Friday, April 6, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Pub test: the Shire loves coal?
Local member Craig Kelly has his finger on the pulse

Image of Craig Kelly


It should not be a surprise that Craig Kelly’s extreme views on coal are fairly representative of his safe Liberal electorate of Hughes. It should not be a surprise, but it is. We are not in rural Queensland, after all, or Tasmania, where so many of these green-haters come from, but in the heart of the over-developing Sutherland Shire, in the south of Australia’s biggest city, Sydney. At the Royal Hotel, 100 metres from Kelly’s electorate office, half the drinkers are avowed climate sceptics.

Kelly is well known locally, and seems pretty well regarded at a personal level. He doesn’t come across as a hardliner, they say. Kelly took over a local manufacturing business built up by his father, employs local people, and gets around. A year before he was elected in 2010, he wasn’t even a member of the Liberal Party. Now he is sitting pretty on a margin of 10 per cent, despite a small swing against him in 2016.

Kelly is one of the key backbenchers in a pro-coal forum led by former prime minister Tony Abbott, which now has no name after the Monash family dissociated themselves from it. The way Kelly bangs on about energy, you’d think he owned a coal-fired power station himself.

But at the Royal Hotel, they’re extremely concerned at high energy prices. They don’t know what is to blame for them – certainly, they appear to have forgotten that prices were supposed to go down when Tony Abbott abolished the carbon tax – and they think we’re selling our coal to China on the cheap and not getting the benefit of burning it ourselves. It’s probably a Ray Hadley reflux, so full of misinformation it doesn’t bear repeating (NB: We’d be happy to put up a transcript.)

The sole encouraging thing is that everyone’s quite happy to disagree with each other about it, without any fights starting. Take one table of three local blokes, about to go to a funeral: one sounds quite left; he’s concerned about the US alliance and especially Australia being led into wars, voted Labor last time, and thinks Kelly’s plan is crazy and that renewables are the go. His mate, an Aboriginal guy, has lived locally since he was taken from his family as a young child in 1963. He is totally dismissive of all politicians, is not on the electoral roll, and has no comment whatsoever in terms of energy or climate change. The third voted Liberal last time, and says Kelly helped him out personally at a time when he needed it. He says climate change is “a load of crap”, volunteering that he lives by the water, down at Como, and hasn’t seen any evidence of sea level rise. The government should never have gotten rid of the coal-fired power stations in the first place, he says, and if they have to build another one, so be it. All three know of Kelly. Don’t mind him. Whatever.

In the outside smoking section, two women having a beer are also squarely at odds. One voted for Kelly, and reckons he’s dead right, that building a new coal-fired power station is a “no-brainer”. Her mate says straightaway, “See, we disagree here, it’s dirty energy”. Asked if she’s worried about climate change, the first woman says “Not overly, to be honest”. She’s met Kelly personally, and, although not currently a member of the Liberal Party, she used to be, and says Kelly works the electorate fairly well: “He’s pretty hands-on. You do see him around, I think he is popular.” Her mate, however, is very worried about climate change, scoffs at the idea of building a dirty new coal-fired power station, and is particularly opposed to fracking, which she argues is poisoning underground water supplies (and on that, they agree). When it comes to politics, she voted Labor last time, but admits she swings (and tells me that in an argument late one night, her mate was outraged at that, shouting she was “f**ked in the head!”).

It’s hard to feel hopeless when everyone’s so friendly – it feels as though if we could put a few facts on the table, we might be able to get somewhere. At least everybody’s not hitting the pokies like zombies.

since this morning

Queensland businessman and former federal MP Clive Palmer has hit back [$] at charges laid against him by the corporate regulator, saying they were “politically motivated and doomed to fail”.

North-west Melbourne and inner Canberra will each get a new federal electorate – named Fraser and Bean respectively – under the proposed redraw of boundaries released by the AEC today, which Labor is claiming as a win according to The Australian [$].

Freedom of information documents show that BP says coastal towns would benefit from an oil spill in the pristine Great Australian Bight because the clean-up would boost their economies.

in case you missed it

The Age reports that Victorian independent schools are spending seven times more per student than state schools on building projects, outlaying millions on pools with moveable floors, ergonomics rooms and orchestra lifts.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, AGL chief Andy Vesey said the company would defy pressure by the Turnbull government to sell its ageing Liddell power plant, warning that interference would raise issues of “sovereign risk”.

by Malcolm Knox
Jeremy Heimans: the up-start
The co-founder of GetUp! might be the most influential Australian in the world

by Steve Dow
‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’: history is an infinite loop
The Sydney Theatre Company production brings Brecht’s parable closer to home

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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