Friday, July 17, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Teenier ARENA
Angus Taylor drags his feet on renewable energy

Image of Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor’s trench warfare with the renewable energy industry grinds on, undeterred by another wet-lettuce flogging from the Opposition. It is indicative that Taylor left it to the last moment to finally announce a new chairperson for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) – whose directors’ tenure expired today – but the future governance and funding of the organisation remains uncertain. As the AFR [$] reported this morning, Justin Punch – previously a partner at private equity firm Archer Capital – replaces respected environmental lawyer Martijn Wilder as ARENA’s chair, with further board appointments to be announced shortly. It is groundhog day for ARENA, which the Abbott government tried to abolish, and the agency faces drastic funding reductions in the future, having invested most of its initial $1.6 billion allocation. ARENA’s job now is to help implement the government’s Technology Investment Roadmap, which Taylor’s announcement says “will bring a strategic and system-wide view to future investments”. (It is hard to find a doing-word in the press release.) 

Shadow minister for climate change and energy Mark Butler called on the government to appoint new directors and commit to re-funding ARENA, saying that the “neglect [of ARENA] undermines Australia’s renewable energy industry, which saw a 50 per cent collapse in investment in 2019, even before the COVID-19 crisis hit”. Butler cited estimates that 11,000 jobs will be lost in the sector over the next two years due to the government’s refusal to support renewable investment. That’s at least an order of magnitude greater than the amount of jobs that will be generated by Adani’s Carmichael thermal coalmine in the Galilee Basin, but it all fits nicely with the pattern of deliberate job destruction in industries the Morrison government doesn’t like. 

ARENA is not the only energy body in limbo. Today marks the first meeting of the Reform Committee for Energy (replacing the COAG Energy Ministers Council), a body whose agenda is subject to an unusual degree of confidentiality as it is a subcommittee of the national cabinet. One item sure to be contentious is the future of the Energy Security Board (chaired by the respected public servant Kerry Schott), which devised the National Energy Guarantee – the last serious attempt to set an energy policy for Australia that might reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the science. The states want to keep it going. Taylor is considering abolishing it. 

As renewable energy investor Simon Holmes à Court wrote last weekend, state and territory energy ministers from both sides of politics have turned the tables on Taylor, and are charging ahead without his help and despite his obstruction. The ACT has hit 100 per cent renewables already, South Australia has a target of 100 per cent by 2030, and Tasmania is aiming for 200 per cent. NSW has been lagging badly, but the state energy minister, Matt Kean, is making up lost ground, facilitating development of 11 gigawatts of new renewables over the decade in two specially designated zones – 3GW in the central west, near Dubbo, and 8GW in the New England region. Both zones have excellent wind and solar resources, and opportunities for pumped hydro energy storage. “Every state and territory has now formally signed on to a net-zero emissions target by no later than 2050, a target backed by business, unions and the Opposition,” Holmes à Court wrote, “yet the federal government and its donors stand in the way.”

Taylor’s dithering is putting Australia further behind. The Australia Institute today published an open letter to the energy ministers – signed by Atlassian co-chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes, renewable energy entrepreneur Simon Hackett, Tesla managing director of energy products and programs Mark Twidell, Amber Electric co-chief executive Dan Adams and other energy industry leaders – calling for an accelerated pace of reform for the electricity market. Yesterday, the institute released research, as part of a new global Energy Policy Tracker, showing that during the pandemic Australian governments have committed at least US$479.51 million in unconditional fossil fuel support, roughly four times their total investment in clean energy, which totalled US$121.67 million.

A war on renewables is all part of the Morrison government’s grand assault on the environment – it’s now being pitched as green tape restricting the pandemic recovery. Environment Minister Sussan Ley is sitting on a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act by former ACCC chair Graeme Samuel. Meanwhile, Australia’s threatened species list has become a “waiting room for extinction”, according to Samantha Vine, the head of conservation at BirdLife Australia. “The fact we keep adding to the list and that very few species, once they are on the list, come off or move to a less threatened category, shows we’re not doing enough.”

“There are important questions … about those who stood to benefit, and by how much they may have benefited financially or in what other way. There are also important questions concerning conflicts of interest … All up, an overwhelming case for a National Integrity and Corruption Commission, with real teeth.”

Former Liberal leader John Hewson, a professor at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, criticises the secret prosecution of whistleblower Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, who revealed Australia’s illegal spying operation against East Timor.

“One of the biggest surprises in my three months at Westpac has been when I asked management ‘Why can’t we do what otherwise seems sensible with respect to lending?’ Invariably the answer has been ‘regulation’.”

Westpac chairman John McFarlane warns red tape could hamstring efforts to recover from the recession, and calls for the regulatory environment to be “adjusted to be supportive” of credit expansion.

The Prime Minister for NSW
As the pandemic worsens in Victoria, Scott Morrison has been careful to distance himself from bad news. He chooses when to be the face of the response, and when to leave it to the state premiers.

The number of families who had not had their childcare subsidies for 2018–19 paid by the end of March. Many are still waiting.

“Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims confirmed the regulator had received letters from food service distributors and food and grocery suppliers worried about the effect of Woolworths’ expansion in the sector through its fast-growing digital business. Mr Sims said the ACCC would look at whether Woolworths’ B2B strategy had an adverse impact on competition, rather than an adverse impact on competitors.”

The competition watchdog is investigating Woolworths’ plans to build a $1 billion wholesale business supplying the education, childcare, healthcare, disability and government sectors.

The list

“At dusk the bats fly silently over our house in inner Sydney. Unlike birds, which coast through the air without apparent thought or work, the bat’s effort to stay aloft, with each wing-beat going from out wide to almost touching under its heavy body, is visible in the span. When I watch the bats, for reasons I can explain, I always think of David Chalmers, one of the world’s leading philosophers of consciousness.”

“In Guadagnino’s sun-drenched adaptation of André Acimen’s 2007 novel of sexual awakening, this exploration of feeling – from the purely sensual and tactile to the emotionally heightened and overwrought – is embedded into the musculature of every frame and every scene.”

“There is an impulse within the Andrews government to lead with police, which is troubling in any circumstance. But the habit morphs into something darker as some five million people across the city move back into lockdown for six weeks, or perhaps even longer … Victorians need kindness and clarity from their leaders. They do not need police out in full force, nor the hovering threat of fines, in order to stay home.”

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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