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AWU National Secretary and AWU delegates led urgent talks in Canberra to safeguard thousands of jobs

December 8, 2020

The Australian Workers’ Union led urgent talks in Canberra this week bringing the Federal Government and the refining industry together to secure its future and safeguard thousands of jobs.

The AWU’s National Secretary Daniel Walton and delegates from Viva in Geelong and Ampol in Brisbane met with Federal Government Ministers, opposition spokespeople, independent MPs and industry CEOs to shore up support for an emergency package and a longer term plan to shore up fuel security.

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor is now expected to unveil new subsidies and legislation for the industry.

Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the AWU, said: “The AWU has been spelling out the need for greater government intervention for years. It may have come too late to save BP Kwinana but our politicians now seem to understand the significance that refineries have to our national and economic security and how difficult the operating environment has been.

“One of the biggest reasons for that is the current climate in which we are having these conversations and that is that the geopolitical debate which underpins the issues around fuel security is quite frankly running at the highest alert levels it has been in probably the best part of a decade.

“Relying on imports crossing the South China Sea is clearly something we cannot take for granted anymore.

“It’s nonsensical to think we could have a future where we have no domestic refining capability and have to entirely rely on imports.”

The Federal Government new fuel security package includes a ‘refinery production payment’ to assist refineries and a proposal to expand storage facilities in Australia. The refinery production subsidy would in return require a refiner to commit to several more years of operation.

AWU Delegation meets with Labor Shadow Minister for Trade Madeleine King

AWU Delegation meets with Labor Shadow Minister for Trade Madeleine King

The urgent need for a rescue plan cannot be underestimated. Viva Energy recently reported ‘unsustainable’ losses this year, Ampol has announced it will decide the future of its Lytton refinery mid next year, Exxon Mobil has indicated it might close its Victorian Altona plant and BP Kwinana announced it was closing its doors last month with the loss of 600 jobs.

Mick Denton, AWU delegate for Ampol’s Lytton refinery and Chair of the AWU Oil and Gas IRG, said it had been hugely important for the Canberra bubble to meet with workers from the industry.

Mr Denton said: “Hearing from the coalface about what our industry is facing right now really hit home – they got a personal perspective about what this means to us and our communities. We were also able to provide technical expertise that was greatly beneficial in helping the key decision makers understand the short and medium term challenges our industry faces.

“What we are asking for will not only save our jobs, it will also benefit the whole country and it’s heartening to see our Federal leaders finally recognise the importance of our industry.”

Delegates including Mr Denton and Scott Grimes from Viva Geelong were able to provide insight into how the industry can meet tough new environmental standards due to come into effect in 2027.

Mr Grimes said: “We made it clear that if we are to meet these new lower sulphur standards, the sort of engineering design and plant tie-ins that are required will need years of planning. You can’t just switch off a refinery and plug in a new part. We need years to make it happen and that will require legislation to provide the confidence that these massive investments will pay off.

“What’s clear from these meetings is that we now have traction to move forward, to start working behind the scenes to nut out the agreements to get them in place as soon as possible. That will come as a huge relief to AWU members across the country who have been fearful about their livelihoods for many years.”

The delegation also spoke about the future of the Kwinana site with some support mooted to explore new purposes for its future, including the production of hydrogen.

The AWU will also continue to push for more domestic fuel storage operations – a call it made in its ‘Improving Australia’s Fuel Security’ report which has proved instrumental in guiding both the industry and the Federal Government to this point.

Watch Labor Shadow Minister for Resources and Agriculture, Ed Husic speaking up for refinery workers on Sky News here:

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