Thursday, March 26, 2015

Today by Russell Marks


Up in the air
The Abbott government and the renewable energy industry are 1,500 gigawatt hours away from an agreement on the RET...but Ian Macfarlane won't budge.

Yesterday, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) – the renewable energy industry’s peak body – suggested that the Coalition and Labor might split their differences on the Renewable Energy Target (RET). When Labor was in government it mandated that 20% of Australia’s energy would be generated by renewables by the year 2020. That equated to 41,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity, at the then rate of energy generation. Since then, demand for energy has fallen in Australia. As a result, the established fossil fuel energy generators wanted the Coalition to adopt a “real 20%” target of 27,000 GWh. After promising before the election that it wouldn’t touch Labor’s RET, the Coalition – torn between Tony Abbott’s favoured option of scrapping the target entirely and environment minister Greg Hunt’s preference to scale it back – commissioned a review by climate sceptic Dick Warburton who recommended dramatic cuts. Last year, the Coalition government settled on the fossil fuel industry’s preferred target of 27,000 GWh.

The Greens (who consider a 100% RET the best prospect in terms of both jobs and emissions) and the crossbench senators flatly refused to countenance any scaling back of the RET, and Labor at first refused to budge from its original target of 41,000 GWh. But Labor, concerned by both reports of uncertainty spilling out of the renewables industry and also by union concerns that jobs will go from what are known as “trade-exposed heavy emitters” (such as aluminium smelters), came eventually to the negotiating table. By this week, the Coalition had made what industry minister Ian Macfarlane calls its final offer of 32,000 GWh, while Labor says it won’t agree to anything below 35,000. When the CEC proposed the obvious compromise – 33,500 – Macfarlane rejected it immediately.

Macfarlane says his “final offer” of 32,000 will actually mean a total target of 46,000 GWh once solar rooftop generation is taken into account. The renewables industry, which represents wind and solar energy companies, is unprepared to agree to the Coalition’s target, but will consent to 33,500 GWh. If no agreement is reached by March 31, the Australian Aluminium Council – which already enjoys massive exemptions – says it will be forced to pay up to $80 million, and this could cost jobs. For this reason, Labor and the Coalition agree that aluminium and the other trade-exposed emitters should be fully exempt from the RET.

The Round-up

Regulation

Philip Doring reports in Fairfax: “WikiLeaks has revealed that the Australian government is close to agreement on the TPP trade deal that could allow multinational corporations to challenge health, environment and public welfare regulation, including plain tobacco packaging legislation, as well as local food safety standards.”

John Quiggin comments at Guardian Australia: “Is it 'red tape repeal day'? Or 'favours to business groups' day?”

James Glenday reports at ABC News: “Frustrated federal ministers fear their own government is putting 'the brakes' on plans for tough new food labels, which will not be signed off by Cabinet until later in the year.”

Environment

Gabrielle Chan reports at Guardian Australia: “A delegation of farmers has called for the Abbott government to act on climate change by restoring an emissions trading scheme, maintaining the current renewable energy target and spending on rail infrastructure to improve inland transport and reduce carbon emissions.”

Lisa Cox and Mark Kenny report in Fairfax: “After adopting a contrary position to the US on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, about which a final decision is expected within days, the Abbott government has been leading international resistance to White House moves to strip back subsidies for fossil fuels.”

Shalailah Medhora reports at Guardian Australia: “Conservation groups are guilty of treason for lobbying the Unesco world heritage committee on the Great Barrier Reef, Coalition backbencher George Christensen has said.”

Emma Griffiths reports at ABC News: “Liberal MP Andrew Laming has been thrown out of Parliament and scolded by the Speaker for bringing a jar of black 'bunker' fuel into the chamber and pouring it out onto his hand, in protest at the pollution left by cruise ship liners.”

Joshua Robertson reports at Guardian Australia: “The Greens will use Senate hearings to question the Foreign Investment Review Board about alleged links between Australia’s biggest proposed coal venture, a Cayman Islands company and an Indian businessman allegedly caught up in a $1 billion invoice rorting investigation.”

Indigenous affairs

Helen Davidson reports at Guardian Australia: “The inclusion of government departments and sporting organisations among recipients of federal Indigenous funds has sparked concern and anger among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sector workers.”

Miki Perkins and Jane Lee report in Fairfax: “Aboriginal legal services that help some of Australia's most vulnerable people – including a huge number of family violence clients – are facing deep cuts in this year's federal budget.”

Sally Whyte reports at Crikey: “Twenty-six legal, health and not for profit bodies have signed an open letter to Tony Abbott, urging him to take 'critical leadership' and reverse funding cuts to Aboriginal legal services.”

Calla Wahlquist reports at Guardian AustraliaThe Western Australian government has said it won’t be influenced by a five-year-old federal government report when deciding which Aboriginal communities to close.

Helen Davidson reports at Guardian AustraliaThe alleged rape of a seven-year-old girl in Alice Springs has prompted the Northern Territory government to hold an audit of service providers working in the region’s Aboriginal town camps.

Elizabeth Dori Tunstall at The ConversationIt seems that with current Abbott government policy proposals regarding Indigenous communities, women, migrants, and refugees, the struggle is serious. The question is: how do we engage in the struggle against the faces of oppression?

Metadata

Daniel Hurst reports at Guardian Australia: “Australia’s communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has named at least seven messaging services that people could use to avoid detection by the data retention laws he is pushing through parliament.

NSW election 2015

Michael Safi reports at Guardian Australia: “Prominent Indigenous people say the 2015 New South Wales state election campaign has largely ignored Aboriginal issues, including the disproportionate impact of the Baird government’s cuts to services on Indigenous communities.

Gabrielle Chan's analysis at Guardian AustraliaNo one expects anyone except Mike Baird to be premier on Saturday night, but there is still plenty to play for in the final days of the campaign.

Victoria Thieberger comments at Business Spectator: “Foley's foreign investment rants ignore the facts.

Submarines

Ian McPhedran reports at News.com.au “The government will appoint an expert advisory panel to ensure accountability for the first phase of the $50 billion future submarine project.

An AAP report at The New DailyThe Abbott government believes it is saving Labor from itself in rejecting a call for a competitive tender for Australia’s next submarine fleet.

Workplace relations

Stephanie Smail reports at ABC News: “The peak body for independent supermarkets and liquor stores has slammed a deal aimed at cutting penalty rates in South Australia.

Sue Lannin reports at ABC NewsAustralia's peak union body will ask the workplace regulator to increase compulsory superannuation for workers on the minimum wage.

Marriage equality

David Leyonhjelm in Fairfax: “Before we get too smug about our marital freedom we need to remember that, as things stand, we let the government regulate the gender of the person we can marry.

Budget 2015

Joanna Mather, Mark Ludlow and Jonathan Barrett report in the AFR: “The Commonwealth Grants Commission may have found Joe Hockey a solution to a stand-off with Western Australia about how federal funds are divided among the states but it would cost the rest of Australia $547 million.

Jonathan Green comments at The DrumGiven the management of the federal budget has become so mired in politics, maybe it's time to subcontract the central issue of structural fiscal balance to some independent statutory authority.

Richard Holden's analysis at The ConversationI like it when politicians change their minds – it shows a willingness to update based on new information. But I don’t like it when politicians change the facts. And the recent revisionism looks very much like the latter.

Security Council

David Wroe reports in Fairfax: “Australia is looking to get itself back on the United Nations Security Council just months after finishing a tumultuous two-year term that covered the MH17 crisis and the emergence of the Islamic State terror group.

Seeking refuge

Heath Aston and Sarah Whyte report in FairfaxAsylum seekers on Nauru receive schooling of the same standard as in Australia and access to hospital facilities that are better than some regional areas, says Immigration Minister Peter Dutton..

Max Chalmers reports at New Matilda: “While the official emphasised to Moss this was her personal opinion, not that of the Department, we still have a fairly senior departmental figure acknowledging that those with a strong 'moral and ethical base' are going to have trouble working in detention centres.

Steven Glass comments in FairfaxThe government had been caught victimising the very people doing everything they could to help children and adults survive in this unforgiving environment.

Child sexual abuse

AAP report at Guardian Australia: “The federal government’s refusal to establish a national compensation scheme for child sex abuse victims is disappointing, Justice Peter McClellan, the royal commissioner, has said.

Infrastructure

Karen Percy reports at ABC News: “Australia's population is growing at one of the fastest rates in the developed world, but a new report warns infrastructure spending is not keeping up.

Politics

An AAP report at Guardian Australia: “Entrepreneur Dick Smith has flagged a move into politics, announcing he has registered the name 'The Dick Smith party'.

Dale Hughes comments in FairfaxThe Liberal Party needs more people in Malcolm Fraser's mould, or it risks becoming irrelevant over the coming decades.

Michelle Grattan comments at The ConversationA scrappy few days have highlighted the hazards for Julie Bishop if she doesn’t both pace herself and display the needed depth when talking outside her portfolio.

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an honorary research associate at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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