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Thousands of manufacturing jobs saved by Albanese Government’s energy call

December 9, 2022

The Albanese Government has saved tens of thousands of jobs by responding to the AWU’s long-running call to put a stop to spiralling energy prices.

Over the past decade Australian industry and households have seen energy bills skyrocket to unsustainable levels as multinational exporters forced them to compete against China and Japan for access to Australian gas and coal.

The plan announced by the Prime Minister today will introduce an enforceable code of conduct on the energy market, cap the price of domestic gas at $12 a gigajoule, and enlist the states and territories to cap the price of coal at $125 a tonne. Households will also receive direct compensation towards their electricity bills.

“Up until today we were the only major gas-producing nation in the world that did not have a mechanism in place to protect domestic users from unreasonable price hikes,” AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said.

“The AWU has been calling for a decade to rectify this gross anomaly. The Albanese Government is to be applauded for finally taking steps, to ensure Australians have access to our own gas and coal at an affordable price.”

The AWU has championed a better deal for gas users for more than a decade, but the crisis came to a head in May this year when a number of supply factors – the Russian invasion of Ukraine, failures in electricity markets, and record-setting cold weather – saw many Australian manufacturers forced to pay spot prices of up to $800 a gigajoule.

“Multinational gas exporters used the global situation to cream astronomical mega-profits from Australian gas while potentially forcing Australian factories, smelters and plants to the wall,” Mr Walton said.

“We saw dozens of manufacturing businesses that had their gas contracts torn up and replaced with price increases of up to 300%.

“And we were seeing coal companies short the supply of coal to electricity generators, and in doing so pushing up electricity prices for households and industry.”

In July, delegates at the AWU National Conference expressed their alarm at projected east coast gas shortfalls and condemned the gas companies for “price-gouging Australian manufacturers and profiteering from the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

The conference also noted Australia was already in an energy crisis prior to this year’s gas price spike, that the AWU had been calling for action since 2014 to ensure affordable gas was available for manufacturers and households, and that without urgent action thousands of manufacturing jobs were at immediate risk.

In a subsequent letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Mr Walton warned action was needed immediately.

“If the Government does not act now, when closures occur it will not be able to say it was not warned or that its hands were tied,” he wrote.

“Manufacturers today are not bluffing. They know they will not be able to afford gas, which they use as an energy source and, often, as a feedstock. They need relief.”

Then, last month, Mr Walton and senior AWU officials later led a delegation of workers representing a range of energy-dependent industries to Canberra, to tell the Government how the energy crisis was affecting their employers and putting their jobs at risk.

They met Mr Albanese, Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Resources Minister Madeleine King, Industry Minister Ed Husic and Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen, plus the office of key independent MP Zoe Daniels, and spoke as one, explaining that their employers could close if they are couldn’t to get affordable long-term energy contracts.

“These were good workers representing industries from Victoria to Gladstone, workers making incredibly important things that keep our nation going, from our steel, cement, aluminium and glass industries,” Mr Walton said

“They were the very real faces of industries doing it tough because of extraordinarily high energy prices, not just gas but also coal.”

Mr Walton said delegation was well received and he was extremely relieved that the AWU’s decade long campaign had finally won solid change.

The AWU’s attention will now move to the Liberal-National Opposition and the Greens, who have the opportunity to be on the right side of history by supporting the legislation enabling the price cap.

“In nearly ten years of Coalition government, Australia’s gas export industry exploded with nothing to look after our local manufacturers. We want Australia to be a green manufacturing superpower – but that will be impossible if we don’t have a manufacturing industry at all.”

“The AWU will stand with the Federal Government as these changes are legislated and implemented, and hopefully bring some certainty to the Australian manufacturing industry and the hundreds of thousands of workers who rely on it.”

He warned that big energy companies would fight tooth and nail to protect their mega profits.

“We’ve had a bunch of multinational gas companies that have made extraordinary profits, windfall profits, off the back of our resources,” he said.

“And they’ve done very little to support Australian industry, Australian jobs and Australian households who have been doing it tough.

“They are not going to give up one extra cent of profit without a whole lot of squealing.

“But the AWU will stand with the Federal Government as these changes are implemented, and hopefully bring some certainty to the Australian manufacturing industry and the hundreds of thousands of workers who rely on it.”

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