The Federal Government doesn’t know its RATs or its SCRs
Although the years have corrupted the grey cells somewhat, the lessons learnt in my early journalism days remain clear: especially the rule that journos should report the news, but not ‘editorialise’.
However, reporting on the current twin crises of Covid testing inadequacies and AdBlue supply uncertainty, without roundly condemning the Federal Government is just not possible.
Both crises were easily avoidable.
Covid rapid antigen testing debacle
The key future role for rapid antigen testing (RAT) was touted by the outgoing Health Minister Greg Hunt on September 28 last year.
“This is an important additional protection for Australians,” he said.
“One of the important things is that we can supplement what is known as PCR testing – the testing that we all know if we go to a Commonwealth or a state clinic – with the home testing.”
The plan was for RATs to be available on the internet, pharmacies and shops from November, 2021.
History shows how badly managed that roll-out was. As at mid-January 2022 it was virtually impossible to find any RAT kits and the queue for PCR tests – plus the long delay in getting results – made both testing choices impractical.
Queensland has announced it has stopped requiring PCR testing for drivers entering the state, but drivers with Covid-like symptoms must have a RAT or PCR test. Since testing is somewhere between impossible and extremely difficult, most will ignore the symptoms, I reckon.
WA and the NT still require drivers to have a negative RAT for entry.
Increasing numbers of sick or scared workers across the whole road transport spectrum have now created a staff shortage that’s being seen in gaps on supermarket shelves across Australia.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom, because on January 5 Mr Morrison cheered us up with the following exhortation (accompanied by the obligatory smirk):
“We have no choice but to ride the wave.
“What is the alternative?
“What we must do is press on.”
Winston Churchill could get away with an exhortation like that, but ScoMo?
Many 4Wds these days rely on AdBlue, as do virtually all modern trucks. (Yes, I know it’s derived from urea and should be called diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) but everyone knows it better by its trade-name ‘AdBlue’.)
The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has issued a statement that it is satisfied there are sufficient stocks of AdBlue in Australia to meet current demands and the future supply is being sourced.
We presume that assurance to the ATA came from Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who told us just before Xmas that Indonesia had promised to supply Australia with 5000 tonnes of refined urea in January 2022. The Minister said this was enough for about a month’s use of AdBlue.
“We will continue to strengthen our close relationships around the world to support and further Australia’s interests,” he said.
Now, this crisis was even more obvious in its buildup than the demand for Covid-19 testing kits, because, of all people, Dan Tehan knows that China isn’t exactly our best mate on the trading front.
He also should have known that China supplied around 80-percent of Australia’s urea and where a thermal coal, wine and lobster embargo didn’t work effectively, a urea embargo would do quite nicely. China shut the door on urea exports.
A modern, emissions-conscious Federal Cabinet would also be quite familiar with AdBlue, because it’s a critical component of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) that’s virtually compulsory for Euro Six emissions compliance.
More than 80-percent of world governments have adopted Euro Six or its equivalent, but not good old Australia. All these international governments know how important urea supply is.
ScoMo said he won’t adopt Euro Six until Australian refineries have upped the quality of their fuels and that’s not scheduled to happen before 2027.
The Libs/Nats scrambled to address the AdBlue shortage in December 2021, firstly appointing Barnaby Joyce to handle the task; possibly because urea is used mainly as the base for nitrogenous fertilisers. Then, the man with the big hat was quarantined in Washington. (You can’t make this stuff up.) That meant Dan Tehan and Energy Minister Angus Taylor got the gig.
While the Federal Government didn’t see the urea shortage coming, private industry did and three separate local manufacturing initiatives were already in place in early to mid-2021.
Surely, a trade minister worth his salt would have scanned our list of imports from China two years ago and noted critical ones that could be used as trade weapons. Urea should have stuck out as brightly as…an AdBlue tank.