Governments hiding information that we taxpayers have paid to produce is nothing new. It is practiced by both sides of politics, and was one of the issues that sometimes brought me to grief as a public affairs officer in Canberra. The other side of the coin, throwing publications at people who haven’t asked for them, was another all too frequent waste of money.
But the expose by Piers Akerman in the Daily Telegraph (January 20) on the disappearance of a report documenting the coming shortage of oil in Australia reveals that the government has gone beyond peccadillo and is operating in the realm of serious public disempowerment.
I will leave it to readers to query why the government report from 2009 is no longer publicly available, and to thank Akerman for this service to journalism. The paper shos how oil production will decline, with little time to prepare, with obvious implications for our economy and security.
For the sceptical, and thanks to our active and vigilent civil society, the report can be found on the Australian Institute of Energy website: http://aie.org.au/StaticContent/Images/Report_120106.pdf
Not good enough in a democracy.
Other government reports that are still publicly available soft pedal peak oil and the coming tipping point towards expensive liquid fuels. For example, an urban planning discussion paper last year only gently referred to the need to insulate our cities from óil shocks’, without acknowledging the tremendous impact this will have on urban jobs and viability, or the need to urgently improve public transport. I know, because I helped draft a submission for the peak oil group in Canberra on this.
Even more disturbing is the government’s Draft Energy White Paper. Because it is a long document, 325 pages, and I would rather pull weeds in the local community garden than read through that guff, I used my standard lazy approach: search the pdf file for all instances of the term ‘peak oil’. There was only one mention on page 65, and that was in brackets with quotes around it, as if to emphasise that this is fringe dweller’s terminology.
I found this absence rather bizarre, so I skimmed through the exec summary. No mention that oil production anywhere has peaked, only a few polite phrases about Australia’s production capacity possibly being constrained in the future, and other oblique hints that they know full well what the score is, but prefer to head off in another direction that will bring in good revenue perhaps.
Then I looked at the list of energy publications in the Energy White Paper, Appendix F. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, who produced the 2009 report, is not listed, even under a previous name. Others departments and organisations are listed, where one might find the Truth. But for clarity, consistency, evidence based policy making and accountability, surely citizens need to know what the government knows but wants to keep quiet. There is no divine right of government.
It is hard to understand such a blinkered and stubborn persistence to delay reality, as the rest of the world is awash not in oil, but in reports confirming that supplies will not be able to meet demand. The reference to peak oil on page 65 of the energy white paper said supplies aren’t expected to peak before 2035, whereas Fatih Birol, chief economist for the International Energy Agency, has been quoted saying crude oil production probably happened in 2006.
It is like paramedics chatting about what size bandaid to use while a patient is bleeding to death.
But there are other sources of information, and I recommend to you the upcoming Australian tour by Nicole Foss, energy and finance expert. She is not in denial of peak oil and has some plausible observations on what it might mean. It ain’t pretty, but avoiding action to deal with the inevitable, as our government seems to be doing, is not a good plan.
I would prefer to receive realistic information from the people I pay to plan for our country’s future, rather than read unctuous platitudes based on wishful thinking. Sometimes you just want to get the grease off your hands to rid yourself of the feeling of being played for a patsy.