Power asks committee to ignore leaked report

NATIONAL COVID-19 Coordination Commission chair and Strike Energy director Neville Power appeared before a Select Senate Committee this morning where he was grilled on the Commission’s makeup and its potential conflicts of interest.
Power asks committee to ignore leaked report Power asks committee to ignore leaked report Power asks committee to ignore leaked report Power asks committee to ignore leaked report Power asks committee to ignore leaked report

Gas the “most accessible and cost effective” way to firm

Mark Tilly

Journalist

 

The industry-heavy makeup of the commission, established in March to help oversee the coordination of non-health resources during the pandemic, has come under scrutiny particularly given the government's rhetoric around a post-COVID gas-fired economy.

"I'm very aware of the need to remove all perceived conflicts of interest - I've not attended a board meeting of Strike Energy since I joined the commission and have not voted on any operational or strategic matters and will not while I'm at the NCCC," Power said in his opening remarks.  

Last month a leaked draft report from the Commission outlined proposals including the government underwriting gas exploration, alongside more transparency around gas prices and Henry Hub level pricing, underwriting offtake agreements as well as a west-east coast gas pipeline. 

Despite the pipeline being long being regarded as one of Power's pet projects while he was at Fortescue Metals Group, he told senators they should disregard the proposals in the leaked report, given they had not been finalised. 

Labor senator Katy Gallagher asked Power if he believed it was a coincidence that he was appointed as chair the same week as federal energy minister Angus Taylor was spruiking a gas-fired recovery, to which Power responded saying the task force looking into job creation had consulted with over 1000 stakeholders across a range of different industries. 

"I'm not aware of any government request to provide reports on a gas-fired recovery, the work was done independently, and the taskforce has a wide membership and a range of consultants," he said. 

Greens senator Rachael Siewert asked Power if the taskforce had looked into bioenergy, referring to the work underway to expand bioenergy networks in Europe.

Power said he was not aware of the specific energy sources the taskforce considered and that it was not a broad review of energy technologies in the longer term. 

"The brief we gave the taskforce was to find the results needed to generate jobs now as quickly as possible, so we did not get into longer term technology development," he said. 

Power said the taskforce had referred to research by Australian chief scientist Alan Finkel in its recommendation that gas be used to firm up renewables as well as hydrogen, given it was the most cost effective and reliable way to do so. 

"Renewable hydrogen is relatively expensive compared to gas, so we could produce hydrogen into the form of ammonia and transition to green hydrogen when it becomes viable but some of these are still some decades away from being commercially viable," he said. 

Independent senator Jacquie Lambie asked Power if he could guarantee if any member of the commission would stand to benefit from its recommendations, once they were finalised. 

"I can't do that, senator," he said.

"I don't know what their individual circumstances are and it depends on what happens.

He repeatedly claimed the benefits of more gas would be widespread. 

"Gas is an intrinsic feedstock for a lot of manufacturing, there is a huge number of people that will benefit from lower east coast gas prices," he said, adding that it would not be in the interest of many gas companies to have lower prices. 

Power was also grilled on his generous salary of A$267,000 per annum, along with an extra A$72,000 per annum for his personal assistant, with the committee hearing the entire Commission would cost roughly $5 million across this and next financial year, with the funding coming from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. 

Power has been appointed to chair the committee for six months and said the government had not asked him to stay on at this stage. 

Progressive activist group GetUp! and Greenpeace are calling for the Commission to be abolished describing it as "unelected and undemocratic", while the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility described the industry's behaviour as part of the Commission ‘predatory'. 

 





 

 

 

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