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Time for the price of fuel to rise above politics

Bernard Keane, Crikey
… The only really smart politics here is good policy. Many of us can moderate our petrol consumption. But many people, especially if they’ve been forced by housing prices to live in the outer suburbs of our major centres, can’t. Additional public transport is the only solution. It looks boring and earnestly greenie but until serious non-carbon fuel sources arrive, we’re stuck with it as the primary means of dealing with rocketing petrol prices.

The Federal Government’s historic Budget commitment to investing in urban public transport is a significant step forward. The Building Australia fund keeps being called a slush fund by critics, but that call overlooks the fact that any infrastructure expenditure in urban areas stands a far greater chance of yielding significant benefits than the sort of rural and regional boondoggles we’re used to getting from the Coalition. Having Infrastructure Australia involved in project facilitation and selection is also likely to reduce the ongoing problem of incompetent State Governments being unable to develop satisfactory public-private partnership models.

It doesn’t stop at infrastructure policy. Our car manufacturers seem hell bent on churning out big cars when rising petrol prices are driving demand for smaller vehicles. While the Government talks about investing in a local hybrid – partly, we suspect, as cover for protecting the local car industry – a switch to greater fuel efficiency is likely to yield a more quickly moderate the growth in fuel demand.

To say nothing of our housing policy, which seems driven by the twin and incompatible goals of ensuring house prices don’t fall too much, and making housing more affordable for market entrants.

If the Government wants to demonstrate it has real substance, it should stop catering to motorists’ conviction that they are entitled to cheap petrol and start explaining that one of the key parameters in the global economy is undergoing a significant, long-term and probably permanent change, and that we have to change with it.
(22 May 2008)

No silver bullet for fuel prices: Rudd

Adelaide Now
THERE is no silver bullet to bring down the price of petrol, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in Adelaide today as world oil prices hit a peak high.

With fuel prices passing $1.60 a litre and the Federal Opposition calling on the Government to take action, Mr Rudd said measures had been put in place to restrain fuel prices, such as the adoption of a national monitoring scheme.

He said the Federal Budget also had provided a package of tax cuts and other measures to help families with day-to-day costs.

“If you put all those measures together, depending on the family, depending on the number of kids, depending on where they fit in the overall scheme of things, we have done as much as we physically can to provide additional help to the family budget, recognising that the cost of everything is still going through the roof,” the prime minister said in Adelaide.
(22 May 2008)

How petrol is putting Sydney under the pump

Jacob Saulwick, Sydney Morning Herald
AS PETROL surges towards the previously unthinkable $2 mark, Sydneysiders are confronting a stark choice – alter their lifestyles or be prepared to scrimp to pay even bigger bills.

The speed with which bowser prices have jumped has forced economists, politicians and planners into some hasty rethinking. Some predict the way Sydney functions – from traffic flow to suburban growth – will be fundamentally altered by the oil shock.

There are even bold claims that suburban life, which has underpinned Sydney throughout most of its modern history, is under threat.

… The magnitude of this week’s price rise to more than $1.60 a litre relegates the debate in Canberra about fuel taxes to a political sideshow.

“Excise cuts are an absolute distraction,” says Jago Dodson, a research fellow at Griffith University who has studied the socioeconomic impact of increased prices.

“And so is the FuelWatch scheme. Any gains from this scheme would have been wiped out by one week’s increase in the petrol price.”

Dr Dodson and his co-researcher, Neil Sipe, say much will depend on whether politicians move beyond token gestures and start planning for the day people want to drive less. Already, they say, double-income couples are moving to areas close to at least one workplace.

“We really need to start looking at serious investment in planning of public transport across the whole of the suburbs,” Dr Dodson said.

Part of the current problem, he said, was that the fastest-growing demands were on private bus operators in the city’s west. These already suffered a lack of co-ordination, which would just get worse.
(23 May 2008)