There is a lesson to be had out of the Coronavirus crisis that goes far beyond the Coronavirus itself. This event has shone a bright light on other areas of what can only be described as criminal bureaucratic and political incompetence with the concept of the ‘just in time’ economy where even with the Coronavirus, there is now a huge question mark over the supply of everything from masks, to gloves to antibiotics and even given a major military crisis, fuel and oil, in this island nation, reliant as we are on China for so much of our trade.
The killer line by Greg Sheridan in his column in the Weekend Australian, Time For Urgent Reassessment of Vulnerability, was his observation that “unlike the Menzies generation of leaders, who ruled with the living memory of two world wars, our bureaucracy cannot take seriously the prospect of a real crisis ever confronting Australia”.
So typical is it of the short-sighted, unimpressive thinking that in their idealised and theoretical Canberra bubble of delusion, the bureaucratic class believe you can count fuel you may have negotiated and even paid for but is warehoused off shore in the US, as part of your onshore strategic reserve. In that scenario and given a war footing or similar corona type crisis, the very use of the word ‘strategic’ is redundant.
You might well own it and you might have a moral right to it, but if you don’t have access to it when you need it, there is absolutely nothing remotely strategic about the strategic oil reserves it all. Such woolly thinking presupposes a world without any kind of crisis in which case why would you even bother with a strategic reserve in the first place.
As Greg Sheridan writes:
“..There is immense bureaucratic opposition to having a meaningful strategic reserve in Australia. This is part of a now anachronistic faith in globalisation and just-in-time economics. The government, in thrall to the bureaucracy, wants to count oil we have purchased, or have a guaranteed right to purchase, as part of our reserves. The Petroleum Institute agrees.
That is fine, as is everything we do, so long as we never face a real crisis. Unlike the Menzies generation of leaders, who ruled with the living memory of two world wars, our bureaucracy cannot take seriously the prospect of a real crisis ever confronting Australia.
Peter Jennings, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, delivers this withering judgment: “I don’t think it’s a credible guarantee.
“In an emergency the Americans, like any country, would privilege their own needs. The only realistic option is to bite the bullet and develop modern fuel farms. Sensible nations like Japan and Israel have done this.”
Former deputy prime minister John Anderson labels it “a matter of national urgency” to establish the 90-day onshore reserve. “We are so vulnerable to a fuel supply shock,’’ he says..”