Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Don’t mention the energy wars
Plans A, B, C and D may well be failing


The Coalition’s internal climate wars are breaking out again, as the denialist wing of the Liberal Party sniffs both danger and opportunity in a looming showdown over the National Energy Guarantee. The danger, as Tony Abbott told 2GB yesterday, is the chance that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg might actually sneak a “carbon tax in disguise” past the party room. The political opportunity, apparently, is to reprise the successful anti–carbon tax campaign of 2013. Because Abbott’s position is emotional, not rational, there can be no arguing with him: his line in the sand [$] is a policy that will allow construction of new coal-fired power stations, even though they are no longer economically competitive with renewable power plus storage. Go figure. It is a dead end, like negotiating with terrorists: the rest of us are being held hostage.

The usual suspects caused the usual trouble at today’s Coalition party room meeting, prompting Bill Shorten to quip that the NEG was in “more trouble than the early settlers”. The thing is, Abbott is not entirely wrong about the NEG, which, by setting carbon pollution reduction targets for energy industry emitters and allowing them to trade between themselves, does create a carbon price of sorts, albeit one that is deliberately hidden. The Australian reported [$] yesterday that energy providers were told that the NEG was an emissions intensity trading scheme “by stealth”, although the plan’s architect, the Energy Security Board, denies ever saying such a thing. Another climate denier, chair of the Coalition’s backbench energy committee, Craig Kelly, is pushing for a “hockey stick” emissions reductions trajectory in the energy industry. This would effectively delay action in the energy industry until the last possible moment, when we absolutely have to act in order to meet the 2030 targets we agreed to under the Paris climate accord. That’s the kind of thanks Turnbull gets for intervening personally to save Kelly from a moderate preselection challenger in Hughes. The PM has a rod for his own back.

Josh Frydenberg told David Speers on Sunday that the NEG is “plan A, B, C and D”, so we should be under no illusions that the government has a fallback policy. For that reason, the Sydney Morning Herald editorialises today that the NEG “merits support”, and is backed by the anything-is-better-than-nothing types, like the Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood, who today pleaded [$] for the states and territories to overlook the NEG’s faults and back it at the energy ministers’ meeting in August.

It might be better to have nothing, however, than a deeply flawed NEG. As Giles Parkinson reported at Renew Economy yesterday, the NEG may well be “booby-trapped”. He raises concerns that the policy could put a de facto cap on efforts by state governments, retailers and even corporate buyers to go beyond the federal government’s weak targets. One energy expert, Dylan McConnell, told Parkinson that the NEG “could actually be detrimental. It is not clear to me that it will do no harm … the draft proposal explicitly limits over achievement.” The Australian’s John Durie writes [$] this morning that states with effective renewable energy targets, like Queensland and Victoria, are questioning whether the NEG, which will allow laggards like NSW to free-ride on their efforts, will do anything at all to help them. ACT Climate Minister Shane Rattenbury says the government has not put forward any real evidence to suggest that the NEG will bring down electricity costs for consumers: “It’s more likely that this is a smoke-and-mirrors cost-shift from electricity to other sectors, such as transport and agriculture, that will likely see Australians paying more overall.”

The NEG is not designed to tackle climate change. It’s a fourth-best policy whose only virtue is that it might have been acceptable to the Coalition’s climate-change deniers, and it appears to be failing at that. For evidence of policy bad faith, we need look no further than Frydenberg’s tweet on Saturday, after the Liberal Party Federal Council, in which he described the five past Coalition environment ministers – himself, Greg Hunt, Malcolm Turnbull, Ian Campbell and Robert Hill – as a “#Greenfreezone”. This is a photo for the ages. Minister Frydenberg effectively flipped the bird at anyone worried about climate change – because together these five men over the past 20 years have guaranteed Australia’s contribution to solving the global warming crisis will come much later than it needed to, at a much higher overall economic cost to our country, with much worse damage to the safe climate that we may or may not still have a chance to restore.

since this morning

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie has told [$] an audience at the Melbourne Press Club today that the public resents the broadcaster’s enemies using it as a “punching bag”.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has confirmed that Labor will oppose stages two and three of the government’s income tax package, and would repeal them if elected. Labor is still prepared to vote for stage one, which gives relief to low- and middle-income earners.

The NSW budget delivered today includes a $3 billion Generations Fund to guard against intergenerational budgetary pressures, the SMH reports.

in case you missed it

A NSW Liberal Party meeting has resulted in one man being hospitalised after a brawl broke out at a cafe in Sydney’s south.

The Guardian’s Essential poll finds that the Coalition has recovered two percentage points to be behind Labor 48:52 in two-party preferred terms, although voters prefer Shorten’s tax plan to Turnbull’s.

In response to reports in News Corp papers yesterday of a $10 billion hole in Labor’s dividend imputation policy, the Parliamentary Budget Office has rejected suggestions that its modelling of the policy was second-rate, undermining Scott Morrison’s attempt to discredit the Opposition.

The SMH reports that ASIC has urged company directors to take seriously a leading barrister’s opinion that they could face lawsuits for failing to consider risks related to climate change.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is at risk of breaching electoral laws by using a structure that runs state branches by “remote control” from Queensland, according to an explosive letter that reveals growing pressure inside the troubled party.

by Chloe Hooper
Lives of the magnates
Inside the worlds of Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest and Nathan Tinkler

by Marina Kamenev
The Nation Reviewed
Australia’s first body farm
People are dying to get into this forensic research facility

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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