Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Guaranteed to be inadequate
Josh Frydenberg is in an invidious position on climate and energy


Just because Australia is in desperate need of a bipartisan, fully national agreement on climate and energy policy does not mean we need to buy the lowest-common-denominator National Energy Guarantee Josh Frydenberg was selling at the National Press Club today.

Frydenberg is one of the Coalition’s best communicators, but he got the main message wrong, by pointing the finger at supposed ideologues at either end of a polarised debate. He needs to check his dictionary. Which ideologies is he talking about, exactly? If scientists say climate change is a danger, and burning fossil fuels is the main cause, then a response that proposes a phase-out of fossil fuels is not ideological. It is rational. If the science-deniers like Tony Abbott have an ideology, it would be very difficult to define. Abbott is a reactionary, pure and simple.

The problem here is that we have no objective framework for evaluating the effectiveness of the National Energy Guarantee as a policy because the one and only test that matters for the government is: will this policy get Abbott and co. off the front page of The Australian? That is a ridiculous test for a policy, because the government has no control over the very solid relationship between a small number of backbenchers and an even smaller number of Murdoch editors. What’s more, they aren’t going anywhere and on this issue they are never going to give this government their blessing. One week they’ll be asking the government to build a coal-fired power station. The next week they’ll be insisting on a whole new fleet of them, and let’s shut down the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO while we’re at it, and Alan Jones and Ray Hadley will be pounding their desks in support. Why, as a nation, do we pander to this nonsense? Even on the issue that Abbott professes to care about, electricity prices, he spectacularly failed to deliver. Did removing our dear-departed emissions trading scheme actually lower prices? No, it didn’t, because that was never the problem. Never mind. Will cycling through the Latrobe Valley help anyone in that community?

Why is the government trying to appease Tony Abbott? One-time Macquarie banker and former Clean Energy Finance Corporation chief executive Oliver Yates is a staunch Liberal who left [$] a party fundraiser in disgust last November when Senator Jane Hume handed the treasurer, Scott Morrison, a lump of coal. This morning, in a stirring interview on RN Breakfast, Yates said: “Everybody knows we need a policy, but the fact that there is an internal fight going on with the Liberal party doesn’t mean you need to produce bad policy … the emission reduction target within the NEG is designed to suggest we’ll keep our coal-fired power stations running until 2070 … it is don’t continue to keep changing policies to satisfy a certain number of backbenchers and come up with a worse policy for our nation.”

Of course, Frydenberg can do nothing about the real problem, which starts and ends with the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who is hogtied by his secret Nationals deal-with-the-devil, and who is showing no sign of his old courage. Turnbull needs to grasp the nettle, rib the scab off, do whatever is necessary to take back control of this issue and, with the support of his cabinet, dare the backbench to bring down the government. Instead, the PM has adopted a stealth policy, outwitting them with smart initiatives like Snowy 2.0.

The only way to evaluate what needs to be done on climate and energy is to remind ourselves why we’ve had this vexed debate in the first place. We are trying to prevent dangerous climate change, remember, because otherwise we might save a few pennies on our energy bills but boil the planet. So we start from the two degrees target we signed up to in Paris and work backwards, with Australia doing its fair share. By that yardstick, the National Energy Guarantee is an abject failure, a fourth-best option forced upon us to please a bunch of science-deniers, whose singular virtue is that a future, unbowed Labor government might be able to improve it in the next parliament.

The ACT Government’s climate minister, Shane Rattenbury, whose “100 per cent by 2020” target single-handedly propped up our renewables industry in the dire Abbott years, this week released expert advice on the NEG. The advice concludes that the design of the NEG could “risk locking in inefficiently low ambition on emissions reductions in the electricity sector, put upward pressure on power prices and may even fail to improve reliability”. Hopefully the ACT, and other supportive states and territories, will stand firm at the COAG energy council meeting next week, and make it better now.

since this morning

Bill Shorten has confirmed [$] that he is considering vacating the Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong and running for the newly created electorate of Fraser.

AGL Energy has already started [$] on its plan to replace Liddell power station with clean energy by ordering equipment it needs to convert Liddell’s turbines to “synchronous condensers” to firm up wind and solar energy, chief executive Andy Vesey said.

Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes [$] that the ABC’s journalistic failure on the so-called “Cabinet Files” cache of sensitive documents has been revealed in answers to Senate Estimates Questions on Notice, in which the broadcaster admitted the files totalled “hundreds of documents consisting of thousands of individual pages”.

in case you missed it

Human Rights Commission research has found that Australia’s leadership and executive culture is dominated overwhelmingly by people from an Anglo-Celtic background, with only 4.7 per cent of senior figures reporting non-European heritage and 0.4% Indigenous.

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s historic push for a new era of openness to foreign investment is a stunning victory for Donald Trump and a great outcome for Australia, writes [$] Cameron Stewart for The Australian.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Westfield co-chief executive Peter Lowy has been moonlighting as a stand-up comic in the US under a bizarre alias.

by Doosie Morris
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My life as a monster
Male puberty’s difficult lessons

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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