Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

A strange victory
The triumphant PM needs Labor more than ever


It’s a strange victory for a Liberal prime minister if he needs the support of the Labor Party to claim it, but that’s what Malcolm Turnbull faces on the National Energy Guarantee. Reports after this morning’s joint partyroom meeting suggested that around 10 Coalition MPs expressed reservations [$] about the NEG, and five have reserved their right to cross the floor to vote against it. Given the government’s one-seat majority in the house, there is no way the PM’s signature policy can pass if Labor votes against it.

So the PM and his front bench are conflicted, and it came across in Question Time: a strange mix of shouting at the Opposition’s “ideology and idiocy”, while also begging for their support. Which raises the question: what is in this policy for Labor anymore? If they believe it will help them avoid a non-stop Coalition tongue-lashing over blackouts and power prices and the reintroduction of a carbon tax, they are surely mistaken.

The PM’s big win today, of course, is not over the Opposition but over Tony Abbott and his remaining supporters, whose numbers have finally been exposed on this issue. Turnbull’s kryptonite dealt with. Perhaps it really is the end for Tony Abbott, whom the ABC’s political editor, Andrew Probyn, once described as the most destructive politician of his generation; perhaps he has been revealed as an “empty threat”, as Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes [$] today.

But Turnbull vanquishing Abbott does not help Australia with a climate and energy policy, because the government does not have the numbers to get the NEG through parliament, even if they do manage to persuade the Labor states and territories to support it. The energy ministers are meeting by phone this evening, and will presumably agree to kick the process along, given that no violence was done by the joint partyroom meeting this morning to the policy framework they signed off in principle on Friday. At least in theory, the prime minister’s nudge-nudge wink-wink promise to the diehards in his joint party room to fast-track government intervention to fund new “dispatchable” power remains consistent with the government’s technology-neutral policy.

Unless something dramatic happens tonight, we will finally see draft legislation supporting the NEG. The AFR reports [$] this afternoon that Labor’s plan will be to pass it in the lower house and push to amend it in the Senate.

In Question Time the member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, opened the attack, pointing to comments by Snowy Hydro chief Paul Broad that a new coal-fired power station would make Snowy 2.0 unviable. The PM dodged that question, trying instead to coal-shame Labor, and he similarly dodged a yes or no question from Bill Shorten on whether he would rule out allocating public money to fund a new coal-fired power station. The PM will not be pinned down, and so the pressure will inevitably ratchet up on the states and territories, and on Labor federally.

At a press conference this afternoon, shadow energy minister Mark Butler did not rule out Labor support for a Senate inquiry into the NEG, which would presumably delay it until after the next election. Butler again insisted that a new coal-fired power station would be uninvestable: “The only way you could deal with the substantial extra cost in building new coal as against new renewable, is with taxpayer finance, and that will go to billions of dollars and then you have to deal with the question of de-risking what investors, bankers and lenders say is a very risky asset, particularly once you get into 2030s and 2040s when there will be a lot of pressure around price risk and regulatory risk.”

In parliament, just after Question Time, Butler accused Turnbull of a “final act of capitulation” to the right wing and a “weak act of surrender”. The fact that Barnaby Joyce was able to support the policy “tells you everything you need to know about it”, he said.

For all the rhetoric, however, and all of the NEG’s faults, Butler has not ruled out Labor support for the policy. As the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, said this afternoon: “Mark Butler was right when he said this was a dud of a policy … the Labor party look like, again, they are walking both sides of the fence. This is a big test for Bill Shorten here. Don’t cave in … You’ve got a choice now, you either back it, or you join the Greens and send this dud of a policy back to the drawing board.” Labor is in the box seat now. In the lead-up to the next election, Labor has a choice of being berated by the Coalition for blocking the NEG, or berated by the Coalition for irresponsible emissions-reduction targets.

since this morning

The Australian reports [$] that crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm has told his fellow senators “there are many opportunities to blackmail the hell out of the government” as he campaigns to force Malcolm Turnbull to allow a euthanasia debate in the House of Representatives.

Also in The Australian, it is reported that a war has erupted between WA Liberal leader Mike Nahan and billionaire Kerry Stokes’ The West Australian newspaper, which has today [$] editorialised for Nahan to be dumped and says it will boycott his press conferences.

The ABC has axed the daily comedy show Tonightly with Tom Ballard a year after it launched as the flagship show for a new comedy channel, The Guardian’s Amanda Meade reports.

Within weeks of learning it would receive a grant worth nearly half a billion dollars, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation treated mining and banking executives to a weekend of snorkelling and sunset drinks, according to the ABC.

An abuse survivor has been called “rubbish” by a member of Adelaide’s former Catholic archbishop Philip Wilson’s entourage, in an exchange played out in front of a media scrum.


The Guardian reports that law enforcement agencies would gain new powers to conduct covert surveillance on electronic devices and compel technology companies to assist in decrypting private communications under proposed legislation released by the minister for law enforcement and cyber security, Angus Taylor.

The AFR reports [$] that the federal government is no longer committing to take any unlegislated company tax cuts to the next election.

by Steve Dow
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by Margaret Wertheim
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STEM is the future, and women need to be part of it

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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