The Conversation

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Speaking in a light and bright FM radio interview on Tuesday, Malcolm Turnbull said that in politics “just being chilled, calm is very important. A little bit of zen goes a long way.”

He was answering a question about himself. But those with a stake in energy policy might be feeling a rather desperate need to dip into their own zen reserves right now.

The government hates the suggestion its policy process looks chaotic, and insists there is “a plan”.

“The good news is that we have learned the lessons of the past, we know where we are going and we have a comprehensive plan to get there,” Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Financial Review’s energy summit.

But what the core feature of the plan is has yet to be revealed, and this week has added to the public confusion.

The AFR’s two-day forum, which seemed to have everyone who is anyone in the field, provided a stage for the latest episode in the policy saga.

Frydenberg’s Monday speech was widely seen as the government walking away from the clean energy target (CET) proposed by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. The justification was the falling price of renewables, obviating the need for future subsidies.

No surprise perhaps, because despite some initial enthusiasm from Turnbull and Frydenberg, the crab-walk back, under the pressure of the naysayers in Coalition ranks, had been apparent for some time.

But here it was happening with Finkel himself in the room, as one of the conference speakers.

So Finkel was able to have his say immediately. He countered that the CET would still be “a useful tool” for managing the transition to reliable low-emissions energy, “even if there was an extreme rate of reduction of the price”.

Tony Wood, of the Grattan Institute, also a conference participant, has argued that the positions of the minister and Finkel are not as far apart as they appear.

But to many in the energy sector and business more widely the message was that the government had just piled on more uncertainty.

The Business Council of Australia pointed out that it had backed Finkel’s CET as a way to get a long term signal for investment - if the government didn’t want to embrace Finkel, what did it propose?

The answer to that is, one might say, still blowing in the wind.

Meanwhile half a world away, literally, Tony Abbott was being his old pre-prime ministerial self, with a full-on speech to a climate sceptics group.

No longer inhibited by the trammels of power, but also deeply motivated by having been stripped of that power, Abbott was attention-seeking, polemical - and sharply policy-focused.

He told his sympathetic audience: “There’s a veneer of rational calculation to emissions reduction but underneath it’s about ‘doing the right thing’.

"Environmentalism has managed to combine a post-socialist instinct for big government with a post-Christian nostalgia for making sacrifices in a good cause.

"Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods. We’re more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect”.

He provocatively claimed: “At least so far, it’s climate change policy that’s doing harm; climate change itself is probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm”.

He pointed to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide “greening the planet” and helping lift agricultural yields. In most countries “far more people die in cold snaps than in heat waves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it’s accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change, might even be beneficial”.

For Australia “the only rational choice is to put Australian jobs and Australia’s standard of living first, to get emissions down but only as far as we can without putting prices up”.

Just as Turnbull talks of the short, medium and long term in energy policy, so does Abbott.

In the short term, “we have to get mothballed or under-utilised gas back into the system”.

In the medium term, there must be no subsidies for renewables, and a freeze on the present RET; the government must build a coal-fired power station; the gas bans must go. Also “the ban on nuclear power must go too”.

In the longer term, “we need less theology and more common sense about emissions reduction. It matters but not more than everything else”.

Abbott gestured to what seems to be happening in government policy – but then set the bar higher.

“The government is now suggesting that there might not be a new clean energy target after all. There must not be – and we still need to deal with what’s yet to come under the existing target”.

Abbott’s harangue might be, as those in the government are putting it, “off the reservation”.

But it also highlighted how the Coalition hardliners, who extend in number well beyond the tiny Abbott clique, have constrained Turnbull in this fraught policy area.

As they chafe at the march of renewables, the hardliners are also determined to maximise the gulf between government and Labor on energy policy.

But business, with a longer perspective, is desperate for a position that minimises partisanship.

Turnbull knows that in policy terms, the latter is the superior way to go, while he is being driven towards the former by his troops and by the need for a battle ground on which to fight Labor.

But the thought that this could be superior territory for the Coalition could be deeply flawed.

Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Read more http://theconversation.com/governments-energy-plan-still-under-wraps-while-abbott-shouts-his-from-afar-85496


Scott Morrison - Breaking Ground on Western Sydney Airport

Construction on Western Sydney Airport will begin today – boosting jobs, creating much-needed infrastructure and strengthening the economy.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Western Sydney ...

Scott Morrison - More choice for Australian families

Australian families will have choice and equity in education as the Morrison Government guarantees funding to the non-government school sector. The Australian Government has accepted all the recom...

Dutton - Labor/Green witch-hunt comes up empty

Despite Labor’s best efforts in hyping up the so-called “au pair” Senate inquiry, the farcical and shambolic witch-hunt has come up with nothing except findings that mirror the Labor Party’s initial...

Business News

Achieving the Perfect Balance of SEO and Creative Content is just a Few Steps Away

If you want an appropriate description of today’s online marketing world, in the search engine optimization kingdom, it may somewhat fit along the lines -- content is the king. Basically, it means tha...

Get Your Hands on The Perfect Shipping Container Today

A shipping container is such a blessing in disguise! It comes in handy for both temporary as well as long term storage, or say mobile offices, or even as temporary building options. They are extensive...

Is a flexible workforce the way of the future?

In short, “Yes,” says Joint Managing Director of Citrus Group, Paul Smith. By nature, working in a contact centre “isn’t the easiest job in the world,” says Paul. Allowing staff to work flexible hou...


Holiday Hacks: How to beat the travel companies at their own game

HACK YOUR WAY TO A CHEAPER HOLIDAY How to beat the travel companies at their own game and save money during the next school holidays   19 September 2018: As any parent who’s tried to book a holid...

Experience European Glamour with Ecruising

In May 2019, Ecruising is inviting travellers on an exciting itinerary that includes not one, but two, quintessential French Riviera events – the high-octane Monaco Grand Prix and the iconic Canne...

Factors to Consider When Buying a Campervan

You’ve been waiting to buy a Winnebago campervan and now it’s your chance. You’ve saved up and you’re ready to start living the road trip lifestyle. You’re in for a great time and adventure. Of cour...

You might also like