He stressed Australia had a “highly reliable fuel supply” and the decisions about the two refineries would “not hinder our immediate fuel security”.
“Australian motorists can be assured there is a good supply of fuel products in the market at lower prices. There is no need to panic buy,” he said.
The pressure facing refineries and the potential for disruption to international ports and shipping from coronavirus restrictions have prompted calls from Labor and the national motorists’ peak body for the government to consider measures to secure local refining capacity.
Australia imports around 90 per cent of its fuel. A report last year by the federal Energy Department found while Australia’s four refineries were “expected to remain viable in the foreseeable future”, their continued viability “depends on the investment strategy of individual companies”.
Global demand for refined fuel was expected to peak in the 2030s and it was “unlikely that new oil refineries in Australia would ever be economical”, the report said.
NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said it viewed disruption to domestic refining as a reason to reconsider government policy.
“We remain concerned that our refining capacity is falling in Australia; we don’t want narrow margins to dictate when refineries are closed,” he said.
“There’s a great temptation to import refined product due to the economies of scale in Asian refineries and so on, but that has to be weighed up against the national interest.
“But I stress that to motorists today this means nothing. In fact, there are tankers backed up around the world due to oversupply.”
Labor energy spokesman Mark Butler said fuel security was an “extremely important issue” for Australia and the government “need to develop a clear plan that explains how Australia will safeguard and modernise its existing refining capacity, especially as refiners face the impacts of the current pandemic”.
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Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.