has continuously been at the heart of WA's economic development.

Today the legacy of the Kwinana refinery is the creation of a world-leading example of industrial symbiosis where businesses exchange by-products, water and energy rather than discard them.

The Kwinana industrial strip is now home to facilities that will produce the ingredients to make batteries around the globe and help the world achieve net zero emissions.

My father worked at BP from the start, in the laboratory on night shift for years, to give our family a good life. Until it closed, this had been the story for so many workers and their families in my local community.

The Prime Minister declared this week that maintaining Australia's refining capacity was a matter of economic and national security.

But in choosing to back refining capacity only in Brisbane and Geelong, Mr Morrison is choosing to maintain the economic and national security of just the east coast.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor has said Australia must have sovereign refining capability.

The penny must have finally dropped for the minister.

Unfortunately, it's too late for the sovereign refining capacity of the State that drives the national economy with its vast mining and agriculture industries that require fuel to operate.

The fuel security for the industry that underpins the Australian economy has been entirely cut adrift.

The question must be asked: how does Mr Morrison's $2 billion fuel security package help Western Australia?

When a plane lands in Perth from Sydney, it's out of gas. We used to refuel it from avgas refined at Kwinana. Now it will be imported from Singapore, and travel along the pipelines that used to carry locally refined aviation fuel.

And in the event of a crisis in WA, how would refined fuel get across the Nullarbor? Does the Government plan to truck it across and then up to the Pilbara in a crisis? Don't bet on it.

My money is on all that fuel staying exactly where it is supporting the needs of the east-coast cities, towns and industries.

That is a positive result for them, but we all know this latest vote-grabber will do nothing to help Western Australia.

And that is because Scott Morrison's first priority is saving his own political skin.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Thursday, 20 May 2021.