Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Tinker Taylor
The federal Coalition is avoiding the main issue on energy


The political sands are shifting under federal energy minister Angus Taylor, whose Coalition colleagues appear increasingly worried about the electoral impact of his hardline, climate-blinkered reform agenda. On the same day that Taylor is battling to win the support of state and territory energy ministers for the reliability guarantee, his NSW counterpart, Don Harwin, has told [$] the AFR that the federal government is “out of touch on energy and climate policy”. Harwin has also written an op-ed [$] calling for an end to the climate wars and for the national Energy Security Board to advise on how to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The backlash against the knifing of Malcolm Turnbull, and the failure of his national energy guarantee policy, may one day be seen as the beginning of the end for the Coalition’s science-deniers, who have been dictating terms to the party since the rise of Tony Abbott in 2009.

Don Harwin’s comments come in the wake of the Coalition’s heavy defeats in Wentworth and the Victorian election, which prompted Workplace Minister Kelly O’Dwyer to tell her Liberal colleagues that the party was now perceived as one of “homophobic, anti-women, climate change deniers”. The Nationals’ loss of the Victorian state seat of Mildura, to an independent who’s calling for action on climate change, is no doubt playing on the party’s mind as it contemplates a replacement for the dumped member for the Mallee, Andrew Broad.

Going into today’s COAG energy ministers’ meeting, Taylor brushed aside Harwin’s comments, reciting his policy mantra: “We are very, very focused on keeping prices down while we keep the lights on.” Resources Minister Matt Canavan, the Nationals senator from Queensland who is also attending today, was equally dismissive, telling the ABC: “I’m not focused on what will happen in 2050, I’m focused on what will happen here and now.”

Canavan is an endangered political species: wilful climate denial has passed its use-by date in this country, and any politician who abuses schoolkids, as the minister did after the #climatestrike protests, has lost the plot. Reports indicate that the feds faced a “full-on revolt” from states and territories today, and that Taylor was “sweating blood”. The retailer reliability obligation agreed at today’s meeting is a solution in search of a problem: the electricity grid is extremely reliable already. Getting prices down is a laudable objective, but Taylor’s watered-down “little stick” divestiture legislation is less and less likely to pass the parliament, and he struggled to defend his policies in a train-wreck interview on the ABC’s The Business last week.

Taylor stymied his NSW counterpart today, and Harwin issued an angry statement: “The refusal, on procedural grounds, to let the vital matter of restoring an emissions obligation into national energy policy be discussed is extraordinary.” Harwin cannot simply be taken at face value on clean energy – successive NSW Coalition governments have a poor track record on clean energy over the past decade by comparison with South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT. NSW shadow climate change minister Adam Searle today called Harwin’s op-ed “a joke … a lengthy confession of failure by the Berejiklian government and its energy minister”. Harwin took a crack at his state counterparts, saying that “overly ambitious and uncoordinated targets set by Labor are as much a recipe for chaos as the absence of any orderly transition plan”.

One of the more interesting sessions at Labor’s national conference in Adelaide was a fringe debate that featured former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, who was feted by the party faithful for his national and global leadership on energy and climate. Weatherill told the session that the state was regularly running on 50 per cent renewable power already. Further, he said that South Australian voters always understood that a storm caused the blackout in 2016, remained supportive of renewable energy and the Tesla “big battery” experiment, and resented the smear campaign run by Turnbull and former energy minister Josh Frydenberg. Shadow climate minister Mark Butler chimed in, saying there’s nothing people from Adelaide hate more than being lectured by “spivs” from Sydney and Melbourne. “They’ve been doing it since 1836,” he joked. Remarkably, far from dismantling Weatherill’s renewables-plus-storage agenda, Steven Marshall’s Liberal government is quietly getting on with it, pointing the way forward for the Coalition nationally.

since this morning

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority will lift restrictions on interest-only residential lending from January 1 in an attempt to stabilise Australia’s ailing housing market.

The Australian reports [$] that the Australian Greens will conduct an independent review of the NSW Greens’ decision-making and complaints processes, and appoint a mediator to resolve conflict in the state parliamentary party, but MP Jeremy Buckingham has labelled the measures a “bandaid on a weeping wound”.

A Guardian analysis of the 59th Victorian parliament, sworn in today, shows that the average member is a 48-year-old Australian-born man who was educated at a religious or private school and worked in politics as a staffer before being elected.

The federal government has given private health insurers the green light to lift premiums by an average of 3.25 per cent next year, which Labor warns will force more people to dump their private cover.

in case you missed it

Bill Shorten was present [$] with other senior party leaders at a Chinese Friends of Labor fundraising dinner in Sydney that is believed to be the focus of yesterday’s raid on the NSW ALP’s headquarters by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, according to The Australian.

Also in The Australian, Troy Bramston writes [$] that gestures won’t calm Kevin Rudd’s hatred for Bill Shorten, Julia Gillard and other ALP figures, while Janet Albrechtsen writes [$] that at year’s end the Coalition government is “the political equivalent of a wobbling dish of blancmange”, and does not know what it stands for.

by Craig Mathieson
‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
For their Netflix debut, the Coen brothers return to the Western

by Karen Hitchcock
Drugs: on medication, legalisation and pleasure
What role can cannabis and psychedelics play in modern medicine?

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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