‘Australia could barely last nineteen days in a crisis’, is the damning assessment of experts looking into the country’s current system of fuel reserves.
The debate over Australia’s strategic fuel reserves has been brought to the public forefront by retired Major-General Jim Molan. The former senior army officer, who served as a senior operations officer for coalition forces during the Iraq campaign, is soon to take up a seat in the federal parliament after being appointed to the Senate following the ongoing citizenship saga.
In a clear warning to the government and defence officials Molan advised that Australia was “almost unique throughout the world in [not having] a government-mandated strategic reserve of fuel”, emphasising that “you can have all the fantastic equipment this government is building and buying, but if you haven’t got fuel … for them, then we’ve got a discontinuity at the centre of our strategy.”
The issue of fuel reserves has been lurking in the background for the last few years in Australian politics following the decommissioning of the country’s last oil refineries which have made Australia solely reliant on imported fuel.
Writing in 2015, shortly after the last refineries were decommissioned, former RAAF Air Vice Marshal John Blackburn identified that the existing system of fuel reserves would barely last weeks before being depleted should Australia’s sea lines be blocked through terrorism, natural disaster or an outbreak of conflict in areas like the South China Sea.
This assessment has been supported by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s senior analyst Dr Malcolm Davis who said Molan’s warning was “absolutely true” and highlighted the risks posed when Australia does not take its energy security seriously.
Speaking to news.com.au Davis warned Australia’s fuel reserves would last “twenty days at best” if supplies were cut off, creating a “Mad Max world” where the economy and society would struggle to run as normal.
“It’s like electricity — everything depends on fuel to make an economy run. It is very serious,” Davis stated warning that Australia was now in a “perilous situation” following negligence from governments on both sides.
“Military analysts have been warning consistently for years and they just ignore it,” he concluded.
Rejecting Molan’s warning, junior industry minister Craig Laundy MP advised the press that the situation was under control and that the soon-to-be Senator would be brought up to speed on the government’s measures by the defence minister once sworn in.
The potential risks of Australia’s dependence on fuel imports, particularly with threats to shipping lanes in the South China Sea, were identified in the 2016 Defence White Paper.
In response the Royal Australian Navy undertook Exercise Indo-Pacific Endeavour last year, deploying its largest naval task force in years to bolster regional security cooperation around crucial shipping lanes.