Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Kean on action
A moderate Liberal adds pressure on the PM over climate policy

Image of NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean

NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean

Pressure is building on Prime Minister Scott Morrison over climate policy, with his British counterpart Boris Johnson stressing the “importance of setting ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach net zero”. Japan this week adopted a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, following South Korea, while China pledged earlier this month to reach net-zero emissions by 2060. All three are significant customers for Australia’s coal and gas. The pressure is also coming from state governments, which have all embraced a 2050 target for net-zero emissions. The NSW energy and environment minister, Matt Kean, a moderate Liberal, today put a rocket up his party, speaking with conviction about the need to embrace the global shift to clean energy. “You don’t need to believe in climate change to believe in capitalism,” Kean said at the launch of the Australia Institute’s Climate of the Nation survey, “and the reality is the markets that have underwritten our prosperity through trade for generations are changing the products that they’re demanding. And we are well placed – as well placed as any country on the planet – to provide those goods and services … and we should do it! We can either grab those opportunities or be left behind and turn NSW – and Australia – into a rust-bucket state, by denying the international reality.” 

“I have a hypothesis that people don’t really care how they get their electrons,” Kean said. “They just need them to be there when they want to turn the lights on or watch TV or warm their house or cool their house … and they want them to be as cheap as possible. So my focus is on exactly that, making sure that people in NSW get access to the cheapest form of reliable energy, and today that’s not gas and it’s not coal and it’s not nuclear … Today, the cheapest way to deliver electricity into the system is a combination of wind, solar, storage and also demand response.”

Citing the work of expert bodies including the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator, Kean said we should be taking ideology out of the discussion, and be focusing on evidence and science. He went on to reference our fleet of ageing power stations, saying: “We need to get the new generation installed before the old generation closes, to avoid blackouts and price spikes like we saw after the closure of Hazelwood.”

Governments are not keeping up with the changes in energy technology, Kean said, because of “political inertia … we’ve let politics and ideology get in the way of market forces. I think we should be getting out of the way.” He was not just arguing as someone who cared about the environment but as an economic rationalist: “I can’t think of anything more in line with what the Liberal Party should be about, than supporting the free market to deliver the outcomes that are best for consumers.”

Climate is not a partisan issue in the UK or Japan, Kean added, and nor should it be in Australia. “It’s about time someone stood up for the centre of Australian politics in this debate, for what I termed the forgotten people … not the people represented by big business or big unions. They’re not the people that have access to Sky After Dark, or newspaper ownership … they’re the mums and dads in the suburbs. They just want to get on with their lives.” 

Kean has his own portfolio challenges, of course, among them a disappointing Liberal backdown to the Nationals over koala habitat policy, which is compounded by the proposed clearing of more koala habitat at Appin, in outer Sydney (and there were plenty of questions raised on the topic at today’s Zoom chat). But there are only going to be more centrist voices like Kean, whose core position is backed by business groups from across the economy that support a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. 

This weekend’s Queensland election and next week’s US election both look like they will add considerably to the pressure on Morrison. Even outgoing finance minister Mathias Cormann, of all people, is now claiming to support a green recovery as he chases the top job at the OECD (and if the people who matter fall for that, they deserve everything they get). That leaves the PM’s much touted “gas-led recovery” and his scandal-plagued energy minister, Angus Taylor, looking increasingly isolated. As the Australia Institute’s survey showed, only 12 per cent of Australians support gas, compared with 59 per cent for renewables. Beyond the confines of certain denialist circles of the media, where will the Coalition’s climate dinosaurs find support as the rest of Australia gets on with the urgent transition to renewable energy?

Kean spoke as the bushfires royal commission handed down its final report to the federal government, which promptly announced it would not be released until Friday. At a climate protest outside Parliament House today, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the report should be released immediately, and he delivered a scathing assessment of the prime minister’s handling of the bushfire crisis and his inexplicable failure to distribute relief funds. “It’s just extraordinary that you have people living in caravans and living in temporary accommodation on land that has not been cleared,” Albanese said. “[They] have gone through a winter in those conditions, and the government has a pot of funds that they haven’t actually spent – just an extraordinary abrogation of responsibility, and another example of how this government is all announcement and no delivery.”  

The commission’s interim report put climate change right in the spotlight, and the final report does the same. It’s yet more pressure on the Morrison government to ditch the denialism and get with the times. 

“At the moment our best guess is it looks like the economy probably recorded positive growth rather than negative. As best as we can tell … the strength elsewhere in the country was more than the drag from Victoria, and possibly the drag from Victoria was a little less than what we had guessed.”

Reserve Bank of Australia deputy governor Guy Debelle tells Senate estimates that the COVID-19 recession may already be over, as the economy likely grew in the September quarter.

“The premier’s office complies with its obligations under the State Records Act.”

A spokesperson for Gladys Berejiklian goes out on a limb after a senior policy adviser from the NSW premier’s office admitted she had shredded a list of projects approved under a $250 million council grants program. Former NSW auditor-general Tony Harris has called on the premier to resign over the prima facie breach.

What went wrong at Australia Post?
As an investigation into Australia Post’s leadership gets underway, a deeper crisis at the organisation is threatening to jeopardise the way it operates. Today, Rick Morton on what went wrong at Australia Post.

The increase in inflation in the September quarter – the biggest quarterly jump since 2006 – following the June quarter’s record fall. Annualised inflation now stands at 0.7 per cent.


“How can this Andrews government justify destroying ancient First Nations heritage and culture just to save motorists two minutes on the highway? We’re also deeply concerned that the Andrews government has slapped protesters with $5000 COVID fines for safely trying to protect these trees. It’s a total overreach of power and force, and these fines must be rescinded immediately.”

Victorian Greens MP Ellen Sandell condemns the police response to protesters who are trying to protect remaining trees along the Western Highway, after a culturally significant tree known as the “Directions Tree” was cut down on Monday. The Greens have introduced a motion in state parliament calling for work to cease on the road project, and for all Djab Wurrung sacred trees – some believed to be around 800 years old – to be protected.

The list

“Wheatley has dealt in the eerie before, having directed a terrifying version of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise. His Rebecca is not of the same ilk; it is airbrushed horror. Strangeness and dreams take over, as do portentous signs: a flock of birds looks like a plume of ash, and Maxim’s grandmother calls out in distress, ‘What have you done with Rebecca?’ There are no sightings of the novel’s blood-red rhododendrons, but Mrs Danvers’ vermillion lipstick might speak of both death and desire.”

“There is something deeply unsatisfactory about the Rupert Murdoch story – the lack of consequences, the triumph of cynicism – and it trips those who tell it into making the same mistakes over and over again. He has attracted a coterie of chroniclers, many of very high quality, who are tempted to contrive comeuppances for him. ‘You have to write something at the end,’ one biographer told me, so they suggest that his journalists might stand up to their boss (this has happened a couple of times, but not for decades), that he might be spayed by regulators (never happened), that he might be overcome by second thoughts. All wishful thinking. ‘If I was going to be shot tomorrow morning, I bet I could get out of it,’ Murdoch said once, and he does.”

“This week, Brooklyn O’Hearn, 17, will sit her year 12 exams in her home town of Townsville, just days after launching a legal request with her friend Claire Galvin, 19, to Environment Minister Sussan Ley to revoke federal approval for Adani’s controversial Carmichael coalmine. Flanked by climate lawyer Ariane Wilkinson, the pair is armed with a dossier of expert evidence detailing some of the most compelling arguments to date that emissions stemming from the project are not negligible and can be linked to disastrous impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.”

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 Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


The Monthly Today

Surveillance grates

The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

Image of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

Game over

Premier Berejiklian’s position is untenable

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Cold comfort

The Morrison government gave us a recession we didn’t have to have

Image of Government Services Minister Stuart Robert

Government dis-services

Stuart Robert is doing the PM’s dirty work

From the front page

Surveillance grates

The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

Image of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

Currents of joy: Stephen Bram and John Nixon

Overlapping exhibitions by the two abstract artists convey their shared radical modernism

In light of recent events

Shamelessly derivative summer puzzle!
Image of Earth from the Moon

Pale blue dot

The myth of the ‘overview effect’, and how it serves space industry entrepreneurs