The Politics    Wednesday, November 10, 2021

No ‘can do’

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image © James Ross / AAP Image

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image © James Ross / AAP Image

The government isn’t willing to do much to lower emissions, but it is willing to throw money at carbon capture and storage

Another day, another deceptive policy from the apparent climate converts in the Morrison government – desperate to look like they are doing something about climate change while actually doing as little as possible. After yesterday’s U-turn on electric vehicles (and shameless claims that it wasn’t a U-turn), the prime minister has today announced $500 million in funding for “clean energy” technology development, with plans to invest it in controversial carbon capture and storage (CCS) initiatives. The Low Emissions Technology Commercialisation Fund (half made up of private investment, despite the “billion dollar” outlay promised in headlines) will be administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which currently cannot invest in CCS. But the government has plans to alter its rules, setting up a fight with Labor and the Greens, which have both repeatedly opposed moves to allow other clean energy bodies to invest in the fossil fuel–prolonging concept. Speaking at the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, Scott Morrison continued his pro-market push, telling business leaders that climate change would be solved by “can-do capitalism”, rather than “don’t do” government policy (never mind that his government is willing to heavily subsidise its preferred energy projects – so much for capitalism). The Coalition, of course, doesn’t really do policy in this area, as its net zero “plan” showed. It will, however, be doing whatever it can to keep digging up fossil fuels – even if it means throwing money at unproven mitigation technologies rather than at proven replacement ones.

The government’s new fund was quickly lampooned by opponents, many of whom saw the “policy” as just another attempt to use taxpayer funds to invest in the questionable technology – not to mention a crack at “wedging Labor” over clean energy funding. Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi labelled the announcement “pathetic”, noting that CCS was only good for “greenwashing dirty fossil fuel projects”, while Warringah MP Zali Steggall accused the government of corrupting clean energy bodies to try to make its new coal and gas projects “look clean”. “It would be far more efficient for the Morrison government to withdraw the $500 million from the bank and set fire to it,” tweeted Australia Institute director Josh Bornstein, alongside a headline about the CCS investment.

Speaking on ABC’s AM, Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the fund was about “starting with the solutions”, implying his critics wanted to “pick and choose” technologies to fund on “some kind of ideological basis” – as if his government wasn’t trying to do exactly that. “If any technology can contribute to that, we should be looking at that,” Taylor said, in an attempt to take the higher ground. “Labor has decided that there’s some types of emissions reduction they like, and there’s some they don’t.” Over on News Breakfast, shadow energy minister Chris Bowen accused the government of trying to pick a fight, noting that Labor was opposed to diverting renewable funding to CCS, but was open to the possibility of supporting the idea if it were truly new money. “If it can play a role in some sectors, fine,” he said. But, he added, “it’s an excuse not to reduce emissions.”

That is exactly what the government’s latest fund is: an excuse not to do more to reduce emissions. Fortunately or unfortunately, the international community can see that for what it is: Australia is now ranked dead last on climate policy in the latest Climate Change Performance Index, released at COP26 today. “The government does not have any policies on phasing out coal or gas, but CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] and hydrogen are being promoted as low-emissions technologies,” the report said, noting that Australia was failing to “take advantage of its potential” in renewables. The Australian media, however, cannot always see it for what it is, with large segments of the press today failing to do more than copy and paste from the Low Emissions Technology Commercialisation Fund press release.

Speaking to the “can-do” business leaders this morning, Morrison painted a glowing, pro-business picture of what had gone down at COP26. “Glasgow has marked the passing of the baton from targets and timetables … to private enterprise and the millions of dispersed decisions, flashes of inspiration, which make up consumer-led technological progress,” the prime minister said, spruiking his government’s new fund, in which his government decides what “can-do capitalism” should do about the climate crisis. Unfortunately for the experts at Glasgow, who are still crying out for stronger targets to prevent catastrophic warming, that’s unlikely to be anything that interrupts coal.

“These [ICAC] allegations, if substantiated, raise serious integrity issues. They are not trivial, and the investigation cannot be labelled as such, as the editorial suggests.”

Former judges and integrity advocates Anthony Whealy and Stephen Charles call out the AFR’s “Voters, not ICAC, should judge” editorial, accusing it of taking a “narrow view” of the need for oversight.

“The honest answer is the feds are tough and the state guys are as weak as dishwater.”

A supporter of disgraced Victorian MP Tim Smith characterises the state Liberal Party push for him to resign as a sign of weakness, while praising the feds’ ability to avoid accountability at all costs.

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The amount awarded to DPG Advisory Solutions – founded and run by former Liberal insider David Gazard – in a “limited tender” contract to develop a private hotel quarantine system, likely to be run by another party insider.

“Labor, the Greens and members of both the lower house and Senate crossbenches are calling on the Morrison government to enact financial penalties against law-breaking executives, after the government introduced its final tranche of legislation flowing from the Hayne royal commission.”

LNP Senator Gerard Rennick and One Nation say they would support amendments from the crossbench or the Opposition allowing for million-dollar fines to be imposed on dodgy finance executives.

The list

“Alan Rosendale is one of the people whom the memorial honours. On the night of May 5, 1989, he visited a gay beat in Moore Park on his way home from a night out on Oxford Street … Moments after he arrived, Rosendale heard a man shout, ‘There’s one! Get him!’ Without looking back, he fled. Running from the park and over South Dowling Street, he was confident he would escape the group of men chasing him. But then he tripped – ‘maybe I had one too many beers’ – and the vicious bashing began.”

“Ten years after the Clean Energy Act, much has changed. News Corp, forced by its advertisers, is now supporting net-zero. More and more Australian businesses – especially those that are trade-exposed – are demanding a plan. Morrison is even willing to fund electric vehicle charging stations just two years after declaring the ‘end of the weekend’ when Labor made them policy. And Matthias Corman, who in 2011 described Gillard’s carbon price as ‘a very expensive hoax’, is urging greater integration of carbon markets in his new role as head of the OECD. As that happens over the next decade, and as the market for Australia’s coal exports dries up, we’ll see that our climate recalcitrance has measurable economic costs, to say nothing of the environmental ones.”

“The past fortnight has seen the shape of the looming election campaign become much clearer. Both Labor and the Coalition are refining their negative messages about the character of the other’s leader. Social researchers say Morrison has an issue with ‘shiftiness’. But it’s not as potent as the sense of him having been ‘absent and ineffective’ at key times during the pandemic, in contrast to state leaders. People in focus groups are starting to criticise Morrison spontaneously, with sentiments like ‘nowhere to be seen’.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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