The Politics    Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The emperor has no modelling

By Rachel Withers

Image of Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor. Image via ABC’s News Breakfast

There is simply no way the government has a sound economic structure behind its half-baked climate plan

Scott Morrison may have yesterday made a mockery of Australians with his modelling-free, policy-deficient, assumption-heavy, technology-reliant “plan” to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but today the shoe is on the other foot. Ridicule has been widespread (“laughable”, “embarrassing”, “a joke”), and critics agree that the plan is unlikely to stand up at the COP26 climate talks, for which the PM departs on Thursday. Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor this morning bluffed their way through media rounds, in which even breakfast TV hosts labelled it “more of a prayer than a policy”. Morrison, however, insisted he was “not embarrassed” by the criticism, and it’s clear he believes his strategy of turning this into an economic debate between Labor and the Coalition (with no small help from the writers at The Australian and the AFR) will work on the voters that matter. But despite the PM’s booming confidence that his scheme is economically sound, the government is still yet to publish the evidence upon which its claims are based – including the assertion that it will leave Australians $2000 better off by 2050, and create up to 62,000 new mining and industry jobs. Journalists have continued asking after the elusive modelling, which the government has also refused to release in the Senate and in estimates, claiming public interest immunity, with Taylor and Morrison updating yesterday’s “eventually” to “a later time” and “at the appropriate time”. The plot thickened in today’s Senate estimates, where Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy revealed that his department hadn’t done any climate-related modelling “at least for the last few years”. So where is this supposedly incredible modelling? Who put it together, and why wasn’t Treasury properly involved? And when exactly will be an “appropriate” time to release it to the public, if not now?

ABC News Breakfast host Michael Rowland’s efforts to get a straight answer from Taylor about when he would release the so-called modelling were admirable – and the responses very telling. “Why the secrecy about the modelling behind yesterday’s plan?” Rowland asked. “There’s no secrecy,” Taylor responded. “When will you release the modelling?” Rowland asked, half a dozen times, with Taylor alternating between “the outcomes of the modelling are laid out clearly” and “the detail of the modelling will be released at an appropriate time”, while continually throwing shots at Labor. Similar efforts were made in Question Time, to much the same effect. Shadow energy minister Chris Bowen asked the PM why Treasury wasn’t involved in the modelling, and why he wouldn’t release it. “It will be released in the next couple of weeks,” Morrison replied, noting that the modelling had been done by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (with assistance from Treasury), but failing to answer why he couldn’t release it. (McKinsey & Company consultants, where Taylor was a partner between 1994 and 2001, was also involved, the AFR reports, while the Liberal-aligned modeller used to attack Labor policies was hired to “verify” it, Renew Economy reveals.) Labor leader Anthony Albanese asked Morrison if he would table the modelling, but Morrison merely repeated his claim that it would be released in the next few weeks (“I’ve made that very clear,” he blustered). He then launched into an attack on Labor (for which he was repeatedly called out by Speaker Tony Smith) and uttered confusing boasts about what his modelling shows (then why not release it?). Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce failed to answer questions about whether he had seen the modelling in question, referring instead to different modelling (“the modelling seems pretty good,” he said, twice) and implying Labor was showing an insulating lack of faith in the experts. The entire exercise was reminiscent of the Coalition’s refusal in August to release Doherty Institute advice on reopening, seemingly only because Labor was asking for it.

But is there something more suspicious about this latest round of pig-headed secrecy? It’s hard to understand why the government wouldn’t want to release modelling that proves such wonderful outcomes from net zero by 2050, if it is sound. But it’s also hard to understand how models could even make such predictions, what with an emissions-reduction strategy that is at least 30 per cent based on a vague combination of “global technology trends” and “further technology breakthroughs”. As George Washington University economics professor Steven Hamilton writes and argues, “What is truly laughable is that we have advanced to a net-zero-by-2050 target without a single change in policy.” Especially considering such a target was previously considered economy-wrecking. What has changed? Why is the same modeller that claimed Labor’s climate policies would cost the economy $542 billion and 150,000 in job losses, and who was criticised for failing to account for the economic benefits of taking action while overestimating the cost of renewables, now finding $2000 benefits for all Australians from the Coalition’s so-called plan?

I guess we’ll find out “eventually” or “at the appropriate time”, when the government is good and ready (and whenever it decides that it’s no longer a threat to national security to release it). Maybe that will be around the same time we finally learn what trade-offs the National Party secured in return for its support. (Taylor says he can’t name them because they’re not yet approved by cabinet, even though cabinet has approved the plan.) In the meantime, we can expect to hear plenty about the magical benefits of the government’s “plan”, with the Coalition having committed $12.9 million of taxpayers’ money to advertising its climate policies. The Energy Department is now investigating whether Liberal MPs breached rules by publishing such ads on their social media accounts. One thing is for sure: the Coalition’s climate “plan” will be powered by technology and lots of taxes.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers


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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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