The answer on climate, economy and regional security is staring right at us
Our energy infrastructure is failing, the economy is screaming out for stimulus, and our Pacific neighbours are asking us for climate action: which of the words “major investment in renewables” does the government fail to understand? When he was environment minister tasked with framing an energy policy, Josh Frydenberg talked about the “trilemma” of getting emissions down, prices down and reliability up. This week he is trying to reassure investors that the federal government will “closely monitor” the turmoil in financial markets worried about US recession (and by implication perhaps here too) and take “necessary actions”. Beyond the legislated tax-cut package and the existing inadequate infrastructure pipeline – both already factored in by financial policymakers – the government does not have a plan to boost the economy. Yet a massive “triple-tunity” is staring Frydenberg in the face right now: a major investment in renewables as part of a proper energy plan would create jobs and confidence, get prices and emissions down, and strengthen Australia’s security in the region. What’s not to like?
An audit this week by Infrastructure Australia called for a massive $600 billion in investment over the next 15 years, including an overhaul of energy infrastructure to chase a massive market of the future: “Australia could play an increasingly important role as a provider of renewable energy to our neighbours through direct electricity exports, or to global energy markets by exporting energy as hydrogen – a fledgling industry at present”.
The Reserve Bank of Australia’s Philip Lowe has called on the government to stimulate the economy by investing in public infrastructure, and last week told the House of Representatives’ economics committee that there were plenty of investors sitting on their hands who could help them fund it. The government should stop its pea-and-thimble tricks with carbon accounting – which have fooled no one – and get genuine climate action back on track. It could do this with a national energy guarantee and an ambitious 2030 renewables target backed by public investment, which would guarantee good stable jobs for every worker in the coal sector – from Clermont to Muswellbrook to Morwell.
The Labor member for Shortland, in the Hunter region of New South Wales, shadow assistant minister for climate change and the Pacific Pat Conroy, hit the nail on the head this morning, telling ABC’s RN Breakfast that Australia was seen as a bad actor on climate in the Pacific. He then gave one of the best accounts so far of the election result: “What played out in Queensland, and to a lesser extent in my region, is somehow they thought that the Labor Party was ashamed of the coal industry – that we thought they were akin to… not doing legitimate jobs. I’m always very careful to say that I respect the fact that the wealth of regions like mine is built on coal; I respect the sacrifices and the risks that coal miners make every day and I welcome and applaud those jobs. And then I go on to say that unfortunately the global market for thermal coal peaked in 2012 – it has declined every year since. Our exports have increased in that period as people switch off less-efficient coal for Australian coal. But at some stage there will be a structural decline in the coal industry. So we need to be honest with workers and industry about what is occurring in the decades to come.”
Instead of grabbing the “triple-tunity”, we have the prime minister bullying our Pacific neighbours out of an honest climate-emergency declaration; a key junior minister declaring that Australia has a red-line position on coal; an energy minister stumbling from one scandal to the next while emissions and prices rise; a backbench replete with deniers pushing another debate on uneconomic nuclear power (which is a roundabout way of doing nothing); a carbon bomb about to go off in the Galilee Basin as Adani’s Carmichael mine gets underway (as The New York Timesreports today, hitching Australia, India and Bangladesh onto coal for decades to come); and broadcaster Alan Jones stooping to a new level of international infamy.
The Greens’ climate spokesperson, Adam Bandt, has accused the Morrison government of giving the Pacific the “coal shoulder”, and described the prime minister as the Pacific’s worst enemy. “When your neighbour’s house is on fire, you help them put it out,” he said. “You don’t go and throw more petrol on it.” At the UN climate talks in New York next month, Bandt said, the secretary-general would ask signatories to the Paris Agreement to step up the level of ambition. “This kind of bribery and bullying by Scott Morrison will not cut it when he goes to meet world leaders,” he said. “At the moment we are not on track to meet the Paris targets. No one in the world is. We are on track to exceed 3.5 degrees of global warming, which will be a catastrophe. The Pacific Island leaders know this.”
All the while, of course, the protests ramp up and will continue to do so. Today, a brave soul from the Frontline Action on Coal (FLAC), Heather Simpson from Stanthorpe, locked herself onto an Adani drill rig, to mark the 40th anniversary of Australia’s first environmental blockade, held at Terania Creek in NSW. FLAC are representing through direct action the opinion of the clear majority [$] of Australians (including Queenslanders), who do not want the Adani mine to go ahead. The government, which seems wholly captured by the coal industry and its media cheer squad, stumbles blindly forward.
“She left school at 15, [has] never been unemployed in her life, doesn’t have children, never got a dollar off the government and doesn’t get a pension and has been entitled to it for a long time. She gets $3000 or $4000 in imputation credits. They were going to take $3000 off her. Now, that’s OK, she still voted for the Labor Party but they said, ‘We’re taking the money off you and, by the way, you’re the top end of town.’ That’s not just taking money off them; that’s insulting them.”
“Angus Grigg from The Australian Financial Review provided an illuminating account of one such approach, albeit an unsuccessful one. I can say that the events described by Mr Grigg are stunningly consistent with other examples known to ASIO.”
ASIO’s outgoing head, Duncan Lewis, retells an old anecdote of the “clumsy” approach by Chinese spies to reporter Angus Grigg, who is irked by security agencies repeatedly misusing his story to push for tougher controls on journalists.
Hastie and Morrison
As the Morrison government begins its inquiry into press freedom, there is concern about the bipartisanship of the committee hearing it. At the centre is Andrew Hastie.
“With statistics showing that many families are avoiding seeing a GP … pharmacists can offer more affordable and more convenient access through walk-in services. This in turn will free up GPs and hospitals who are needed for more urgent, complex and after-hours care. Evidence from overseas has shown that when community pharmacies treat patients with common ailments or can issue repeat prescriptions, accessibility increases and health budgets see hundreds, if not billions of dollars in savings a year.”
“It’s hard to imagine finding something new to say about yet another blockbusting impressionist exhibition. And yet, Monet: Impression Sunrise gives a surprisingly fresh take on the emblematic painter of the movement. Instead of presenting him having sprung, like Athena, fully armed from Zeus’s brow, this exhibition places him as a first among equals, surrounded by and inspired by European painters who were pushing similar boundaries.”
“Is there anything that mainstream, heteronormative America – built on 400 years of puritan delusion – finds more unsettling than esoteric rituals and the cosmic natural order? How about women? For a time, anyway, Midsommar manages to roll with such a thesis. But Aster’s is a studied film, one that never feels out of control even when it purports – and desperately needs – to be.”
“Recent news of the federal government’s determination to keep the nuclear option alive is a source of confusion to many in South Australia and beyond. Not least when renewable energy is getting cheaper and represents a growing proportion of the country’s energy mix.”
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?
Our energy infrastructure is failing, the economy is screaming out for stimulus, and our Pacific neighbours are asking us for climate action: which of the words “major investment in renewables” does the government fail to understand? When he was environment minister tasked with framing an energy policy, Josh Frydenberg talked about the “trilemma” of getting emissions down, prices down and reliability up. This week he is trying to reassure investors that the federal government will “closely monitor” the turmoil in financial markets worried about US recession (and by implication perhaps here too) and take “necessary actions”. Beyond the legislated tax-cut package and the existing inadequate infrastructure pipeline – both...