Friday, August 17, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Coalition comedy hour
The PM’s “victory” on energy didn’t last a week


Remember Malcolm Turnbull’s supposed big win on Tuesday? Turns out it was nothing of the sort. He is now fighting to save his prime ministership, as the number of nay-sayers on the National Energy Guarantee has swelled from two (Abbott and Joyce), to five, to a dozen, and the virus is spreading into the outer ministry and even cabinet. Yesterday on 2GB Peter Dutton made it very clear that he was available should the party room hit the panic button, and today the home affairs minister’s name is being touted for the leadership. The most damaging suggestion, reported [$] in today’s Australian, is that Turnbull provided a draft of the NEG legislation to Labor before he provided it to his Coalition colleagues. It is beyond ouch, inflaming that diehard Liberal suspicion of Turnbull: the Wran protégé and Keating Republican and Rudd-CPRS-backer really is not one of them. He will never prove himself, in the eyes of some.

So the government continues to beat itself up. Labor – federal, state and territory – may not even have to make a decision about the NEG: the Coalition could blow it up first. As press gallery veteran Michelle Grattan writes in The Conversation today, it is “nearly unimaginable how the Coalition chooses to replay that old self-destructive record”… but there you have it.

In the process, there’s some bizarre policy manoeuvrings going on. To appease the far right, Turnbull has to veer waaay out to the left, promising a “big stick” [$] intervention to get electricity prices down … not over the course of a decade, not next year, but right now! This big stick, picking up a recommendation from the ACCC, starts to get very interesting, because the truth is that the national electricity market has been manipulated by the incumbent gentailers who have gouged windfall gains out of sometimes artificial price spikes, quite apart from the standard rort of gold-plating that has puffed the profits of private and publicly owned networks for years.

If that’s what “NEG-plus” means, as against new taxpayer-funded technology-neutral coal-fired power stations, then bring it on. Tony Abbott has been right to be sceptical about the forecast $150 annual power price saving that the Energy Security Board attributes to the NEG (separate to the $400 saving from new renewables which Abbott wilfully refuses to acknowledge). If the Turnbull government could go to the next election having lowered prices substantially already, that would be a vote-winner.

Heavy-handed intervention goes against the political grain, but that is hardly surprising, given that the Coalition under Abbott abandoned their market-friendly principles when they abolished an efficient emissions trading scheme. So we are in topsy-turvy land, with Nationals leader Michael McCormack on the ABC’s AM this morning accusing Labor of saying “let the market rip” when it comes to power prices. This weekend, according to Grattan, the Nationals federal council is set to consider a motion calling on the government “to support the building of high-energy, low-emissions, coal-fired power stations”. With the Nationals’ Keith Pitt, assistant minister to the deputy prime minister, allowing stories to run about a possible resignation over the NEG, it could be an interesting meeting. Pitt, according to McCormack is a “close associate” of rich-lister Trevor St Baker, a strident defender [$] of coal, whose firm, ERM Power, came out yesterday slamming [$] last-minute amendments to the NEG sought by South Australia. More crony capitalism.

What’s most revealing about today’s developments is that they prove that the backbench insurgency against Turnbull and the NEG is not really about power prices at all, but about decoupling the NEG from Australia’s emissions reduction targets under the Paris agreement.

Culture warrior Tony Abbott has framed the Paris agreement as a question of Australia’s sovereignty. The Nationals’ George Christensen has duly taken up the line: “If I am being asked to vote for an emissions reduction target based on the Paris agreement, I would have to vote against it.” So has Liberal Andrew Hastie: “I just quibble, or I disagree rather, on the Paris emissions target. And I cannot support it.”

This “Dad’s Army”, as columnist Niki Savva described [$] them this week, want to go the full Trump, pull Australia out of Paris altogether, and if they could engineer it this side of an election – because, to hazard a guess, they would never get a mandate from the people – they would no doubt be all the more delighted. Today, 2GB’s Ray Hadley, of all people, said that a challenge from Peter Dutton was on within the next two weeks – “100 per cent” – despite denials from Christopher Pyne and Mathias Cormann. Off the record, one minister said “Anyone who listens to Tony has got rocks in their head.” With the hard right on the warpath, the rest of Australia just has to sit back and watch.

since this morning

In his semiannual parliamentary testimony, RBA governor Philip Lowe today welcomed falling house prices and a weaker property market, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, and said he was “appalled” at the revelations of the banking royal commission.

The AFR’s Sally Patten writes [$] that two weeks of damning commission evidence, which shows that some of Australia’s biggest listed wealth companies have taken their superannuation fund members for mugs, “will no doubt buoy the critics of Australian’s compulsory super system”.


In an exclusive, Fairfax Media reports that CBA has not yet compensated victims of a $76 million loan fraud that has left unwitting customers homeless. The perpetrators, who have been sentenced to a decade in jail, were helped by the bank’s loan managers to set up loans in customers’ names using fake documents.

Fairfax also reports that the number of Chinese-born residents being granted Australian citizenship has plummeted, against a backdrop of tensions between Beijing and Canberra and political debate over immigration levels.

The trial of Australian filmmaker James Ricketson began in Cambodia on Thursday, with a panel of judges interrogating a character witness over the accused spy’s finances and links to the Australian government.

Family Court judges yesterday forwarded an explosive document [$] to bar associations, law societies and the judges union, hitting out at what they say is “misinformation promulgated” by Attorney-General Christian Porter.

The Guardian reports that a push by the Greens and Labor to attempt to force greater protection of fisheries in Australia’s marine parks failed late yesterday.

According to the AFR, the chances of the Turnbull government striking [$] a compromise company tax deal were dealt a blow yesterday, after One Nation leader Pauline Hanson demanded a crackdown on multinational gas companies first.

by Sarah Krasnostein
The Nation Reviewed
The death doula
Annie Whitlocke is helping to break the silence around grief and dying

by Michael Heyward
Remembering Peter Temple
The acclaimed Australian crime writer had a deep appreciation for the folly of things

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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