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Australia’s 43 days before ‘real fuel trouble’

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Australia is in “real trouble” of running out of fuel by the end of next month in the wake of the Syria strikes, according to experts, reported News.com.au (Australia).

The International Energy Agency mandates that countries hold a stock in reserve “equivalent to 90 days of net imports” but Australia only has 43 days worth of supply, The Australian reports.

Australia’s energy security is dependent on regional refineries and oil flows from the Middle East with 91 per cent of all our transport fuels imported in this way. But there is no plan B in case of an oil and fuel supply interruption, according to experts.

Liberal Senator Jim Molan, a former major general in the Australian Army, told 2GB that “we stand in real trouble and this is a single point of failure for Australia, very similar to what could happen in a cyber situation”.

He said the government had taken a “business as usual approach” to fuel reserves and that it was now time to “see action”.

“It happens because for too long we have taken a business as usual approach,” Mr Molan said.

“It’s like saying we can determine the size and shape of the Australian Defence Force based on commercial factors and making the market decide.

“The way that we seem to get around this is that we buy credits overseas which ignores the entire problem.

“Those credits say that if things go wrong we can buy from overseas but hang on our supply lines of communication by ship are likely to be either threatened or because of insurers nothing will come to us at all.”

According to Mr Molan, Australia has just three weeks’ of motor fuel stocks and an eruption of tension in our region could immobilise civilian and military vehicles.

“I can’t imagine that armoured vehicles in the forces in the near future are going to work off renewables or off electricity or off whatever,” Mr Molan told Sky News on Monday.

It would be difficult to keep Australian vehicles going should there be conflict in the Middle East, Korea, or elsewhere in our neighbourhood, he said.

This will be a prominent problem for the next Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday announced General Campbell would take over from the retiring Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin in June.

Mr Molan, whose military career includes serving as Chief of Operations in 2004 at the headquarters of the Multinational Force in Iraq, yesterday outlined the risks he saw.

He said 60 per cent of the engine fuel used by Asia came from the Gulf.

“So we see streams of ships coming round from the Gulf, coming across the Indian Ocean, going through the straits through the South China Sea to where it’s refined for us,” he told Sky News.

“It’s refined in Singapore, yes, but it’s also refined in Japan, in Korea and in China. It then is turned into diesel, aviation fuel and petrol and comes down in ships to Australia’s ports.”

Earlier this year, Mr Molan said Australia was one of the few places in the world that didn’t have a government-mandated strategic reserve of fuel.

According to him, if Australia’s current stockpiles of petrol, diesel and aviation fuel ran dry then the military would effectively be grounded in that time.

Defence Strategy and Capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Dr Malcolm Davis backed Mr Molan’s comments, saying Australia’s fuel reserves would last “20 days at best” if supplies were cut off. He said Australia was “one of the few countries in the world that does not take our energy security seriously”.

“It would be a Mad Max world. Our society and our economy would begin to fall apart very quickly,” Dr Davis told news.com.au.

“It’s like electricity — everything depends on fuel to make an economy run. It is very serious.

“We’ve left ourselves in a perilous situation and governments on both sides have been negligent in this regard.

“Military analysts have been warning consistently for years and they just ignore it.”

Dr Davis explained most of Australia’s fuel is transported through narrow straits by tanker ships.

“Instead of investing in refinement facilities here for refining fuel, the government has decided it’s cheaper to do it overseas.”

One of the key facilities is in Singapore.

“The price they pay for that in a crisis is that China can interrupt flow to Australia relatively easy and our economy falls apart.

“It’s very negligent of the government to let this situation happen. It’s even more appalling we’ve been warning both political parties for years about this.”

Dr Davis warned the US military had become severely depleted since the Bush administration and said China, Iran, North Korea and Russia had become “direct threats”.

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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