With the Government expected to release its latest Defence White Paper on Thursday, an adviser to the country’s largest motorist association hopes tensions in the South China Sea have forced a re-think of where Australia gets its fuel.
Retired Air Vice Marshall John Blackburn said Australia’s food, water and medicine distribution was entirely reliant on transport fuel and the supply operated on a “just in time” philosophy for the sake of logistical efficiency.
Mr Blackburn, who is commissioned by the National Roads and Motorists’ Association (NRMA) to provide consultancy and strategic advice on Australia’s fuel security, said this unerring drive for market efficiency had led to four of the country’s seven oil refineries closing down in three years.
“We’re heading towards 100 per cent import dependency,” Ret. Air Vice Marshall Blackburn said.
“But when the British were passing 40 per cent import dependency, they said they had a national security concern.”
University of New South Wales Professor of International Security Alan Dupont agreed that Australia’s growing dependency on imported fuel was “obviously a vulnerability”.
“We don’t have much in the way of refinery capacity in Australia right now and we don’t have much in the way of strategic stock piles,” he said.
“I think that dependency is only going to increase.”
The South China Sea is a shipping route through which a large proportion of Australia’s refined fuel is imported, including diesel, unleaded and jet fuel.
It is also emerging as a hot zone for potential conflict as China, the United States, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines become increasingly invested in territorial disputes over islands in international waters.
Mr Blackburn said a scenario of conflict in the region and how it would affect Australia’s fuel security was not considered in the Government’s National Security assessment, “upon which the Energy White Paper (EWP) bases its assessment,” Mr Blackburn said.
“The fundamental assumption they’ve made is because we haven’t had a problem in 30 years, we’re not going to have a problem.”
With last year’s EWP offering only brief discussion of the reliability of fuel imports, Mr Blackburn said he expected the Defence White Paper to look more “closely” at the issue.
H/ t reader kevin a.
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