Moving Australia


Energy Security and Public Transport

Australia’s Fuel Supply

In 2009, Australia had net oil imports of about 360,000 barrels per day (bbl/d). This is equivalent to approximately 40% of total domestic consumption. 

In 2011, Australia’s oil production declined by 14.5% compared to the previous year. At the same time, Australia’s oil consumption increased by 5.7%.[1]

Figure 1: Australia’s domestic oil production and consumption compared 2000-2011[2]

Continued growth in domestic oil demand and declining domestic oil production are expected to result in a future increase in Australia’s oil imports. Given recent trends, the country’s self-sufficiency in crude oil and refined petroleum products is likely to drop from 48% in 2011 to approximately 20% by 2020.[3]

According to the Australian Government’s Australian Energy Resource Assessment, by 2029-30, Australia’s collective crude oil and condensate production are projected to fall as older oil fields mature and gradually diminish.  In the future, Australia may be required to import all its oil, creating a serious energy security risk.


Oil Prices and Living Costs

Transport makes up on average almost 17 per cent of household expenditure (ABS), this varies according to the availability of public transport, walking and cycling.

A significant proportion of Australians living on the fringes of cities are vulnerable to oil price fluctuations, interest rate increases and bear a greater weight of the cost of congestion. This trend has been significantly evaluated in Griffith University research which has also shown high rates of ‘forced car ownership, where households are forced to own more than one care due to lack of alternative transport choices.[4]

The VAMPIRE Index produced by Griffith University measured the vulnerability to fuel price increases of residents living in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth based on 2006 ABS Census data.

The research from Griffith University demonstrated the highest rates of vulnerability often occurred in metropolitan and outer-metropolitan areas where there was the lowest access to public transport, walking and cycling.[5]


Public Transport Improves Energy Security

Modal shift can play an important role in improving the energy efficiency of the transport sector as there are currently clear differences in the energy intensity of each travel mode, and there are projected to be significant differences in future years.

Shifts from private car use to public transport (e.g. trains, buses, etc) could have a major impact on energy consumption.  A shift to non-motorised modes (e.g. walking, cycling) would have even greater benefits on a per kilometre travelled basis.[6]

A range of scenarios for future fuel supply put the average weekly fuel bill for a medium passenger vehicle being as high as $220.

Figure 2: Possible cost of a weekly fuel bill in 2018 for a medium passenger vehicle under alternative international oil scenarios.[7]

Capital city average retail petrol prices increased fifty per cent between 2002 and 2008. Diesel prices in Melbourne increased nearly 50 per cent between June 2007 and June 2008.

Increasing public transport patronage levels have been observed in many Australian cities, partly as a response to rising fuel prices.[8]


Are there Natural Alternatives?

While Australia has a limited supply of crude oil, it does have an abundant supply of Natural Gas. The most recent assessments indicate Australia has some 144 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, well over 100 times present annual domestic consumption.

A major advantage of utilising natural gas in transportation is the enhancement of Australia’s energy security. Utilising locally sourced natural gas as a key fuel in the bus and rail industry can extremely beneficial to Australia, effectively diversifying fuel risk and increasing control over supply.

This diversification would decrease the risk of fuel shortages due to interruptions to the global diesel petroleum supply chain. Currently some of this risk is managed though Australia’s own oil supply, however our supply of accessible crude oil is depleting rapidly.

Efficient and low‐cost energy is a key component of Australia’s global competitive advantage. Competitively priced power contributes to the ongoing success of key industries such as aluminium, cement, steel, and paper. Due to Australia’s size and geographical spread of population and industry, transport must be as efficient as possible. The Government has recognised this through its lower than average excise on fuel. Natural gas represents a unique opportunity for to reduce costs in the long term and improve the competitiveness of the public transport industry.

[1] Vivoda, V. 2012, Australia’s Growing Oil Imports are a Security Issue, The Conversation, 20 June 2012,

[2] Ibid., 

[3] Ibid., 

[4] Dodson, J and Sipe N, 2006, Shocking the Suburbs: Urban Location, Housing Debt and Oil Vulnerability in the Australian City, Urban Research Program Paper number 8, Griffith University.

[5] Ibid.,

[6] Heather Haydock and Sujith Kollamthodi (30th June 2009) Energy Security and the Transport Sector Paper produced as part of contract ENV.C.3/SER/2008/0053 between European Commission Directorate-General

Environment and AEA Technology plc; see website,

[7] Ibid.,

[8] Barrett and Stanley (2008), Moving People: Solutions for a Growing Australia, ARA, BIC, UITP 

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