Great Gippsland gas debate

Photo: Tom Parry

NATIONALS MP Melina Bath in state parliament recently put on notice for debate a motion to overturn the state government’s ban on new gas connections in Victoria.

Ms Bath said many Victorian homes are reliant on gas for heating and cooking and described the ban as a short-sighted and misguided policy.

“It is deceitful for Labor to pedal misinformation about Victoria’s gas supply in an attempt to justify its ideological agenda”, said Ms Bath.

“The Andrews Government should not dictate how Victorians cook their meals or heat their homes. Around 80 per cent of Victorian homes are connected to gas, new homes buyers should not be punished for Labor’s flawed agenda.

“Removing choice will only serve to push up electricity prices and send gas appliance manufacturers bankrupt.”

The state government recently announced that on 1 January 2024, planning permits for new homes and residential subdivisions will only connect to all electric networks, with houses taking advantage of more efficient, cheaper and cleaner electric appliances.

These changes will apply to all new homes requiring a planning permit, including new public and social housing delivered by Homes Victoria.

Commencing immediately, all new public buildings that haven’t reached design stage will also be all-electric. This includes schools, hospitals, police stations and other government-owned buildings.

Minister for Energy and Resources Lily D’Ambrosio said the government was stepping in to get Victorians “the best deal” on their energy bills.

“We know that with every bill that arrives, gas is only going to get more expensive,” she said.

Minister for Planning Sonya Kilkenny said all-electric homes are healthier, cleaner and cheaper to run.

“Going all-electric ensures Victorians building a new home are part of this exciting energy transition,” she said.

The government’s announcement was welcomed by groups such as Healthy Futures, Master Builders Victoria, the Energy Efficiency Council, Property Council, Asthma Australia, Environment Victoria and Australian College of GPs.

Master Builders Victoria chief executive Michaela Lihou says consumers and builders can each play a part in a cleaner and more sustainable future.

“By embracing cleaner energy alternatives, we can collectively make a positive impact on the environment while also ensuring economic growth and progress for our state,” she said.

Master Plumbers chief executive Peter Daly was concerned about the policy’s lack of consultation.

“For the government to drop an announcement like this without any substantive consultation is disappointing but unfortunately not surprising,” he said.

The Victorian Greens welcomed the move, but said it would be undermined by the government backing coal and gas projects in the state.

“But it is strange that Labor acknowledges gas is an expensive, polluting fossil fuel on the one hand, while on the other hand is changing the law to make it easier to open new mines and is approving new gas drilling across the state, including near the 12 Apostles,” Deputy Greens leader Ellen Sandell said.

Last week, New South Wales Premier Chris Minns declared that his government won’t be following Victoria and ban new gas connections because it “doesn’t need another complication” with its energy supply mix.

In response, Ms Bath said the energy mix in Victoria is far from stable and gas plays a critical role keeping the lights on, with Gippsland and Otway Basins a vast source of natural onshore gas.

“Renewable energy technology is in its infancy in our state and will not be a reliable or dominant power source for decades. Infrastructure and investment in renewables is presently not sufficiently advanced to justify Labor’s ban on new connections,” she said.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien, said his electorate is the source of 90 per cent of the state’s gas.

“As the local MP who represents our hard-working oil and gas industry workers who help keep Victorians warm and increasingly help keep the lights on, this decision is another slap for our Gippsland region,” Mr O’Brien said.

Mr O’Brien says he considers the decision premature given uncertainty over gas reticulation and the prospect of a longer-term switch to hydrogen.

“We know the gas in Bass Strait is running down and new gas is getting harder to find and is often more expensive, but we also know there are also potential future opportunities in hydrogen, including producing it here in Gippsland. I know other countries are trialling switching from natural gas to hydrogen for heating and domestic use.

“It would be foolish for any government to start winding back the use of gas or forcing people off it when we may need the reticulation system for a future hydrogen economy.”

Mr O’Brien said Bass Strait gas workers will be supplying the state and the east coast for some time.

“It’s extraordinarily hypocritical of the government to claim that gas is running out and the price going up when that is the result, at least in part, of this same government’s prohibitions on gas exploration and production,” he said.