The Politics    Thursday, May 21, 2020

Picking losers

By Paddy Manning

Picking losers

Via Facebook

The Coalition’s energy thrust is one for the fossil fools

More evidence has arrived that the Morrison government has not changed its spots on its vexed climate and energy policy, which remains fossil fuel–led even as key stakeholders, both nationally and internationally, urge a green stimulus response to COVID-19. The long-promised (if not long-awaited) technology roadmap released by the accident-prone Angus Taylor appears to crab-walk away from building a new coal-fired power station in this country (although the energy and emissions reduction minister stressed on RN Breakfast this morning that this climate denier’s fantasy is not ruled out), but it puts heavy emphasis on the role of gas in the transition to a low-emissions future. Combined with the heavily stacked COVID-19 commission’s leaked report – which does not mention climate change, but recommends the federal government subsidises transcontinental gas pipelines – it seems the technology fix is in. 

The draft interim report on a “Modern Industrial Policy” for Australia comes from the manufacturing taskforce advising the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, chaired by Strike Energy director and shareholder Nev Power. The taskforce, headed by Dow Chemical executive and Saudi Aramco director Andrew Liveris, evisages a gas-fired revival of manufacturing. It is all much too cosy. Environment groups reacted with alarm, and independent Warringah MP Zali Steggall has called on the federal government to bring industry groups together to canvass their views on stimulus measures, arguing that the COVID-19 commission’s decision-making processes lacked transparency. Shadow climate and energy minister Mark Butler welcomed the roadmap’s step away from coal, but described the document as the Coalition’s 19th energy policy – and one that was light on details. “Minister Taylor has pulled a hamstring making sure that his anti-renewable colleagues know that expensive new coal is still in the mix, while also tipping his hat to expensive and dangerous nuclear power,” said Butler. “It is not for government to pick winners in energy policy, it is for the market to decide. Labor doesn’t understand why the Morrison government seems so determined to continue to pick losers.”

The roadmap is not much more than a scenario, and given that it comes without the government’s long-term emissions reduction strategy, which will come out later this year, it has very little weight. In his colourful way, Angus Taylor is continuing to do nothing about climate change. There is to be no price on carbon, no major new regulatory strategy, no really sizeable public investment. At its silliest, the roadmap even talks up a big role for carbon capture and storage. This is obscenely expensive – and risky – and though it may have a future role in cutting more emissions from oil and gas or heavy industry, it has failed spectacularly over the last decade when it comes to the holy grail of trapping emissions from coal- or gas-fired power stations. As shadow resources minister Joel Fitzgibbon told Sky News, the roadmap appears to imply that CCS could keep the ever-contentious Liddell power station operating in his Hunter Valley electorate. “It’s just ludicrous to suggest that you can retrofit any carbon capture and storage system to a more-than-50-year-old coal-fired generator,” Fitzgibbon said. 

At this stage, you’d have to say, there is no climate pivot coming. It’s not so much that between Scott Morrison’s ham-fisted response to the Black Summer and the coronavirus pandemic he has shown he can learn to be a better PM, although perhaps that is true. The real difference is that when it comes to a pandemic, Morrison has a much freer hand and can be as pragmatic as he likes – be himself, even. When it comes to climate change, however, there is a squillion-dollar fossil-fuel industry that has Morrison on a very short leash and tells him – via political donations, vassals in politics and the media, and a revolving door opening right into his office – where the political and policy boundaries are. A pro-coal bully like ex-Peabody executive Brendan Pearson (the guy who gave [$] Morrison the black lump he took into parliament, and who BHP and Rio considered too extreme for the Minerals Council) is sitting inside the PMO for a reason.  

As if to prove the point, today under cover of COVID we saw the approval of a massive expansion of Whitehaven Coal’s Vickery mine in NSW, more than doubling its production to 10 million tonnes per annum. Let ’er rip.

“I’m not predicting a V-shaped recovery in any sense, but the way we entered this and the nature of this shock gives me some hope that, if governments respond well, that we needn’t have what’s called the L-shaped recovery.”

Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy, who admitted before the COVID-19 Senate select committee that the “real” unemployment rate is already 9.6 per cent, says economic recovery will not be rapid.

“We have to talk very quickly to business and employee groups to understand whether or not the financial impact of this decision over the next six, nine, 18 months puts businesses in jeopardy. If it does, we need to consider ways we can strengthen businesses, so we preserve jobs.”

Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter flags a swift government response to a Federal Court decision that longer-term casual employees should be recognised as permanent, and may be owed back pay worth billions.

Who is really planning Australia’s economic comeback?
The prime minister has appointed a panel of business leaders to develop a blueprint for the country’s economic recovery, but there are serious questions over how they were picked. Today, Mike Seccombe on the vested interests leading this panel and what they’re pushing for.


The minimum age of people who could be subjected to questioning by ASIO under a bill, introduced last week, that would expand the spy agency’s powers in what UNSW law dean George Williams describes as a clear “overreach”.

“Alan Jones will provide an on-air correction following an Australian Communications and Media Authority investigation that found the licensee of radio station 2GB in breach of broadcasting rules due to inaccurate comments he made about climate change. 2GB was also breached over decency rules in relation to comments made by Mr Jones regarding New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.”

Media watchdog ACMA finds that the retiring 2GB star breached broadcasting rules through his “repeated use of violent metaphors” and “aggressive silencing” of Ardern, as well as his inaccurate statements about climate change.

The list

“On 25 January 2019, Benny Wenda, exiled leader of the political arm of the West Papuan independence movement, handed a petition signed by 1.8 million West Papuans to the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet in Geneva. The actual hand-signed document, weighing more than 40 kilograms, had been collated and smuggled across the border to Papua New Guinea over a period of months in 2017. Representing more than 70 per cent of the West Papua and Papua provinces’ population of 2.5 million, it requested the relisting of West Papua on the UN committee for decolonisation, from which it had been removed in 1963, and a UN-supervised independence vote.”

“There is a mini-genre of Australian journalism that seeks to prove that property in our metropolises is secretly affordable for the young. News Corp Australia’s websites enjoy it in particular, but all commercial media are partial to it. A young person is put on a pedestal for owning multiple properties. He or she becomes an exemplar – not only is it possible for the young to buy properties in Australia, it’s possible for them to buy six, if they really want to.”

“When Sumney speaks about his qualms with progressive politics, it feels revelatory, and important for a discourse that can become stagnant. When I ask him, towards the end of our conversation, who he sees himself as an artistic descendant of, he cites Nina Simone, Grace Jones, Malcolm X. When he speaks, you can feel the fire, the measured and informed but combative spirit of those figures coming through.” 

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor at The Monthly and the author of Inside the Greens and Body Count.

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