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16 March 2022

On January 1, 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin cut off all gas supplies passing through Ukraine territory over a supply and pricing dispute.

It was a key moment in Russia's use of its energy supplies as a "strong arm tactic" against its rivals.

At the time, US Russia expert Dr Fiona Hill wrote about the risk of Russia being the world's major fuel supplier, in an interview with the Brookings Institution, a US non-profit think tank.

Dr Hill, who has advised three US presidents on Russia and is now considered a world authority on Putin, at the time said the real worry about Russia's place as an energy power was whether the country "really sees oil and gas in particular as a commercial enterprise or whether it's going to be purely a tool for political manipulation".

We now know the latter was true.

I have been watching the crisis (now war) in Ukraine closely for a long time. I have the deepest sympathies for our Ukrainian sisters and brothers and believe we should do as much as we can to help them, as much for their human rights as for world democracy to hold strong.

In response to Russia's unlawful invasion of its neighbour Ukraine, Western nations have boycotted Russia's energy resources, causing global oil and gas prices to surge.

It's critical to remember, petrol prices were already on the way up before the Russians invaded Ukraine and Prime Minister Scott Morrison shouldn't pretend otherwise.

But I have long been concerned that, though this new war seems a million miles away for most of us, the inevitable sanctions on Russia would have a direct impact for Australians in the form of rising energy prices.

We are three weeks into this unholy war and Australian petrol prices have skyrocketed to well above $2 a litre.

According to the WA Government's Fuel Watch website, the average price of unleaded petrol in WA on Tuesday was $2.07. In March 2021, it was $1.37.

In some parts of Australia, the price of unleaded petrol has already rocketed to $2.50 and in Melbourne and Sydney the cost is pushing $2.20 a litre at most servos.

We are all experiencing price shock at the bowser. Coupled with stagnant wage growth and rising inflation, Australian household budgets are being stretched.

It's no wonder Australians are increasingly worried about their pay packets and the pandemic recovery because the costs of essentials such as petrol, rent and child care are shooting up, while their real wages keep falling.

To ease the pressure, if elected, Labor has pledged to get power bills down, make child care cheaper, and get wages growing properly again.

While we have no control over what's happening on the other side of the world, on the home front there has also been abundant opportunity to protect and future-proof our own interests.

Scott Morrison has missed every chance.

Australia needs an oil reserve. We needed a merchant fleet to protect our nation's interests. And we need to invest in electric cars.

Under this Government, half of Australia's oil refineries have shut down and our emergency fuel is stored in the US, far away from where it is needed most.

In fact, we still don't have enough fuel on Australian soil to meet the International Energy Agency 90-day stockpiling commitment.

Labor took a comprehensive fuel reserve policy to the 2019 election that would have boosted our emergency reserves.

At the upcoming election, Labor leader Anthony Albanese has pledged to rebuild an independent strategic fleet to secure our ongoing access to fuel supplies and other essential imports.

Labor will also make electric cars cheaper for Australians, with an electric car discount, spending $200 million over three years, as well as implementing Australia's first national electric vehicle strategy.

Scott Morrison is also being asked to consider cutting the fuel excise, which currently stands at 44.2 a litre.

Anthony Albanese is being rightly prudent in waiting for the Federal Budget to be handed down on March 29 before he makes any comments about the fuel excise.

We have had three years of Scott Morrison telling us he knows best but he needs some new clothes and a new story.

On a final note, protecting Australia's interest is paramount for our nation in these tumultuous times.

Dr Hill, mentioned above, has come to prominence more widely in recent weeks for providing incomparable expertise on Putin and his tyrannical regime.

She has spent decades advising American presidents on Russia, even staying on board when President Donald Trump entered the White House with his pro-Putin ideology. She has done this quietly and with one goal, to keep America and the world safe.

Another true patriot and citizen of the world is my dear friend and Labor colleague Senator Kimberley Kitching, who devastatingly passed away last week at age 52.

The Australian spirit was alive in Kimberley and democracy was embedded in her soul.

She was a tactical genius who was able to set out the most complex of cases for laws that would protect Australia from the worst of the world's villains.

Kimberley was a quiet hero who deserves a loud send-off.

Up until her very last hour she was fighting the good fight to ensure our country was safe.

Vale Kimberley.


This was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday, 16 MARCH 2022.