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09 June 2021

In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech in which he said: ‘There is a Chinese curse which says 'May he live in interesting times'’.
Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. Poor old Bobby didn't know just how darkly ‘interesting’ and dangerous the times would get. Tragically, he was assassinated just two years after he spoke those words.
But in 2021, more than half a century later, much of what he said applies to our times.
To see just how ‘interesting’ the times are getting, you need only read the editorials of the Global Times newspaper, long considered to be a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Government.
A recent editorial thundered that if Australia were to join a US effort to protect Taiwan from an invasion by China, then China should consider ‘long-range strikes’ against us.
‘Australia must know what disasters it would cause to their country,’ the editorial stated.
In the Middle East we have seen deep tensions break into outright warfare once more.
This means two things: a tragic human cost for the Israelis and Palestinians and a financial cost at the bowser for consumers everywhere else.
And even as we emerge from COVID and hopefully put the worst of the pandemic behind us, we are reminded by our grounded jumbo jets, and unvisited loved ones overseas, that when the chips are down we are an island nation on our own.
I do not mean to paint a picture of doom and gloom or to make readers sullen and depressed at the state of the world.
The men and women of this country are up to most any challenge the fates can throw at us. And so I am an Australian optimist who is optimistic about Australia.
Which is why I have for so long fervently advocated for a national fuel reserve.
I have been a believer in this vital undertaking for years but the advent of these interesting times make it more pressing than ever.
Boosting Australia's fuel stocks is an important national security measure that will also protect our economy from global disruptions.
Australia used to be a net exporter of oil, but as we've become more reliant on the global fuel market we've also become more vulnerable to international risks and uncertainty.
The simple answer is that to increase our national fuel security, we need to increase our national fuel stocks.
I believe in this approach so much I took it to the last election.
The Liberals refused to match it, saying it would be too expensive. When we didn't get the chocolates and the Morrison Government was re-elected, they came up with their own version of my fuel reserve.
They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
But the knock off version here was so bad I didn't feel very flattered.
The major hitch with the $94m Liberal fuel plan announced by Angus Taylor in April last year was that the ‘Australian fuel reserve’ would be based in the US for at least 10 years. That's not very Australian.
If a pandemic or regional unrest cuts off supply lines from overseas the Liberal "fuel reserve" would be about as useful as a concrete parachute.
In June the Libs made vague gestures towards expanding domestic fuel reserves but any advances in this direction have been ad hoc and incremental.
By contrast, my vision was not just for local fuel reserves but also a National Strategic Fleet to secure our access to fuel supplies, particularly in times of global instability.
Our leader Anthony Albanese worked on our shipping policy and I was proud of the final result.
Over time, we would have built up a decent-sized fleet that could include oil tankers, container ships and gas carriers.
The need for a genuine national fuel reserve was strong when we had four domestic refineries. But eight years of neglect by Liberal Governments means that in just four months that number has been slashed in half - we have two remaining refineries.
Scott Morrison is suddenly making noises like he cares about these things.
Well it would have been nice if he had done the right thing and backed our policies before the election - before ExxonMobil announced it was closing the Altona refinery and BP announced the closing of Kwinana.
We may be an island nation largely on our own (albeit with a few good friends in the neighbourhood.) But that should just focus our attention and energy on the fact that if things get ‘interesting’ no one will be wanting to race to our rescue as much as ourselves.
A significant domestic fuel reserve is, in my view, an idea whose time has come.
A significant domestic fuel reserve is an idea whose time has come.
This was first published in The West Australian on Wednesday, 9 June 2021.