Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Frydenberg’s fizzer
One thing is certain: the NEG is not up to the climate task


It is getting harder to take this coming Friday’s meeting of energy ministers seriously. For months the meeting has been built up as Australia’s chance to end a decade of policy paralysis on energy and climate. Today’s reporting suggests it will be another fizzer, and argy-bargy about the National Energy Guarantee is bound to dribble on, because the Labor states quite rightly refuse to agree to something that might be watered down by the climate sceptics in the Coalition party room when they meet next week. The Coalition’s coal-huggers are muttering about a “NEG-plus” plan, citing the ACCC’s cryptic call for government intervention to support construction of more dispatchable power, which they take to mean a new coal-fired power station. Construction of a new coal-fired power station would make it that much harder for Australia to meet its Paris commitments, which suits these diehards just fine, because they want us to renege on the UN agreement, just as the US has done.

The ACCC may come to regret the cleverly worded recommendation, because the likes of Tony Abbott, Craig Kelly, Barnaby Joyce and George Christensen couldn’t care less about verballing the ACCC and pressing its report into the service of their pro-coal argument, just as they couldn’t care less about whether members of the Monash family object to their use of the legendary engineer’s surname, and just as they couldn’t care less about whether Labor’s fixed-price emissions trading scheme was actually a carbon tax.

It almost doesn’t matter whether the NEG gets up or not: the forecast hard yards on emissions reductions over the next decade come as a result of the federal renewable energy target, expiring in two years, and state targets in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT. Whether it is agreed to next week or not, the National Energy Guarantee will end nothing, because it is a manifestly inadequate response to the climate crisis we face. The idea was always nonsense – a Coalition conceit – as though by a political stitch-up climate change could be taken off the table.

The NEG will have to be revisited, because at some point the climate penny will drop in the broader community, which will demand action that is commensurate with the task ahead of us. It has happened before. In 2006, at the height of the millennium drought, when Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and the UK’s Stern review came out, John Howard felt he was facing a “perfect storm” of political pressure and asked the then environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to come up with an emissions trading scheme. It took half a decade to come to fruition, but when it was legislated by Julia Gillard in 2012 it was a well-designed, economy-wide carbon price that worked.

The industry lobbyists who now claim to want the supposed certainty that the NEG will provide torched their own policy credibility when they backed Tony Abbott’s abolition of that carbon price in 2014. What’s more, they went missing in action as Abbott caused an investment strike by cutting the renewable energy target despite evidence from his own hand-picked review panel, headed by a climate sceptic, which showed the target would reduce wholesale prices. Abbott doesn’t care about power prices at all – never did, not one bit – he cares about wrecking action on climate change.

Last night’s Q&A again showed that the public wants action, and is worried about the link between drought with climate change, whether David Littleproud likes it or not. Blanketed across today’s media is coverage of a new scientific paper that warns of domino effects from two degrees of warming, creating a “hothouse” effect: see The Guardian, Fairfax and even The Australian [$] (albeit the latter counterbalanced its reporting with some Ian Plimer drivel in a separate article). The northern hemisphere is reeling from an unprecedented heatwave and wildfires. The Economist warns that we are losing the war on climate change, and the front page of Murdoch’s British tabloid The Sun blares “The World’s on Fire”. The New York Times magazine has published a 30,000-word history, “Losing Earth”, on the missed chance to respond to clear warnings from climate scientists in the ’80s. It goes back further than that: in her quiet column for The Monthly, eminent scientist Lesley Hughes briefly traces [$] the science of the greenhouse effect back 200 years.

You want certainty? Here’s certainty: the climate problem has to be fixed – not denied, put off, fiddled with, but fixed. So the climate and energy wars will continue next week, next year, as long as it takes, until it’s sorted. The only question is how much irreversible damage we will do in the meantime.

since this morning

In hearings at the banking royal commission today, National Australia Bank has been accused of delaying telling the corporate regulator the full extent of what turned out to be a $120 million customer refund so it did not look worse than other banks in an official report.

The Age reports that Victoria’s emergency management commissioner, Craig Lapsley, has resigned while facing accusations of workplace bullying.

The Greens have chosen Oxford-educated human rights lawyer Benedict Coyne to contest Peter Dutton’s federal seat of Dickson.


Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer and Treasurer Scott Morrison have announced a $70 million funding boost for the corporate regulator ASIC, which will embed ASIC regulators inside the big banks and AMP to open their day-to-day operations to the regulator.

Embattled Labor MP Emma Husar has hit back at allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.

In his “warts and all” autobiography, Weatherboard and Iron, former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce admits to spending years in Canberra “wandering and getting closer to other women” before meeting his current partner, Vikki Campion. “When I was at home I was a lie, and when I was in Canberra I was ashamed,” he writes.

Federal Labor MP Meryl Swanson, from the NSW Hunter Valley, has said [$] that new coal-fired power stations could be part of the nation’s energy mix and urged state Labor governments to support Malcolm Turnbull’s national energy guarantee, according to The Australian.

The Greens have called on federal Labor to voluntarily disclose the attendees of its two-day business observer summit – a fundraising event where business leaders pay to mingle with Bill Shorten and the shadow cabinet.

A decreased emphasis on climate change and cuts to the foreign aid budget under the Abbott government caused a loss of expertise, a lack of oversight and early closure of some projects, according to an internal government report.

by Robert Manne
Abbott, ANU and the decline of Western civilisation
How the Ramsay Centre’s degree stopped before it started

by Ann Arnold
Australia’s new black economy
The overworked, underpaid, cash-in-hand worker is becoming increasingly common

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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