First published October 23
Super Mal, our super-antihero PM, the down-under “wonder-gunner” blitzes Canberra’s political firmament this week, lighting up the sky with yet another dazzling flash of super-power in “Keeping The Lights on” - a love duet with the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and for history buffs an homage to the Liberal Party’s naff 1975 election slogan, “Turn On the Lights.”
In a week where our role in world affairs includes the shameful abandonment of our gulag on Manus Island to our ignominious failure to censure Myanmar over Rohingya genocide and where our embarrassments extend to our Foreign Minister having to eat her words about never being able to trust a Kiwi Labour government, the PM’s energy fix and Michaelia Cash’s jobs windfall are played for all they are worth. And then some.
First, to Turnbull who talks up his NEG, a National Energy Guarantee - a type of energy policy on steroids to judge by its promotion - which promises cheaper, reliable, cleaner electricity. Cheaper? NEG has a way with words:
“It is expected that following the guarantee could lead to a reduction in residential bills in the order of $100-115 per annum over the 2020-2030 period.”
NEG gets generators to clean up their act. No blackouts; keep costs and emissions down. Generators must meet two guarantees; one on reliability and one on emissions.
After that, the proposal gets hazy. Reliability is tricky because coal is “in the mix” along with other ready-to-use sources “such as coal, gas, pumped hydro and batteries”. Yet coal is less and less reliable, given the age of Australia’s ageing power plants. Unless it’s running all the time, moreover, a coal-fired plant is inflexible.
... the less often they operate, the higher the electricity price ...
Coal-fired stations can’t rapidly ramp supply up and down and they are costly to start. Furthermore, high capital costs mean that the less often they operate, the higher the electricity price they need to obtain when they do.
The emissions guarantee, we are told, “will be set to contribute to Australia’s international commitments. The level of the guarantee will be determined by the Commonwealth and enforced by the AER (Australian Energy Regulator)”.
If, as seems likely, the new scheme allows for trading of credits linked to coal generation, the result will be a market in subsidies for dirty energy: “dirty energy credits”.
How it all works is anybody’s guess: no details are available. It’s a Turnbull big picture thing. But for an eight-page thought bubble, a document whipped up in two weeks by a government desperate for a plan B for a flagging Finkel Report, the NEG vibe is just incredible. Huge.
More than a few greenie nay-sayers may be throwing mung bean sandals or waving their Dakota dream-catchers, if we are to heed barking Barnaby Joyce whose tenuous grip on decorum and reality slackens every Question Time.
Won’t the NEG just protect the fossil fuel industry and slow the uptake of renewables? Experts such as Giles Parkinson have not been slow to voice their reservations. Giles mildly ventures that the proposal is:
” ... the most ill-considered, poorly detailed and potentially useless policy that anyone can remember – the work of Australia’s so-called ‘energy mafia’ hungry to defend the power of the incumbent oligopoly, commercial interests and their ideology.”
Let yourself go, Parkinson. Tell us what you really think. The Opposition also has some major misgivings.
... there would be no new large-scale renewable energy projects ...
Labor’s Mark Butler worries: “For Turnbull’s plan to work there would be no new large-scale renewable energy projects and a cut of at least two-thirds to current rates of rooftop solar installation.”
The Energy Security Board (ESB) proposes a piddling 28 per cent to 36 per cent renewable share by 2030, a means to pacify a Coalition right wing, which already has the scent of victory in its nostrils.
Isn’t the NEG just another backdown? Hasn’t the right wing forced the government to junk the carbon price, reduce the renewable energy target, reject an emissions trading scheme, and dump a clean energy target?
Our PM quickly calls out any such heresy as “ideological”. Reckless unbelief such as this caused the SA blackout, remember? Besides NEG’s been designed by experts. Turnbull savages ABC RN’s Sabra Lane, Wednesday. How dare she (or anyone else) “attack” the “distinguished and expert” Energy Security Board (ESB)?
Ayatollah Turnbull’s always been a bit iffy about impertinent questions but COAG’s set up a flash new ESB to hide behind. The ESB amounts to five independent experts who know everything. Gold-plated poles ‘n wires R US.
Dr Kerry Schott, former head of NSW and ACT network operator Transgrid fronts the gig, helped by deputy Claire Savage of the Business Council of Australia, a rent-seeking body dedicated to looking after the needs of some of our biggest polluters, a body which, in 2008, warned Rudd that a carbon price was “a company killer”.
Savage is highly regarded but has for the last decade worked as an advocate for big utility companies such as the industry association ESAA, then with EnergyAustralia before her work with the BCA.
Making up the rest of the impartial, independent, business brains trust are the heads of the Australian Energy Market Commission, the Australian Energy Regulator and Australian Energy Market Operator, or, as Sabra Lane puts it: “… bodies that oversaw the last ten years of disastrous energy policy in Australia”.
Lane’s thoughts are echoed by Parkinson:
... monitored by the same useless regulators that allowed the networks ...
The scheme will, ostensibly, be monitored by the same useless regulators that allowed the networks – and latterly the generators and retailers – to gouge consumers over the past 10 years, and enabled them, more recently, to ‘play’ the market for certificates in the renewable energy target.
Our PM’s a gunner from way back. In June, for example, he was still “gonna” introduce a Clean Energy Target. Until it became a test of his leadership. Still going to get water to run up hill in his Snowy Hydro 2.0 pipe dream, though.
Amazingly his Snowy Hydro 2.0, a feasibility study on a massively expensive project at least ten years away is spun as somehow coming on stream tomorrow. A mad, manic delusional optimism seizes the entire frontbench.
Turnbull, the disruptor, promises an energy game changer. It’s a masterly performance with report of an Abbott Party Room slapdown. Josh Frydenberg intercedes. Abbott is a “conscientious objector”. The press gallery drools.
But Mal’s light on for detail. What is the plan? Is “coal in the mix” a sign that this is just another NBN-type hoax? Will coal play the role of copper in the PM’s disaster of an NBN project, devised solely to take down Labor’s?
Dave Donovan argues coal is to Turnbull’s new National Energy Guarantee what copper was to Turnbull’s major debacle; his underpowered, oversold, over-budget version of the National Broadband Network.
Yet, judging by the saturation press, the PM lays his NEG, a “national energy guarantee” upon a grateful nation. It will, he promises, speaking quickly, cut electricity bills, lower carbon emissions and boost reliability. And look. There’s no modelling. And … that’s not all. The new NEG comes with its own, in-built political point-scorer.
... the NEG is as political as it gets …
The PM vows without hint of a twitch of upper lip that he will take the politicking out of the energy debate. Born to silence the right wing and designed to wedge Labor, the NEG is as political as it gets. The rest is hypocrisy.
“How do we break out of these climate wars, of this dreadful cycle of ideological argument — and frankly idiocy or stupidity. There is no other way to describe it,” Turnbull pretends, invoking a thoroughly well-thrashed scapegoat for his own party’s paralysis on energy policy.
The lie that political squabbling is to blame for the Liberals’ own policy inertia, a result of its complete capture by the coal lobby, is repeated so often it is now gospel according to ABC Q&A, The Drum and others in MSM.
Yet, as Naomi Klein says, “It’s hard to tell where the Australian Government ends and the coal industry begins.” Increasingly we are fed the lie that somehow the Liberals’ purity of motive is thwarted by its political opponents’ treachery, especially Labor’s fetish for cheap, reliable, affordable clean energy that won’t destroy the planet.
Equally specious is the lament that squabbles deny our great god industry the certainty it is due; the certainty that is fundamental to investment. As Richard Denniss points out between 2009 and 2015, Santos and its international partners spent $10,000 a minute on a $25bn mistake when they hoped a massive gas export plant at Curtis Island, near Gladstone in Queensland would be profitable. So, too, did two other consortia, boosting cost to $80bn.
Denniss notes: “Australians have been told for decades that “businesses need certainty”, and that uncertainty is a barrier to investing in renewable energy. Unfortunately the gas industry’s inability to predict the future with any certainty didn’t prevent its managers from taking a massive risk with their own shareholders’ money.”
Turnbull’s on the same tram. “We’ve got to stop this ideological, theological nonsense about energy,” he preaches to IAG business leaders in Canberra Thursday. This is a time for clear-eyed, hard-headed, businesslike leadership.”
It’s an alarmingly delusional affectation and a well-worn cliché of conservative government rhetoric that only businesses know how to make sound decisions in energy when the evidence from our own gas industry catastrophe alone, a major cause of our own disastrous energy bubble should give pause for thought.
... a proposal whipped up in two weeks without any proper modelling ...
Turnbull must take us for fools if he believes we will mistake his government’s impulsive decision-making (or as he flatters it a “plan”) a proposal whipped up in two weeks without any proper modelling for a clear-eyed or hard-headed policy. It’s another in a long line of capitulations dictated by the government’s industry sponsors.
Yet it is his trademark wild-eyed evasion, Turnbull models in his leadership when he appears on ABC RN.
“Will you guarantee those price reductions?,” asks AM host Sabra Lane.
“Well, what I can guarantee” replies PM Turnbull, “is that we’ve got those price figures, those cost figures, in fact, which is based on their estimate of a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in wholesale generation costs, we’ve got that. I can guarantee that the people that are giving those figures are the best informed and the most knowledgeable in the industry.”
No modelling? Instantly, the Opposition pounces in Question Time. Happily, Speaker Tony Smith interprets relevance so broadly as to allow Coalition MPs free rein to indulge in yet another round of Labor-bashing.
The plan is to paint Labor as the party of higher prices in a reprise of Tony Abbott’s pernicious great big new tax on everything 2013 attack on a price of carbon, a stunt which minder, Peta Credlin, now freely concedes, was a hoax.
It’s a work of consummate con-artistry which will continue the “energy wars” on the Labor Party whose reckless pursuit of renewable energy targets, as everyone knows, got us into this mess. Yet Labor fires back.
“In just the last 12 months, the Prime Minister was for an emissions intensity scheme until the Member for Warringah came out against it and he supported a clean energy target until the Member for Warringah came out against that,” Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Mark Butler, says.
“Given reports that the Member for Warringah spoke against the Prime Minister’s latest energy policy in the party room today, when will the Prime Minister announce that he’s against this one too?”
... swoon over the government’s latest fresh-baked batch of employment figures …
Not only is the NEG a runaway success, the week ends on a high - at least for employment minister, Michaelia Cash and her groupies who swoon over the government’s latest fresh-baked batch of employment figures.
These confirm how hugely successfully it always is in “creating jobs”, the corollary of “growing the economy” provided no-one looks at population growth, hours worked, wages or any other meaningful measure.
“Employment has increased by 371,500 over the last year – more than four times the jobs growth in Labor’s last year in government …” claims Cash, shrewdly manipulating the time period. Over the Coalition’s four years, only an average of 206,400 jobs have been added per year.
Given, our adult population growth of 293,700 per year over the last four years, jobs have failed to keep up.
Jobs? ABS records reveal that Turnbull and Abbott are the worst economic managers since Menzies. Wages have languished for four years. Conditions decline steadily. A quarter of Australian workers now have no leave entitlements whatsoever.
A year ago, 716,600 Australians had no work at all but unemployment is no longer something the government mentions in public. Nor is it big on admitting a relentless decline in the quality of our working lives. The Coalition presides over record unemployment, underemployment, underpayment and the systematic casualising of work.
But it’s on with the Cash Show. It’s all vital part of the pantomime theatre of work in which a neoliberal government can worship in the church of the free market, yet take credit for its own benign intervention.
12 months’ consecutive jobs growth - employment at a record high runs this month’s media massage.
MSM reporters fall over themselves to toast another Coalition triumph
Oh, my! 19,800 - in just four weeks! Just look how many JOBS our Magic Pudding policies have cooked up since our last sensational gingerbread bake-off. MSM reporters fall over themselves to toast another Coalition triumph.
An “extraordinary achievement” gurgles Malcolm Turnbull. Best run of monthly gains for nearly twenty-five years. A chum on The Drum obligingly beats up the myth of infrastructure spending the government keeps spinning and spinning as the cause of our workforce suddenly awash with well-paid, secure employment.
Getting in early, Judith Sloan posts a puff piece about how unassailable government employment statistics are. The former director of Santos - a firm which deceived the nation about how much domestic gas it would sell off-shore - howls down “ABC talk-back hosts” for spreading doubt about official figures. It’s a dead giveaway.
Of course there are more people in work. There are more of us. What the minister’s orgy of self-congratulation never acknowledges is how jobs are increasingly part-time, casual and insecure.
But you’ll never hear Cash stop to factor in population growth - or any other fact that would help us to contextualise her meaningless statistics. She breathlessly reels off her talking points oblivious to their nonsense. The population increases; the economy expands. Yet, as Alan Austin, notes, MSM is taken in by her spin.
JOBS announcements are what Ms Cash endlessly, dramatically, provides in her role as Employment Minister, a cameo role she effortlessly fits in with her day-job of growing her own property investment portfolio.
As with most Turnbull government roles, her duties are now chiefly theatrical. Cash applies her prodigious energy to being our national cheer-leader for all hardworking Australians in her indefatigable, virtue-signalling war on job-snobs, welfare-bludgers and other shirkers. It’s a ritual drawing of the battlelines between lifter and leaner.
For those viewers who don’t speak gush, ABC News 24 obligingly runs a synoptic ticker bearing the whopper: “jobs bonanza”, part of its lip-service to statutory fairness and balance.
... a Newspeak-style mission statement concocted entirely of false or misleading information …
As with so much else released by the government and especially with economics, the Employment Minister’s press release includes a Newspeak-style mission statement concocted entirely of false or misleading information.
“We are focussed on our plan to secure a stronger economy with more jobs, including lower taxes for small businesses, a record investment in infrastructure, reliable and affordable energy, new export agreements and an ongoing focus on ideas and innovation”.
More jobs? Alan Austin notes there were 711,500 people out of work in September, the eleventh consecutive month the total has been above 710,000, a figure not seen before the Coalition’s victory in 2013, since 1997.
Hours worked per month, the most reliable employment indicator, were 86.17. It has been below 86.5 for 48 consecutive month since the Coalition was elected. Under Labor it rarely fell below 87 even during the GFC.
Cash also delivers the obligatory attack on Labor. Yet under Labor, Australia ranked sixth in the developed world on the provision of jobs. We now rank 16th.
The Minister for Misleading Employment Statistics has an alarmingly over-expressive delivery easily mistaken for liar’s hype. While Cash is doubtless a boon to even visually impaired lip-readers everywhere - especially those who yearn for misleading disinformation, her performance demands closer critical scrutiny.
Turnbull’s all-singing, all dancing brand new energy policy, is an insult to the intelligence of the electorate. It lacks detail and any semblance of integrity. Beyond its function as a kowtow to the coal lobby which pulls the party’s strings, it is a desperate, flimsy attempt to wedge Labor whilst appeasing the party’s right wing.
Jobs and energy, the two big-ticket items of the week reveal a Turnbull government hooked on hype and spin, an embattled, incompetent and hopelessly corrupted regime whose sole response to its self-inflicted energy and employment crises is to turn up the loudspeaker on the propaganda machine.
It’s a frantic, futile bid for reassurance; as each Newspoll shows, fewer and fewer amongst us are taken in.
*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.
• news.com.au: PM Malcolm Turnbull blasts State Premiers, ABC journalist over National Energy Guarantee … A fired up Prime Minister today responded to the Premiers of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia who have already slammed the federal government’s new National Energy Guarantee. Mr Turnbull said Australians were “fed up” with parties playing politics as their electricity bills soared. He made the remarks today after a fiery clash with an ABC journalist on breakfast radio where he once again dodged questions on whether the strategy would slash power bills $115 a year. … The Prime Minister had earlier clashed with ABC journalist Sabra Lane on her AM program when asked whether he could guarantee prices would come down based on the modelling of the Energy Security Board. In the heated interview, Mr Turnbull accused Lane of disrespecting the “distinguished Australians” on the ESB when she questioned the price cuts and why the experts were being touted as the saviours of Australia’s energy market when they had overseen the last decade of “disastrous policy”. She claimed their bodies — the Australian Energy Market Commission, the Australian Energy Regulator, and the Australian Energy Market Operator — had overseen over-investment in poles and wires that had driven power bills up and the failure of the national energy grid to be fit for purpose today …
• John Biggs in Comments: A very salutary answer to the Frydenburg self-congratulation on Insiders, and Barrie Cassidy allowing him to get away with it. The “advice of experts” turns out to be the greedy Business Council of Australia. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel is much too diplomatic—he should be fucking furious and show it …