Thursday, April 5, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Coal-fired politics
This is not going to end well


Suddenly and yet predictably, the waters have risen around Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whom, we learnt last night, may have already lost the support of his party room ahead of Monday’s 30th losing Newspoll. Whether the leadership challenge comes from Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott or a resurrected Peter Costello, it seems only a matter of time.

The Liberals’ party room put then-PM Abbott on six months’ notice in early 2015, after he knighted Prince Philip. Perhaps Malcolm Turnbull will also be put on notice.

It has been fascinating to watch the Liberals, like moths to a flame, act out Labor’s dire Rudd-Gillard-Rudd self-immolation. But there are some differences, including that Rudd was brought back to save the furniture ahead of an election Labor had no hope of winning. It is very hard to see how Abbott saves any electoral furniture for the Liberals.

Odd, because at the beginning of the year there seemed every prospect that Turnbull would definitely make it to the next election, for clear absence of a rival. The economy is ticking along, the budget is sound, the boats are still stopped, and Bill Shorten is still the Labor leader who the Liberals – like Peter Dutton, who ruled out a challenge on 2GB today [$], for what it’s worth – say they can beat.

The very messy Barnababy saga and the re-eruption of the climate wars seem to have changed everything. At the risk of jumping right to the end of the looming leadership crisis, will we be able to say that the fated climate wrecking ball has claimed another leader (in Turnbull’s case, twice)? It has already claimed Howard in 2007, Brendan Nelson in 2008, Turnbull himself in 2009, and Rudd in 2010.

It is a triumph of fake news to be debating a drop on Sky that Tony Abbott and co. have established a “Monash Forum” to force the government to build a new coal-fired power station. The response has been powerful anger from commentators such as Paul Kelly [$] and Bernard Keane [$], combined with incredulity from business [$], and even the treasurer with a lump of coal in his back pocket, Scott Morrison, has jumped in to point out that high efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power stations do not come cheap nowadays. The most devastating blow came from the Monash family themselves, who decried the anti-science motivations and asked that their name not be used. They were ignored it seems.

It would be silly to expect this debate to go away. We might as well just come right out and say it: not all coal is the same, Australia does have the best coal in the world, calorifically speaking, and we could well be the last country on Earth to stop mining the stuff. It is a truism to say that the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. On the same principle, the end will come for the coal industry just about everywhere else before it ends here. No point beating ourselves up about that. That’s why it feels as though our debate about coal is behind and disconnected from that of the rest of the world: no other rich country is so invested in continuing to sell coal, including the US, which has never been a big coal exporter and has switched to gas.

But no matter how good our coal is, markets are going to dry up. For thermal coal, this transition is advanced: Australian generators are closing as they reach the end of their life and export volumes have capped out well short of boom-time predictions and sank to a three-year low today. A sign of the increasing volatility of the thermal coal market came with the collapse of Singapore-based commodities trader Noble Energy, when futures markets went dark, indicating that traders were no longer prepared to place large-volume bets on future prices. Second, and much later, coking coal used in steelmaking and mostly mined in Queensland’s Bowen Basin will dry up as industry finds lower-emission alternatives.

None of this is stoppable, whether Malcolm Turnbull is replaced or not. At least Tony Abbott’s coal lunacy should remind us that there are worse options than our current prime minister.

since this morning

Victoria and Western Australia are reportedly [$] the big winners in the $65.8 billion GST carve-up announced today by Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Commonwealth Grants Commission.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott’s on-air claim that “there is a very serious situation developing in South Africa. Something like 400 white farmers have been murdered, brutally murdered, over the last 12 months,” was ranked “baseless” in an RMIT and ABC Fact Check.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has revealed [$] that there will be major changes to the $3 billion research and development tax incentive in the May federal budget, to prevent companies claiming tax breaks for business-as-usual activities. Meanwhile, Fairfax Media’s Peter Martin writes that the budget is in an excellent position, and estimates that the treasurer can afford to offer personal income tax cuts worth about $8 billion.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims has told Fairfax Media that the sale of the Liddell power station from AGL to Alinta would increase competition

Amid Indigenous protest against the “Stolenwealth Games”, former Northern Territory youth detainee Dylan Voller and two other protesters have been charged after trying to enter Carrara Stadium during last night’s opening ceremony.

in case you missed it

A Guardian team has travelled 3000 kilometres from Queensland to South Australia, to understand how the five-year-old Murray-Darling Basin plan has failed.

In her first interview, AUSTRAC boss Nicole Rose has told the ABC that she is shocked at the depth of money laundering in the economy that involves organised crime, child exploitation and drug importation.

Imre Saluszinsky ponders a return of former treasurer Peter Costello to the Liberal leadership.

by Oslo Davis
In Light of Recent Events
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by Harry Windsor
‘Early Man’ returns Aardman to its roots
The studio’s founders discuss prehistoric soccer and their history in Hollywood

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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