Category Archives: Incumbent strategies

“Mine is bigger than yours” – penis envy, emissions and energy storage #auspol

It’s another one of those weeks where the news cycle is dominated by climate change.  The first week of December last year saw  Josh Frydenberg announce that the impending climate policy review would consider an emissions intensity scheme  (something the Business Council now wants,  perhaps quietly regretting that they cheered on Tony Abbott as he repealed Julia Gillard’s Emissions Trading Scheme?)

Frydenberg’s words sent Cory Bernardi, Christopher Pyne and others ballistic. The very next day Frydenberg was back on the airwaves denying he had said what everyone heard him say, pouring cold water over the idea. Another backflip in the long history of backflips on climate and energy policy.  The following day, Malcolm Turnbull at the fish market, scotched the EIS idea altogether, proclaiming it to be another carbon tax.   All this before chief scientist Alan Finkel produced the first report of his review into Australian energy security.

At the beginning of February we had another intense week – Turnbull spoke at the National Press Club saying that coal would be the foundation of Australian energy generation for decades to come; followed by Resources Minister Matt Canavan talking of “clean coal” and suggesting the Clean Energy Finance Corporations rules could be changed to allow public funding (since investors clearly were not interested).  Days later ended with Treasurer Scott Morrison brandishing a lump of coal and cooing “This is coal… Don’t be afraid…  don’t be scared.” (And has since boasted about this to radio shocking jock Ray Hadley.)

As one astute  journalist wrote three years ago it’s part of

“a long campaign to redefine the stuff that comes from burning coal as a “colourless, odourless gas”, a harmless three-way cuddle between one carbon and two oxygen atoms that, happily, provides “plant food”

Morrison’s stunt was an echo of US Senator James Inhofe’s infamous snowball stunt of a couple of years previously.

A third such climate-and-energy week has ensued. Last Friday Elon Musk grabbed headlines around the world by tweeting a ‘done and dusted in a 100 days or free’ offer on 100MWh of battery storage. He had talks with both SA Premier Jay Weatherill and Malcolm Turnbull, both of which were poured over by journalists and analysts. On Tuesday the SA government announced a six point energy plan, which involved funding a new gas fired power station, a tender for battery storage, a change in royalty payments to ease gas exploration and new powers for the SA government to intervene in the National Energy Market.  This last point was predictably rubbished by the Federal Government, with Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg muttering about consulting lawyers.

Then Malcolm Turnbull, pre-empting the Finkel Review it commissioned in response to the September 2016 South Australian blackout, let alone the climate policy review (remember that?),  proposed an expansion of the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme (a nation building project from 1947 to 1974 is the largest engineering project undertaken in Australia, brought in under budget and before time), this time to ensure not additional energy production, but storage.

While Jay and Josh were having an extraordinary stoush in a suburban garage in Adelaide Malcolm Turnbull was touring that hydro scheme and could not help but say

“In one hour it could produce 20 times the 100Mwh expected from the battery proposed by the South Australian government but would deliver it constantly for almost a week (or 350,000 Mwh over seven days),”

It is almost exactly a year ago that Donald Trump assured voters that fellow Republican candidate Marco Rubio was wrong to cast aspersions about the size of his, um, hands….

In terms of childishness, well Lenore Taylor summed it up beautifully

“And sometimes the leader of the nation can join the policy discussion only by disguising his good ideas in a drizabone and bush hat, lest they be recognised for what they are by his own colleagues.”

A picture is worth a thousand words

Malcolm Turnbull tours the Tumut 3 power station while announcing the government’s plan for a major expansion of the Snowy Hydro Scheme

“Malcolm Turnbull tours the Tumut 3 power station while announcing the government’s plan for a major expansion of the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP.” Source: Guardian article here.

The photo accompanying the article, by  Lukas Coch of Australian Associated Press shows Turnbull, in obligatory hard hat and fluoro and wearing safety goggles pointing into the distance,  predictably flanked by two other men.  Readers with long memories and cynical dispositions may recall that in  July 2014 Senator Ian MacDonald came to parliament in a fluorojacket, provided to him by the same people who gave Morrison his lump of lacquered lump of coal, namely the Minerals Council of Australia.

This is like a thousand other photos of politicians donning similar protective garb.  These all seem like desperate claims by desperate men, who are the epitome of the political class (“out of touch”) using props to try to build to their constituents, earnestly proclaim themselves to be “real,” “tough”  and ‘authentically working class.’

Climate Change is making us all anxious (if not terrified). These claims to authenticity, ‘common sense’ and machismo, are the devices that our politicians deploy to calm us (and perhaps themselves?). It’s not so much ‘virtue signalling’ but ‘virtuoso signalling’ – a claim to competence and hard-headness to see us through the tough times ahead. Given the vicissitudes of the policy-making “process” and the super-wicked nature of the problems, such performances are unsurprising.   What is perhaps surprising that it politicians seem to think that it still works.

Jan 22, 1992 – “greenhouse action will lead to poorhouse” warning

On this day 25 years ago, as business interests fought a fierce battle to ensure that Australia’s negotiating position at the June ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio would be suitably timid,  the then chief executive of the Australian Institution of Engineers, Mr John Enfield, told a Canberra Times journo that

Australia would be sent to the poorhouse by the Federal Government’s attitude towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions … it would be “grossly wrong” for Australia to do this at the expense of living standards in a time of recession….

He criticised the Minister for the Environment, Mrs Kelly, for acting “prematurely” on the issue, before further research confirmed or disproved predictions on the greenhouse effect.

Chamberlin, P. 1992. Green govt warned of poorhouse effect. Sydney Morning Herald, 23 January, p.3.

This focus on (alleged) financial costs of action, without focusing on the financial benefits of action (new industries, new employment) and the financial costs of inaction is, well, typical.  Nothing has really changed on this in the last 25 years….

 

Also on this day –

2008 – even extreme weather events are helping the mining boom (or at least, raising prices)…

Chaos at central Queensland coalmines as a result of heavy rains is set to exacerbate supply disruption, send coking-coal prices higher and play into the hands of BHP Billiton as it tries to take over rival Rio Tinto.

Flooding has forced mines across the Bowen Basin to shut as staff rush to move equipment to higher ground, affecting companies such as Xstrata, Macarthur Coal and Ensham Resources.

Wisenthal, S. and Garvey, P. 2008. Coal washout has bright side for BHP Australian Financial Review January 22

Jan 18, 1993 – ‘Greens Jobs in Industry Plan’ of ACTU and ACF…

On this day 24 years ago the faint hopes of ecological modernisation in Australia got a boost. As a article in Green Left Weekly reported

“A major new effort to develop jobs which protect the environment”, was how the January 18 joint statement by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Conservation Foundation described their joint Green Jobs in Industry Plan. The scheme was launched at the Visyboard Paper and Cardboard Recycling Plant in Melbourne by Peter Baldwin, minister for higher education and employment services.”

Noakes, F. 1993. ACTU and ACF launch green jobs program. Green Left Weekly, 27 January.

Norton in his  2004 PhD thesis is sanguine, and  points to the tensions between the ACTU and ACF over woodchipping (and presumably the carbon tax, though he doesn’t mention it) sending the union/environmentalist relationship into the deep freeze for a good decade or so…

Basically, if you want to have new industries (not based on ripping stuff out of the ground, then you need a highly educated workforce and conception of the state that is more open to ‘picking winners’ (rather than protecting rent-seekers indefinitely). It’s not easy, but Australia has it seems never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  So it goes.

Also on this day –

1995 – a story based on a leak of documents that purported to be Senator Faulkner’s carbon tax proposal but ACTUALLY came from his opponents gets front page billing and leads to fulminating editorials in the Fin and the Sydney Morning Herald.  Dirty tricks… work….

“FEDERAL Cabinet is considering a series of controversial measures to cut greenhouse emissions, including a carbon tax of up to $20 a tonne, which would raise $13 billion over three years, and an extra 10c/litre fuel excise.

“The proposals – detailed in a Cabinet document obtained by The Australian Financial Review – are set to generate massive industry hostility, and to switch the environmental spotlight from Mr Beddall, the minister responsible for the woodchip controversy, to the Minister for the Environment, Senator Faulkner, and his departmental deputy secretary, Mr Phillip Toyne, who is masterminding the greenhouse strategy.”

Callick, R. 1995. Revealed: Green tax shock *$13bn grab *$20/tonne carbon tax *New 10c/litre fuel levy. Australian Financial Review, 18 January, p.1.

Jan 11, 2008 – NSW Minerals Council tells industry to sell sustainability

On this day in 2008 Nikki Williams, then head of thge NSW Minerals Council (think ‘trade union for the mining companies) called on industry to ‘get on the front foot in selling its sustainability message.’ (to quote International Coal News.]

This was a year or so after the NSWMC had run a series of adverts which had been spoofed by Rising Tide. But we will come back to that another day…

Williams became head of the Australian Coal Association in August 2011, and remained the boss until the ACA was swallowed by the Minerals Council of Australia (or vice versa, as some would have it) in 2013.   We will come back to this, and Ms Williams herself, who has made some interesting scientific observations about the Arctic…

These sorts of ‘give us money and get involved in the bare knuckle fight with the activists’ calls are a recurrent feature of trade associations, going back to the 1970s.  Industry always feels misunderstood and under-appreciated, vulnerable to stupid politicians who are endlessly wrapped around the fingers of lentil-eating inner city arts graduates, and crusty ferals…

Also on this day –

1995  The interdepartmental working group that is supposed to design the ‘carbon tax’ meets for the first time. Canberra Times hack Ian Henderson reports in a front page story

“A greenhouse gas levy remains firmly on the Government’s agenda, with the bureaucratic working group responsible for developing the levy meeting for the first time yesterday.”

Henderson, I. Greenhouse  gas levy remains to the fore. The Canberra Times, 12 January, p.1.

Jan 6, 1995 – Business says ‘other nations are doing little, so should Australia’

On this day 22 years ago, in the midst of an intense battle against a proposed carbon tax, business groups released a report which showed that only five of the 36 “key” members of the International Panel on Climate Change [or perhaps the journos got confused with the UNFCCC?] appeared  likely to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2000.

Dwyer, M. and Wilson, N. 1995. Study argues against $320m carbon tax. Australian Financial Review, 6 January, p.5.

The logic of course, was that Australia should not be a sucker and allow any other countries to be free-riders, or get ahead of the pack.

In that, Australia has in the past 22 years resolutely succeeded. Bravo.

Things haven’t changed much, have they?