Defence White Paper Stated Fears of Dependency on Asian Fuel Imports or Strategic Access to Oil and Gas?

These reflections have taken me a long time to navigate through as I found it quite illogical to read.  It is a 2016 ABC post but feels relevant today.  I felt to explore the message in the article from a peace perspective asking questions in my global agora as the public are never consulted we are just subjected to the information and without contrasting perspectives may just believe what is read as gospel truth.  My message is – is it true?  As Byron Katie states – all war should be put down on paper for the love of truth.

I noted the fear in the language and could see that this was influencing the thought of threats, hence fear.  Given it is a Defence perspective I would expect that as the focus is not coming from peace building it would be conflict based. This is because the military are trained in language and actions around strategy, threats and combat.  I am a peacemaker so I am trained in looking for peace opportunities and lines of allowance (not control) together with shared opportunities for a win/win. Conflict resolution is about solving the problem not hating the person it is about focusing on the strengths in common and moving away from fear based language that divides and may fuel conflict (so to speak, I see a pun there).

I am deeply sitting with language and true meaning beyond rhetoric.  I am looking for how the problem can be seen differently in order to resolve tensions not escalate tensions as innocent people can be hurt or die as we have seen in the oil wars in the Middle East. My focus is the civilians as the real peace interest.  How can we work more effectively with other nations outside of violent paradigms, military exercises and to utilise innovation to ensure both win?  To find success in resolving conflict not profiting from it. Traditionally it has been about winners and losers.  I’d love to see the narrative change to win/win.  I believe peace and security cannot co-exist without this focus.  Security will be justified as ensuring safety based on the story of a threat and framing this as maintaining peace but the real peace is not the focus. Peace will effectively de-escalation tension and determine shared concerns without an agenda.

From a civilian perspective it is hard to know what is true and what is not when there are contradictions in the article below.  It is difficult to ascertain the true motive of the article.  It starts off with a story of fuel shortage and then it seems to reveal that there is strategic interests in vast oil and gas reserves in Asia which is the same modus operandi in the endless war mantra.  The deeper issue of defence industries profiting from sales in hardware and expanding investment in war works against the mission of peace and security moving Defence away from defending the public to defending industries.  This could be regarded as conflict of national interest.  The real conflict would be in escalating conflict not expanding peace.  This of course is the industrial military complex that Eisenhower warned.  It is in my view the real issue beneath the storyline.  Defence was supposed to protect civilians from combatants, today we are witnessing industries nestled into the Defence portfolio e.g. oil/energy and this being justified as economic not national interests.  Yet even this issue can be debated as to who are the companies, are they even Australian and are they operating in the highest interests of civilians when they are typically the ones who suffer from warfare.  This is the what needs to be discussed if we are to be clear about who we are and what we truly stand for.  When enemies are created then there is a story to demonise the ‘wrong doer’ or ‘threat’ in order to justify aggression to claim energy which is the real insecurity.

I will sit with this for a moment and go still.  The only words that come to me  is ‘an endless war to the bottom‘.  Is this what we all want, inclusive of defence? Is this winning or ultimately losing all we believe in? What is the true loss in war – money and territory or truth and democracy?  We all get to choose.  My musings below are what I started with as I sought to understand the article and generate ideas from another perspective.  I will add another post of mine on conflict resolution to broaden perspectives.  I have added another two posts – one on discrimination when we see the ‘other’ and my inspired poem on a ‘A blueprint of Peace’. May it inspire the military.

Why Do We Discriminate: Jane Elliott Blue Eyed/Brown Eyed Training

A Blueprint Of Peace

My reflections:

  • Decouple government decision making from trade as business interests undermine sovereign and societal interests in respect of peace over profit
  • Is military influenced by the oil and gas industry?
  • Problem solving for a win/win training, Conflict resolution as the first priority not ‘winning’
  • What is the cost/benefit of escalating fears and tensions versus the benefit of developing regional friendship and shifting consciousness to a shared stewardship?
  • What of peace building in the Asia Pacific as genuine mutual understanding not winning the hearts and minds to be seen to be
  • Does Australia have an interest in peace and security?  Is it peace or security?  Which one?  Peace is non-aggression and nonviolence.  What if we drop the security as peace is security.  Are we escalating conflict given insecurity?  Can we focus on our fear rather than regarding the other as the cause of it?  Is that considered in military circles as a possible reality?
  • The issue of  “freedom navigation” or “navigation freedom” is this provocation between Australia and China?  Is it wise?
  • Are Australian fears influenced or mirroring US fears/posture?  Is FEAR is false evidence appearing real?
  • The wording is focused on fuel not energy, why? Yet this is connected to the oil industry.  What role do they play in the tensions?
  • The article focuses on those agreeing not those who disagree – it is not balanced.
  • Statements such as: “…spokesperson for one of Australia’s major fuel suppliers… ” does not indicate who, citing anonymity as a authority.  Is it true?
  • Could balance be found in nonviolent approaches to conflict. Could $30 billion a year be spent on peace building in Asia through peace education?
  • Chinese editorial (media) is not cited for clarity – otherwise the author is unknown and the threat will be internalised as true.
  • What of fear escalating tensions (competing interests) rather than a focus on shared concern (democratising diplomacy)?
  • What is the politics of shortage about?  What mentality does it create?
  • Is there a shortage?
  • NRMA/Fusion state a drop in fuel caused by conflict etc.  would shutdown the economy.  Is this just speculation? Does it increase fear? Is it the reality?
  • What is the environmental/climatic impact of oil dependency?
  • What is the geopolitical impact of the oil industry and political decision making?
  • Replace oil with alternative energy options as untied foreign aid to de-escalate tensions e.g. Tesla free energy, solar, efficient design
  • Create a Department of Peace and Disarmament as military conflict is a zero sum game (no win) when desperation fuels decision making on many sides
  • Australian fuel security or defence fuel security?  Yet there is a defence posture and statements are made about considerable supplies available to the military but not commercial. So shortages could be sourced from the military? It states it can. Unsure of what the problem is?
  • South China sea is rich in resources it is stated?  Is this is the issue?
  • There are vast oil and gas in this region, apparently Asian countries are eager to gain control.  Is this is the real issue?
  • There appears to be other sources of fuel.  So why the tension?
  • Distribution of Food, Water and Medicine would stop within days. Is it true?
  • Can we design cities with clean energy links and supplies closer to the market?
  • Is it true we don’t have rolling stock?  Why not create that through the military?
  • The fear is of a military buildup and it appears militarily Australia fears Asia will cut off energy supplies.  If true – why not develop alternative internal supplies rather than overt escalation?
  • Is the case for war true? Or is it about economic dominance?  Are these the same war games we have seen in the middle east where the fears are of losing control?  This is for those involved to reflect on. What you resist persists?
  • I note tension between Vietnam and China expressed. Does this build peace or create more tension?  What serves us all?

Philosophical and creative propositions:

“What you resist persists what you look at disappears”

Why not transmute dependency to independence or interdependence in equal relationships.  Are we dependent?

  • AIP maintains that with refined fuel coming from 20 different countries and crude oil from 17, Australia’s supply is diverse and flexible enough to respond to any emergency in supply and had done for decades.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  Einstein

What you see in your world is a reflection of your own projection.  Question the projection (of the other) and seek for clarity.

We need oil?  Is it true?

Can we use a de Bono approaches to laterally think differently about problems rather than the same linear approach?

What is the reality NOW? Or are the fears in the future REAL?  This is 2016 – what about 2018?

What would visionaries do next?  Can this be an exciting opportunity or is it something to fear?


A few interesting further links re: fuel and rail

Is it true. We don’t own ships anymore Does the purchase of frigates increase tension or de-escalate tensions with Asia?  What if the money was spent in ways to ensure nonviolent independence?

I will highlight the fears in the language and agreement with it.


Defence White Paper 2016: Dependency on fuel imports ‘a risk’ amid South China Sea tensions


With the Government expected to release its latest Defence White Paper on Thursday, an adviser to the country’s largest motorist association hopes tensions in the South China Sea have forced a re-think of where Australia gets its fuel.

Key points

  • Australia heading towards 100 per cent fuel import dependency
  • Essential services to stop ‘within a week’ of disrupted supply
  • South China Sea tensions ‘threaten’ refined fuel imports

Retired Air Vice Marshall John Blackburn said Australia’s food, water and medicine distribution was entirely reliant on transport fuel and the supply operated on a “just in time” philosophy for the sake of logistical efficiency.

Mr Blackburn, who is commissioned by the National Roads and Motorists’ Association (NRMA) to provide consultancy and strategic advice on Australia’s fuel security, said this unerring drive for market efficiency had led to four of the country’s seven oil refineries closing down in three years.

“We’re heading towards 100 per cent import dependency,” Ret. Air Vice Marshall Blackburn said.

“But when the British were passing 40 per cent import dependency, they said they had a national security concern.”

University of New South Wales Professor of International Security Alan Dupont agreed that Australia’s growing dependency on imported fuel was “obviously a vulnerability”.

We don’t have much in the way of refinery capacity in Australia right now and we don’t have much in the way of strategic stock piles,” he said.

“I think that dependency is only going to increase.”

The South China Sea is a shipping route through which a large proportion of Australia’s refined fuel is imported, including diesel, unleaded and jet fuel.

It is also emerging as a hot zone for potential conflict as China, the United States, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines become increasingly invested in territorial disputes over islands in international waters.

Mr Blackburn said a scenario of conflict in the region and how it would affect Australia’s fuel security was not considered in the Government’s National Security assessment, “upon which the Energy White Paper (EWP) bases its assessment,” Mr Blackburn said.

“The fundamental assumption they’ve made is because we haven’t had a problem in 30 years, we’re not going to have a problem.”

With last year’s EWP offering only brief discussion of the reliability of fuel imports, Mr Blackburn said he expected the Defence White Paper to look more “closely” at the issue.

Distribution of food, water and medicine ‘would stop within days’

Engineers Australia (EA) told a 2015 Senate inquiry into the country’s transport energy resilience and sustainability that Australia’s total stockholding of oil and liquid fuel comprised two weeks of supply at sea, five to 12 days’ supply at refineries, 10 days of refined stock at terminals and three days at service stations.

Australian fuel stockholding capability

  • Chilled and frozen goods delivery – 7 days
  • Dry goods – 9 days
  • Retail pharmacy supplies – 7 days
  • Hospital pharmacy supplies – 3 days
  • Petrol stations – 3 days

National Roads and Motorists Association

The NRMA said Australia only retained enough fuel in stockholdings to continue delivery of chilled and frozen goods for seven days, dry goods for nine days, hospital pharmacy supplies for three days, retail pharmacy for seven days, and petrol stations for three days.

This left Australia well short of its requirement as a member of the International Energy Agency (IEA) to maintain 90 days of fuel in reserve.

Mr Blackburn said a significant disruption to refined fuel imports, “the vast majority of which comes from south-eastern Asia“, would start to bring the country to its knees “within a week”.

“What’s important is what type of fuel you’ve got and where, because we can’t move fuel around Australia readily,” he said.

If you had a major interruption of fuel input, defence would grind to a halt very quickly because you can’t do anything.

Retired Air Vice Marshall John Blackburn

We can’t move by rail anymore because we don’t have the rolling stock. We don’t own ships anymore. And the trucks that move fuel are designed for ‘just in time’ normal commercial deliveries.”

The Australian Institute of Petroleum (AIP) said on its website that Australia sourced 85 per cent of its refined fuel from across Asia and 58 per cent of its crude oil and feedstock from the Asia Pacific.

Some 21 per cent of crude oil came from Africa and 13 per cent from the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.

Petrol, diesel and aviation were the dominant transport fuels used in Australia and in 2012-13 accounted for 90 per cent of its transport energy use.

AIP maintains that with refined fuel coming from 20 different countries and crude oil from 17, Australia’s supply is diverse and flexible enough to respond to any emergency in supply and had done for decades.

The Australian Government last year agreed “in-principle” to return the country to compliance with the IEA 90-day holding requirement.

Its plan to add 40 days worth of fuel reserves, expected to cost several billion dollars over 10 years, is promised later this year.

But Mr Blackburn, who retired as deputy chief of the Air Force in 2008, said escalating tensions in the South China Sea meant a significant supply disruption could be closer to reality than people think.

A pie chart of Australia's refined fuel imports

Conflict to affect fuel imports regardless of Australia’s involvement

China is building artificial islands in the South China Sea and asserting 12-mile nautical limits around the islands, located in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes where an estimated $US5 trillion trade passes through each year.

The action has incurred provocation by the United States military with ships and aircraft dispatched to test China’s resolve and maintain navigational freedom through the waters in an ongoing campaign.

Vietnam and the Philippines have also built up features in the region, and join Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan in rivalling China’s claims to sections of the region.

Even Australia has weighed into the dispute, with the Royal Australian Air Force embarking on a “freedom of navigation” flight over the region last year and incurring a thinly veiled warning in an editorial from the Chinese language edition of The Global Times.

“Everyone has always been careful, but it would be a shame if one day a plane fell from the sky and it happened to be Australian,” the editorial said.

Defence Minister Marise Payne has so far resisted US requests for Australia to send a warship to the region, but in October warned China it would continue to cooperate with the US on maritime security.

“Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and over flight in the South China Sea,” she said.

In no way, shape or form, do we want to say, as an industry, we think it’s all good and she’ll be right.

Spokesperson for a major fuel supplier                        (WHO????)

Mr Blackburn said it did not matter if Australia was directly involved in a potential conflict or not because in the event of a major standoff, involved countries in the region were unlikely to send their fuel products offshore to countries like Australia for trade.

He said they were more likely to hold onto fuel stocks for the sake of national security because in a heightened defence force scenario, fuel consumption became “phenomenal”.

He said Australia’s own Defence Force would be affected negatively by stalled imports as well.

“If you had a major interruption of fuel input, defence would grind to a halt very quickly because you can’t do anything,” he said.

“The investment in ships, planes and the army is very necessary but it has to be balanced. If you can’t get the fuel to any of those elements … then you’ve wasted about $30 billion a year.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence said the upcoming DWP would address fuel security “in the context of ensuring that the Australian Defence Force has the capabilities it needed to achieve its mission, today and over the coming decades”.

Defence has considerable operational fuel holdings across multiple sites compared to most commercial organisations,” he said.

“This network of supply affords considerable agility and flexibility to defence in support of operations.

“Beyond its own holdings, defence also has contracts for the commercial supply of fuel, including higher rates of supply for longer term contingencies.”

Industry accepts risks of supply disruption

A spokesperson for one of Australia’s major fuel suppliers, who did not want to be identified, said he understood the “geopolitical” concern in the South China Sea and accepted escalating tensions could affect supplies through the sea.

“In no way, shape or form, do we want to say, as an industry, we think it’s all good and she’ll be right,” he said.

“But equally so, there are sources of both crude and refined product from the other side, through India, through the Middle East and that particular part of the world.

“Where we’ve got choice and flexibility, and we do, we’re able to effectively have ships sail different ways and be able to source products from different parts of the world.”

If you’re applying enough pressure to a shipping country, why would they continue to ship and have the risk of losing their tanker heading down there?

Retired Air Vice Marshall John Blackburn

He said there was capacity to “take up the slack” in refined fuel if South China Sea routes were disrupted and pointed out that Reliance Industries in India operated a 1.2 million barrel-per-day refinery.

“To put that in context, our biggest refinery is operated by BP in Perth at about 145,000 barrels per day. What we’re seeing over time and time again, is the world’s energy system’s ability to adapt to changing circumstance and I think it’s a very well-functioning fluid market.”

Mr Blackburn said a key issue would be what route alternative supplies had to transit. In Australia’s case it was difficult because the majority of its refined fuel came from the South China Sea region.

“The other thing is, because we have no Australian flag ships, [in the event of conflict, an aggressor] doesn’t have to do much more than threaten the crews of those foreign ships to make sure something happens to the tanker supply,” Mr Blackburn said.

“If you’re applying enough pressure to a shipping country, why would they continue to ship and have the risk of losing their tanker heading down there?”

Al Qaeda turns cross-hairs onto Australian fuel imports

In late 2014, Al Qaeda reportedly published a map of critical petroleum shipping routes for the West, including routes between the Persian Gulf, Singapore and Australia.

It prompted warnings from the NRMA and the likes of Senator John Madigan, all of who have been critical of the steady decline in Australia’s oil refining capacity.

The Australian Automobile Association told the Senate inquiry a major disruption to transport fuel supplies would be felt “across society and in every sector of the economy”.

The NRMA and Fusion Australia suggested that even a 20 to 40 per cent cut in the fuel supply, “brought about by factors such as conflict, would quickly lead to a situation whereby the country would start running out of food and medicines, while the economy would start to shut down”.

The Senate inquiry concluded there was no capacity for emergency reserves in the form of government-held or compulsory industry stocks of Australian fuel because its storage capacity was held within the supply chain.

It reported there was no mandate for industry to report fuel stock holding levels because their focus was entirely on a “just-in-time” security of supply to keep costs down.

It recommended a “whole-of-government risk assessment”, which would consider vulnerabilities due to military actions, acts of terrorism, natural disasters and industrial accidents.

Vietnam, China, Malaysia have eyes on the prize

South China Sea Map

Rich in resources and traversed by a quarter of global shipping, the South China Sea is the stage for several territorial disputes that threaten to escalate tensions in the region.

At the heart of these disputes are a series of barren islands in two groups – the Spratly Islands, off the coast of the Philippines, and the Paracel Islands, off the coasts of Vietnam and China.

South China Sea Map

Both chains are essentially uninhabitable, but are claimed by no fewer than seven countries, eager to gain control of the vast oil and gas fields below them, as well as some of the region’s best fishing grounds.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have made claims to part of the Spratlys based on the internationally recognised Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles from a country’s coastline.

South China Sea Map

Based on the EEZ, the Philippines has the strongest claim on the Spratlys and their resources, with its EEZ covering much of the area.

However the lure of resources, and prospect of exerting greater control over shipping in the region, means that greater powers are contesting the Philippines’ claims.

South China Sea Map

China has made extensive sovereignty claims on both the Spratlys and the Paracels to the north, based largely on historic claims outlined in a map from the middle part of the 20th Century known as the ‘Nine Dash Map’.

Taiwan also makes claims based on the same map, as it was created by the nationalist Kuomintang government, which fled to Taiwan after the communists seized power in China.

South China Sea Map

Vietnam also claims the Spratlys and the Paracels as sovereign territory, extending Vietnam’s EEZ across much of the region and bringing it into direct conflict with China.

There have been deadly protests in Vietnam over China’s decision to build an oil rig off the Paracels.

One Chinese worker in Vietnam was killed and a dozen injured in riots targeting Chinese and Taiwanese owned factories, prompting 3,000 Chinese nationals to flee the country.

South China Sea Map

EEZ can only be imposed based on boundaries of inhabitable land, and this has prompted all the countries making claims on the region to station personnel, and in some cases build military bases out of the water, to bolster their claim.

Building and protecting these structures has resulted in a series of stand-offs between countries in the region, each with the potential to escalate.

China has been leading the charge with these installations, and has deployed vessels to the region to protect their interests.

Chinese coast guard vessels have used a water cannon on Vietnamese vessels, as well as blockading an island where the Philippines has deployed military personnel.

Mohandas Gandhi

“My life is my message.”