Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Abbott apes Trump
... but there’s no turning the clock back on energy


If Tony Abbott were genuinely concerned about high power prices, his threat to cross the floor on the government’s proposed National Energy Guarantee would be understandable. There must be something else driving the former prime minister, however, because he has never bothered to correctly diagnose what all the experts have said for many years is the main problem in our electricity market: incentives for over-investment in poles and wires, or “gold-plating”. So, prices have risen by 16 per cent since his government took office and became the first in the world to abolish a well-functioning, economy-wide carbon price, supposedly in an effort to lower prices, and then lowered the renewable energy target as well. Australia has tried Tony Abbott’s solutions – they didn’t work. Why anybody affords Abbott credibility on electricity prices is a total mystery, especially when he makes nonsense observations, like “what we need to return to is a system where reliable 24/7 baseload can cover peak demand”. Either he fails to understand the electricity market, or he really is trying to confuse people.

Forget about climate change for a moment – the NEG as it stands will do nothing and could actually impede efforts to tackle climate change – and let’s just concentrate on electricity. Abbott has misdiagnosed the problem again. If Abbott was serious and paying attention, he would realise that a lot has changed in the electricity industry since he tore down Malcolm Turnbull the first time in 2009, and the effect has been to undercut his basic arguments badly. Renewables-plus-storage is now competitive with new coal-fired power, even without a carbon price. Renewables reduce wholesale power prices. They create more jobs. There is no downside to the Australian economy in 2018. The market has changed. Today’s AFR, for example, reports [$] that construction of new solar and wind farms in Australia has boomed in the first half of 2018, reshaping the grid even as NEG debate drags on.

Described by party colleagues in this morning’s AFR as a sad and isolated figure who has “jumped the shark” [$] on energy, Abbott is probably realistic about his chances of regaining the Liberal leadership, at least this side of an election. Abbott was lampooned last year when he told an audience of London climate sceptics that global warming was “probably beneficial” – see, for example, the classic David Rowe cartoon “Stop the boats, save the goats”. He doubled down last night with a speech to another climate sceptic body, the Australian Environment Foundation, formerly affiliated with the Institute of Public Affairs.

Abbott’s grandstanding on the NEG is not really about electricity prices, and not really about knocking off Malcolm Turnbull. Abbott is probably telling the truth [$] when he says that as PM he would never have signed Australia up to the Paris Accord without the US. Abbott must now wish he had been as bold as Trump, rejecting both the climate science and the UN process altogether. Perhaps he has Trump envy: he wishes he’d thought of the same thing.

Abbott and Cory Bernardi and David Leyonhjelm are all emboldened by Trump. More sensibly, in this excellent Guardian column last year, Essential Media’s Peter Lewis turned this assumption on its head: “What if Tony Abbott was our Trump moment, sweeping to power on a wave of rage and discontent? … What if there is no populist surge on the horizon? What if Australia has already had its populist moment ahead of the other western democracies and we are now dealing with the consequences of that misadventure?” The evidence for that proposition is mounting.

since this morning

Banking royal commission hearings into the sale of funeral insurance in Indigenous communities have been told that the Gold Coast–based Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund paid staff bonuses of $20 for each new policy sold, although policies cost purchasers thousands of dollars.

A business lunch for Bill Shorten in Devonport, in the Super Saturday by-election seat of Braddon, is back on at its original venue after a late jump in ticket sales, prompted by a story in The Australian [$] that reported a lack of interest in the event.

in case you missed it

The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy writes that David Leyonhjelm is capitalising on his current moment of notoriety, “rallying his supporters with offence”.

Sydney Harbour is likely to become a base for Australia’s next fleet of submarines, giving the military the ability to project its most lethal power into the Pacific.

The ABC reports on alarming research released by ASIC, which shows that 18.5 per cent of consumers were overwhelmed by their credit card debt load, and that outstanding balances now total $45 billion.

The ABC has revealed that the former head of Australia’s Border Force, Roman Quaedvlieg, is still under investigation by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity for corruption, despite being sacked more than three months ago. “I’ve never been interviewed by anyone, including ACLEI,” Quaedvlieg has said in a statement.

Small business ombudsman Kate Carnell has told Fairfax Media that the Australian Taxation Office’s staff-based performance targets are pushing individual tax officers to collect revenue.

by Richard Cooke
Tired of Winning
A shooting in Annapolis
The well-practised response to the violence at the Capital Gazette

by Shane Danielsen
Dirty work in Clayton Jacobson’s ‘Brothers’ Nest’
The filmmakers behind ‘Kenny’ take a darker turn

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.

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