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Australian economy exposed on high oil prices

Govt leaves Australian economy exposed on high oil prices: Greens

The federal government has left Australia exposed to a serious economic shock over the cost of oil, Australian Greens energy spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said today.

"Treasurer Peter Costello has expressed surprise at how long oil prices have remained high and says continuing high oil prices could cause economic problems for Australia," Senator Milne said in Hobart.

"But the signs have been evident for all to see. At an international level, for every 2.3 barrels of oil used, only one barrel is discovered while Australia's domestic oil supplies are falling and no new major oil fields have been discovered in the past 20 years.

"The Australian Petroleum Exploration and Production Association estimates that within 10 years Australia's oil self-sufficiency will fall from 65% to between 20% and 30%, widening Australia's trade deficit by about $30 billion per year.

"The federal government has had a decade to prepare Australia for a future based on dwindling oil supplies but it has failed to take seriously the reality that the era of cheap, easily accessible oil is over. Global politics and finite supplies are converging to generate a crisis.

"I moved for a Senate inquiry into future oil supply and alternative fuels because it was clear to me that energy security is urgent and critical and not on the Howard government radar. It is yet another intelligence failure of the Howard government.

"Whilst Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello have been lulling Australians into complacency and facilitating the use of motor vehicles and the construction of more and more highways, European countries have been assessing their vulnerability to an oil constrained future.

"They have been providing incentives for the development of alternative fuels, regulating for fuel efficient vehicles, investing in public transport and increasing fuel charges to encourage conservation and the search for alternatives.

"Countries such as China have locked up long-term oil supply through contracts with oil-producing countries. Australia seems to have overlooked the fact that most oil is owned by nations and that owing to geo-politics, Australia may not be able to buy overseas even if oil were available and we could afford to purchase it.

"Even US President George Bush has recognised the problem. Sweden has announced a plan for an oil free future by 2020. What is Australia's plan to oil proof the country?

"Prime Minister Howard can no longer put off the difficult decisions Australia must face."

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