Friday, January 31, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Gas-ping for policy
In a climate emergency, more public money for fossil fuels

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. © Bianca De Marchi / AAP Image

The Morrison and Berejiklian Coalition governments have delivered a dud of a bilateral energy deal today that, if it is a template for the deals minister Angus Taylor plans to do with other states, confirms this summer’s ongoing climate emergency has taught neither government a thing. Almost laughably, it appears to revolve around finally getting the Narrabri coal-seam gas project up and running. If ever there was a dubious CSG project, it is the one that energy company Santos has been trying to foist on Narrabri for so many years, after buying it in a fit of stupidity from Eastern Star Gas (chaired by former Nationals leader John Anderson) umpteen years ago. Ever since, Santos has been trying to persuade the NSW government to approve it, with a succession of flimsy arguments that ignore two basic facts: it will not lower gas prices soon, if ever, and the locals don’t want it. As a pretext for supporting an unspecified investment in renewables some time down the track, investing massive public subsidies in gas (and possibly coal [$]) right now is so poor it scarcely qualifies as a pea-and-thimble trick.

The time for using gas as a transitional fuel to renewables is gone, as RenewEconomy’s editor Giles Parkinson wrote yesterday. There are better options, including for firming up intermittent renewables. If we want to get back on the Paris path to no more than 1.5 degrees of warming – and we really do – then there is no more time for stuffing around with the incremental cuts involved in moving from coal to gas. Yet the federal funding under the deal is conditional on NSW boosting gas supply by 70 petajoules, and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said it could come from Narrabri or a gas import terminal. There may have been some pursed lips at Santos today when the prime minister said that boosting supply would drive gas prices down. Santos prefers to say it would exert “downward pressure” on gas prices. That’s because its original strategy on the eastern seaboard, as was admitted by former MD David Knox, was to jack up the value of its reserves by hooking Australia up to the export market.

Renewables plus storage is evidently the future – for power and electrified transport – and there is no time like the present. Complicated subsidised byways via fossil-fuel projects, whether gas at Narrabri or coal-fired power at Collinsville, are only going to delay the inevitable, and cost the taxpayer through subsidies, the cost of dealing with all the climate emergencies that fossil fuels create, and the cost of compensation the owners will demand when we have to shut them down in a decade. The South Australian Liberal government of Steven Marshall has got the idea: go for broke. It’s an opportunity, not a threat, and one that should be grasped right now. Nationally, the spike in investment in renewables during the lead-up to achieving the 2020 renewable energy target (which the Coalition tried to abolish) has collapsed, as shadow climate minister Mark Butler pointed out today, “as a result of Scott Morrison’s inability to deliver a national energy policy”.

Australia’s gas supply problem could be solved with a stroke of a pen. More of the gas we export as the world’s largest LNG producer should simply be reserved for domestic use – as it is already in Western Australia, and as is done in the United States. As former WA premier Colin Barnett told [$] The Australian Financial Review today, the amount we export is four times the amount we use at home. Australia has plenty of gas, our brave politicians just need to work up the courage to ask for some of it back. All today’s deal will achieve is set up more protracted fights with farmers round Narrabri over fracking, and we’ve all seen that movie.

The Greens today were rightly apopleptic, calling the deal “climate criminality”. Australian Energy Daily describes it as a “divide and rule” strategy, with Canberra playing the states against each other. I’d describe it as divide and fool strategy – the fools are us taxpayers, handing our money over to fossil-fuel companies to keep emitting carbon dioxide for longer, even while the country is burning.

“It is appalling and dangerous that the safety of airport staff is not being prioritised because employers are worried about spooking customers. The safety of our members and the public must always come first. The coronavirus is a life-threatening disease. The World Health Organisation has declared it a global health emergency. To threaten disciplinary action for a request to wear a mask is not only irresponsible but immoral.”

United Workers Union property services coordinator Damien Davie warns that staff at Australia’s major airports will stop work unless safety concerns amid the coronavirus outbreak are addressed.

“Mr Dreyfus has deliberately and methodically sought to use the state to censor the free speech of his political opponents at CPAC. It is a contemptible and cowardly act.”

Andrew Cooper, the Australian organiser of the US-counterpart Conservative Political Action Conference, attacks shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus for seeking to require that both he and Tony Abbott register as agents of foreign interference, under laws introduced by Malcolm Turnbull.

Scott Morrison’s eternal present
As Scott Morrison pivots to the coronavirus evacuation and deploys the military to the fire zone, questions are being asked about the management of both responses. In this episode, Paul Bongiorno assesses the prime minister’s attempt to reset his agenda.

Australia’s ranking as an agricultural exporter to the UK. Before the UK entered the EU, Australia was ranked third. Trade minister Simon Birmingham hopes to restore this market post-Brexit, with a bilateral deal expected by the end of the year.

“The Coalition Government has today released for consultation draft legislation to implement 22 recommendations and two additional commitments from the Banking, Superannuation & Financial Services Royal Commission to enhance protections for consumers and small businesses and to strengthen the role of financial regulators.”

The list

“For years, Adam Sandler has been anathema to a certain type of snob who insists that the actor’s only good performances exist in the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love or Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories – ‘proper’ films seen as aberrations in a career otherwise dedicated to peddling broad comedies … Sandler’s performance in Uncut Gems isn’t some great metamorphosis; it’s Sandler doing what he’s always done best: cultivating an uneasy, livewire anxiety that pulses on top of his characters’ essentially humble, flawed humanity.”

“Perth Festival has devoted the first week of its 2020 season to Indigenous Australian programming, and associate artist Kylie Bracknell has been a critical link between the festival and Indigenous creatives. When I speak to Bracknell, she is finishing the writing of what is, for her, the most personal of these shows, the Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s work Hecate, which will be performed entirely in Noongar language, with no surtitles or translator.”

“Do sports grants matter much? Ask the prime minister. He supports McKenzie, he says, “and the reason I do is because she was delivering a program which has changed the future of local communities”. But then it must be equally true that missing out on funding has changed the future of other local communities – communities that missed out only because their votes weren’t useful to Morrison and McKenzie.”

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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