Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Labor re-NEGs
Can the National Energy Guarantee be fit for purpose?


News that the Opposition will eschew a carbon price and take the National Energy Guarantee or something similar [$] to the next federal election suggests that the climate wars will be a feature of the next parliamentary term. Labor will again be fighting on two flanks: the Coalition’s head-in-the-sand denialists, and the Greens on the side of those who are properly alarmed about global warming. It is hard to see how the Coalition can conceivably campaign against a policy that a majority of its members supported three times, but, as the AFR’s Phillip Coorey, who broke this morning’s story, commented [$] on Sunday, when it comes to energy policy the government is now “utterly devoid of logic and consistency”.

When the NEG was pronounced “dead” on the weekend, Greens’ Leader Richard Di Natale tweeted “Good. Now, let’s get moving towards real action on climate change. Proper investment in renewables means fewer emissions, lower power bills and more jobs. We can do this!” If the NEG is back on the table, it will test Di Natale’s commitment last week to work with Labor on climate change and avoid a repeat of the 2009–10 experience, when the Greens voted against an emissions trading scheme.

As Coorey’s analysis pointed out, the NEG was forecast to lower prices. Most of the forecast gains came from construction of new renewables under existing federal and state targets, but a $150-a-year drop was expected from the extra certainty provided by the NEG. That’s now out the window – energy minister Angus Taylor all but lampooned the industry call for certainty in his first major speech in the portfolio. By some reports, future electricity prices are already rising. As shadow treasurer Chris Bowen pointed out in Question Time, the government’s own modelling suggested an abandonment of the NEG would push prices up by $300 a year. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg simply batted the question away today, saying that prices “have come down and will come down further”.

After Question Time, we got a taste of the lines that both parties will use next election in a matter of public importance debate on energy moved by shadow climate and energy minister Mark Butler. Butler lambasted the Coalition’s “parlour games over whether climate change is real or not real” and warned that the energy crisis under his opposite number Angus Taylor – whom he described as the “most ideological person ever to hold the energy portfolio” – was going to get “far, far worse”. He did not talk about Labor’s plans, however. For his part, Taylor launched into Butler’s admission, in his book The Climate Wars, that Labor made mistakes in government, including setting the carbon price too high. Labor hadn’t learnt its lessons, Taylor warned, but was “itching to have another crack”. Taylor then attacked Labor’s 50 per cent renewable target, had a dig at the Labor Environment Action Network’s statement that high power prices were evidence of a functioning market – “they want higher prices Mr Speaker!” – and, ominously, brought up CFMMEU and AWU opposition to a rapid transition away from coal. No mention of the NEG. Instead, Taylor spoke about stopping price gouging, introducing an electricity price safety net and backing investment in reliable generation – ludicrously called “fair dinkum power”.

Continuing policy uncertainty means states and territories will go it alone. Today the Queensland government, in recognition of the serious effects of climate change on our health, announced funding for a program to address killer heatwaves and disease outbreaks, and is talking about levelling tobacco-style taxes against carbon polluters. The Age reports that Victorian homeowners will be paid nearly $5000 towards the cost of household solar batteries by a re-elected Andrews government in a move aimed at making the state Australia’s “capital of renewable energy”.

Such Balkanisation of climate and energy policy was one of the key reasons that motivated John Howard to introduce an emissions trading scheme more than a decade ago. That was before the Liberal Party went rogue on climate change under the leadership of Tony Abbott, ignoring climate science and attacking renewables.

As everyone but the federal Liberal Party recognises, there are emissions reductions and jobs and lower electricity prices in renewable energy. Plus votes! What’s not to like? Perhaps they should heed their “climate comeuppance” from Dr Joe McGirr, the independent who just took the safe NSW rural seat of Wagga Wagga from them, who is a medical doctor who has campaigned for action on climate change.

The Conversation yesterday forecast that during 2018 and 2019, the Australian renewable energy industry will install more than 10 gigawatts of new solar and wind power. Australia would reach 50 per cent renewables in 2025, if that rate were maintained. The NEG was designed to slow that growth, but if it had proper targets built into it, could perhaps be fit for purpose in the electricity sector. It has none of the benefits of an economy-wide carbon price, however, and leaves Australia with much hard yakka to reduce emissions from transport, agriculture, manufacturing, construction and the rest.

As UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, warned this week ahead of next month’s New York climate talks: if the world doesn’t change course by 2020, we run the risk of runaway climate change. Labor will have to have a NEG-plus-plus-plus.

since this morning

The AFR reports [$] that the 11-country Pacific Rim trade deal is set to be ratified by Australia, after federal Labor overcame left-wing internal resistance by agreeing to support the government’s legislation but vowing to impose stricter labour and investment rules in trade accords.

Fairfax Media reports that on Monday senator Lucy Gichuhi gave a direct account of Liberal Party bullying to Prime Minister Scott Morrison but will not name and shame MPs in parliament.

The ABC is live-blogging the banking royal commission’s continuing examination of the life insurance sector, with Freedom Insurance in the spotlight for its aggressive outbound cold-calling sales tactics, including to a young man with Down Syndrome.


A Fairfax Media investigation has revealed that in 2014 Peter Dutton asked then Customs chief Roman Quaedvlieg to help two Queensland police officers get jobs in the new Australian Border Force agency that Dutton was establishing.

The Guardian’s latest Essential poll shows Labor maintaining a 54–46 lead over the Coalition, while disapproval of the switch to Scott Morrison has risen seven points.

In her first speech, the new UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has described Australia’s offshore processing immigration regime as “an affront to the protection of human rights”, while reflecting on the state of rights globally.

In Fairfax Media, Peter Hartcher writes of China’s “brazen” bid to buy Australian companies, arguing that “The hubris of the Chinese Communist Party has reached a great and giddy high.”

The Australian reports [$] that an audit of inflated membership numbers at the Australian Workers Union has confirmed the number of financial members has halved since 2012 to less than 70,000 in December 2017.

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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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