Australia's 'energy crisis' could hurt regional manufacturing areas like the Hunter most: Business chamber

Labor Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon (left) and Weston Aluminium managing director Garbis Simonian.
Labor Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon (left) and Weston Aluminium managing director Garbis Simonian.

Australia’s manufacturing industry will die a “slow death” if the debate about the nation’s energy future doesn’t turn into action soon, a prominent Hunter business owner says.

Weston Aluminium managing director Garbis Simonian has joined Hunter Business Chamber and federal Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon in calling for the energy debate to make way for action.

They fear ongoing inaction will hurt businesses in regional areas like the Hunter.

“No-one will invest money. You will see a slow death of manufacturing in Australia,” Mr Simonian said. 

“A lot of companies, short-term, aren’t closing because they’ve already invested the money. But no-one is investing in new factories or new jobs.”

Mr Simonian’s company, in the Hunter’s coalfields, is a heavy gas and electricity user. He said his electricity costs would double from January – which meant he’s had to freeze wage increases and stop hiring staff.

Concern: Weston Aluminium managing director Garbis Simonian says ongoing debate about Australia's energy future is causing the "slow death" of manufacturing.

Concern: Weston Aluminium managing director Garbis Simonian says ongoing debate about Australia's energy future is causing the "slow death" of manufacturing.

“While this debate is going on and politicians are blaming each other, we are hurting,” he said.

“The federal and state governments have got to get their act together. Labor and Liberal have got to get their act together – sit down and be bipartisan over this.”

Mr Simonian spearheaded a campaign earlier this year for mining company Santos to transport gas via a proposed pipeline through the Hunter. However, Santos opted to stick with its existing deal to run gas through the Western Slopes Pipeline.

“Gas ticks all the boxes – you don’t have to invest a huge amount of money, you can place it wherever you need it close to markets, but also you can turn it on and off quickly,” Mr Simonian said.

“Gas is the future, so all this debate over Liddell is the wrong debate.”

Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said rising energy prices risked hitting regional areas with manufacturing industries, like the Hunter, the hardest.

Advocate: Labor Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon agrees that debate about Australia's energy future needs to turn into action - and gas is the answer.

Advocate: Labor Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon agrees that debate about Australia's energy future needs to turn into action - and gas is the answer.

He said the issue of Australia’s energy supply had reached “crisis point” and needed to be addressed.

“The looming energy crisis will significantly impact our region and reverse any progress governments have tried so hard to make in supporting regional growth,” Mr Hawes said.

“The federal government must stay firm in its commitment to ensure the delivery of affordable gas to businesses even if that means temporarily limiting gas exports.”

Much of the debate in recent weeks has revolved around plans to close the Liddell coal fired power station in the Upper Hunter by 2022.

The Turnbull government wants owner AGL to extend the life of the station by five years, but the energy provider does not want to commit to the extension.

AGL bosses told the company’s annual general meeting on Wednesday that it was considering a mix of gas-fired power, wind, solar and battery storage to make up for a 1000 mega watt shortfall before 2022.

Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who has previously spoken out as an advocate for gas as a transitional energy source, said he welcomed calls for greater urgency in addressing “the energy crisis which is already hurting households and manufacturers alike”.

"Malcolm Turnbull needs to and allow us to progress our plans to get gas to market and to develop new power generation in the Hunter,” he said.

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