Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

A littler energy stick
Forget fake news, this is fake policy

© AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Australia’s muddy energy debate got even muddier today. Malcolm Turnbull called [$] on the federal government to revive the National Energy Guarantee he developed with former environment minister Josh Frydenberg – a policy that is supported by industry, and is now official Labor policy. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his Labor colleagues hurled Turnbull’s comments at Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time. On the back foot over his previous support for the NEG, Morrison countered by blaming Labor’s reckless 45 per cent emissions reduction target, and accused them of failing to take on the big energy companies to get prices down.

Meanwhile, now-treasurer Frydenberg and Energy Minister Angus Taylor walked back their highly interventionist “big stick” legislation to break-up energy companies who don’t lower prices, to get it through a Coalition joint party room that’s concerned the laws were opposed by industry and would discourage investment. Things hit peak farce when Frydenberg tried to use an old Shorten line, describing the NEG as a Frankenstein policy, against Shorten, but was immediately dubbed “Dr Frankenstein” because the treasurer designed the policy in the first place, and was advocating for it fiercely just three months ago. It is Alice-in-Wonderland stuff. Few could keep a straight face.

Turnbull’s comments at a Smart Energy Council conference today were pointed, although it is hard not to ponder how much more progress he might have made if he had been equally frank when he was prime minister. Turnbull said there was no stronger supporter of the NEG within his government than Morrison and Frydenberg, but that a significant percentage of Coalition MPs did not believe in climate change, wanted Australia to pull out of the Paris agreement, and were prepared to “blow up the government in order to get their way”. He added that the Morrison government’s “big stick” threats to energy companies are no substitute for a comprehensive climate and energy policy, and accused the Coalition of being mired in ignorance and idiocy. Turnbull is not alone in that view, with NSW education minister Rob Stokes, desperate to distance the state government from the federal government in the wake of the Victorian wipe-out, today accusing some of his federal counterparts of wilful ignorance over climate change, and saying he understood why last week’s striking students were frustrated.

Trying to answer Turnbull’s criticisms in Question Time today, Morrison picked up on a clarifying tweet by the former prime minister, which stated that “I have not endorsed ‘Labor’s energy policy’. They have adopted the NEG mechanism ✔️ but have not demonstrated that their 45% emissions reduction target will not push up prices. I encouraged all parties to stick with Coalition’s NEG which retains wide community support.” When Labor and the Coalition are hurling Turnbull tweets at each other, you know that serious debate is over. It is almost admirable how Frydenberg and Morrison believe they can brazenly go to an election after such an about-face; arguing that their own NEG is bad policy, that black is white. Forget about fake news; this is fake policy.

The Coalition is at sea with its radical divestment powers, which, as the AFR flagged [$] this morning, had been watered down following a backlash from business and its own backbench, as well as significant doubts about their constitutionality. What’s more, they may not be passed before the election, with the government postponing plans to put them to the Senate until next year. In the joint partyroom meeting this morning, the prime minister justified the intervention by saying that the national energy market was “not a free market nirvana” but was instead a “bastardised market with legislated rates of return”. Regardless, it would hardly be surprising if these laws never see the light of day.

since this morning

Fairfax Media reports that Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert will headline a Liberal Party fundraiser, which promises political donors an insight into the government’s potential response to the banking royal commission.

Former prime minister John Howard has declared [$] the Coalition will win the next election on the strength of the economy and “unchallengeable credentials” on border and national security.

in case you missed it

The Australian reports [$] PM Scott Morrison has moved to end the leadership crisis within the government, by implementing sweeping changes to party rules aimed at preventing a sitting Liberal prime minister from being challenged.

The Guardian reports that the ABC’s chief financial officer, Louise Higgins, a key appointment of sacked managing director Michelle Guthrie, has resigned after two years with the broadcaster.

Fairfax Media reports that leaked internal documents show one in five Australian Border Force staff have recently been bullied or harassed at work, and the same proportion has suffered discrimination.

The ABC reports the Victorian government has called a royal commission into the police’s use of a criminal defence lawyer as an informant during Melbourne’s bloody gangland war, potentially tainting convictions.

RenewEconomy reports that new analysis from BloombergNEF shows that the rising cost of coal power generation in Australia is the primary cause of the recent doubling of electricity prices on the National Electricity Market.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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