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Abbott praises coal, gas, dog-whistles to nuclear lobby

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has re-iterated his government’s intention to exploit the country’s coal and gas reserves as fast as it can, and has also raised nuclear as a potential significant energy source for Australia.

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Photo: Sam Parkinson

In a speech to the Australian Industry Group last week – delivered ahead of a report that will likely decide the fate of the renewable energy industry in Australia – Abbott said the country had plenty of coal and gas and “should make the most of them” – notwithstanding the climate change and other environmental issues

“We have massive reserves of coal, massive reserves of gas; let’s make the most of them,” he told the audience (which, ironically, is the business group that has openly supported the current renewable energy target).

Abbott was particularly effusive in his praise of Environment Minister Greg Hunt, whom he said had swept through approvals for projects worth more than $800 billion. And he couldn’t resist the temptation to raise the prospect of nuclear energy as the government’s preferred choice of fuel into the future.

The address by Abbott once again speaks to the grim determination by the Coalition governments – both at federal and state level – to extract every tonne of coal, and “every molecule of gas” before the window on the proliferation of fossil fuel closes – both as a result of climate concerns and the emergence of cheaper, clean technologies.

It also confirms that Abbott, as we have suggested on many occasions – and most recently in this article: It’s time for Abbott to dump nuclear ambitions – is guided by advisors who believe the only option for Australia is to pursue nuclear energy.

Most of his senior business advisors dislike renewables and are supporters of nuclear, most notably the man tasked with the renewable energy target review, Dick Warburton.

Here is the relevant paragraphs from the Abbott speech:

“Yes, Noel, you gave me a challenge. The question that Bill always put at every gathering: what about nuclear power?

“Well, you know, it’s hard enough to deliver gas, let alone nuclear!

“I would like us to be one of the world’s affordable energy capitals. We have an abundance of coal, we have an abundance of gas; let’s make the most of this natural advantage.

“We can’t dramatically increase our population, we can’t change our geographical location and move ourselves closer to markets, but we have got the energy – let’s make the most of it.

“Now, who knows one day what our energy mix might be?

“Who knows one day where the market might go and what other forms of energy might come into their own?

“But right now, we have massive reserves of coal, massive reserves of gas; let’s make the most of them.”

It is almost certain that the government will announced significant changes to the RET, something that Abbott himself suggested in the speech was inevitable – despite the fact that the government has not yet (officially at least) received a report from the RET Review Panel.

“While energy reform also involves repealing the carbon tax and some work with the Renewable Energy Target, it doesn’t end there either,” he told the audience.

Abbott may well want all the coal, and all the gas, extracted as quick as he can, but he and others are facing a major problem – the ability to attract finance for the massive pieces of infrastructure that are required to deliver these products to market.

As we reported last week, after Hunt’s approval of the Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin, there is still a major blockage in financing. The Queensland government is trying to overcome this by granting a royalty holiday to the first mine up and running,  and India’s Adani was given plenty of space to boost its credentials in the AFR on the weekend. But even its claims that its coal could be produced at $50/tonne ignored both the  capitalised cost of rail and port investment, and the poor quality of the coal resource.

As an example of the sort of pressures and influence that Abbott is dealing with, the influential right wing think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, released an “analysis” this week – reported “exclusively” in The Australian, that claimed the ABC was more favourably predisposed towards renewable energy than the coal industry.

In a quite extraordinary document mixing its own ideological bent against renewables with the results of the survey conducted by iSentia, the IPA claims that the ABC has an overwhelming bias towards renewables, and uses this to push its barrow that the ABC should be privatised.

The survey concluded that only 68.4 per cent of stories on coal were “favourable or neutral, compared to nearly 90 per cent for renewables. The stories about coal, it complained, often focused on its environmental impacts.

Well, no kidding. That is one of the big issues of the day – both the impact of coal on the climate (a claim that the IPA rejects), and the health impacts of particulates (which the IPA would like to ignore).

The IPA says that the reporting by the ABC demonstrates a “definite and unambiguous trade-off” between reducing emissions and cheap and reliable energy.

It then proceeds to declare as “fact” that coal and gas are cheaper sources of energy – quoting figures assembled by itself, or more particularly, its chief energy spokesman Alan Moran.

RenewEconomy has discussed at length some of the misleading claims of Moran in his role at the IPA.  This table simply confirms some of the nonsense that is peddled by the IPA and like-minded institutions.

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Not only does this table (above) confuse “capacity factor” with availability – a serious error if they are to be taken seriously – it also compares the cost of fully depreciated coal assets – many built with discounted government financing – with some inflated estimates of the price of wind and solar.

Still, these views are the unshakable orthodoxy of those closest to Abbott and his inner circle of policy advisors. Guided by ideology or simply vested interests, they are not – as Abbott claimed in his speech – a government that is focused on tomorrow, but exactly one that he pretends he is not: one focused on yesterday.  

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  • suthnsun

    Think where would we be without ABC in mainstream media – a media environment totally suffused with manipulative self-serving propaganda – all in the one direction, supported by goverment and IPA etc. Terrifying. Better join ‘friends of the ABC’ ?

  • Chris Fraser

    “But right now, we have massive reserves of coal, massive reserves of gas; let’s make the most of them.” To me this is the strangest rationalisation ever. About as weak an argument as you can get in regard to rebooting this questionable industry.That’s like saying “We should exploit the Offshore Fishery for all its worth, heedless of any proper management policy, but simply because it is there and regardless of any return we get from selling the fish and bycatch. And we should certainly exploit it long before anyone else has the means of clearing out the Fishery before us !”

    • Ronald Bruce Jones

      Coal and gas can be valuable assets you don’t have to burn it up in power stations, it can be used for plastics or a whole host of other products. As far as I’m concerned burning coal is a bit like burning down the house to stay warm.

      • Chris Fraser

        Absolutely. And we have a national health and education system to be thoroughly jealous of. We have skilled workers in our human resource base that can travel anywhere and do anything. Lets make the most of them.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Abbott says we should make the most of our massive reserves of coal and gas, but it occurs to me that Australian prisons are full of highly talented theives, bank robbers, stand over artists, and conmen. It seems to me that we should make the most of them by sending them overseas to steal things for Australia. We’d be foolish not to. After all, isn’t that what Abbott intends to do with coal and gas exports? Profit by improverishing other people? Of course there could be some negative consequences to Australians themselves from encouraging exo-crime, but the same could be said for destroying a stable climate through burning fossil fuels, and so I don’t think we need to go into that.

  • Chris Marshalk

    “Abbott was particularly effusive in his praise of Environment Minister Greg Hunt” – Say’s it all doesn’t it. Mad child-like lying PM in charge Australia.

    L’Abbottomy must know, deep within his dumb-skull, what he is doing is insane regardless of environmental desctruction, question is, does this dumb PM truly believe what he is doing is in the best interest for Australia (or his corporate mates) or is this mental illness? I think i’ve answered my own question.

  • Ronald Bruce Jones

    It doesn’t matter what the ABC or other groups think it will be people who will make up thier minds as to what is appropriate for thier needs and it seems that solar power is what they want not coal. Cambell Newman is most likely to find that out at the next election in Queensland. The problem these days is that business and governments are in bed together and ignoring the needs or rights of the people they are supposed to represent, you only have to look at what is happening in NSW and what is coming out at the ICAC inquiry

  • Pedro

    Nuclear energy….what a fantastic idea. We can sell our yellow cake cheap to North Korea or Iran to get enriched cheaply….Then buy it back at about 100 times what we sold it for. Once the fuel is spent in our tax payer subsidized massively expensive nuclear plants we can store that waste on some “remote unused aboriginal land” in some rusty 44 gal drums and hope it will be OK…..Its a no brainer! Even Homer
    Simpson would give it the big thumbs up.

  • Tim Nicholas

    “But right now, we have massive reserves of coal, massive reserves of gas; let’s make the most of them.” Further evidence this is a ludicrous policy position….we have massive amounts of sunshine, of wind, and of water. Let’s make the most of these!!!!! Seriously, what a hare-brained chump Abbott is turning out to be.

  • MrMauricio

    Abbott-jaw set resolutely to the past.He has to go if Australia is to maintain its current status among progressive nations in the future!

  • John McKeon

    Tony ‘Climate Science is Crap’ Abbott. Yep, there is no doubt about where he stands.

  • ac baird

    The ABC still finds it necessary to invite REGULARLY extremists from the right who would gladly expunge the ABC from Australian life in a heartbeat. The IPA is more regularly given free reign than anyone of a seriously left wing background. News (VERY) Ltd is also commonly featured. Yet in return all News (VERY) Ltd papers can do lacerate the ABC with vile invective about how left wing the ABC is. Turning the other cheek is a silly religious argument that gets its practitioner nowhere. I look forward to some vile intemperate invective going straight back at the whole AXIS (LNP/News Ltd/IPA/Macquarie etc) Right of Australia in a “Carthage must be destroyed” repetitive manner. Enough of the milquetoast left!

    • Ronald Bruce Jones

      The ABC is supposed to present the news in an un-biased fashion and in doing so it shows the community just what is happening on the political coal face (pardon the pun) When you look at what the government is presenting to the public it seems to me that thier credibility just keeps sliding down hill at an ever increasing rate. Publishing what they say and do only helps that slide.

  • Ken Fabian

    Tony Abbott manages to still avoid ever stating openly and unequivocally the fundamental thinking that underpins these opinions – his rejection of the science on climate. No-one could so strongly support the fossil fuel sector without being sure the mainstream science on climate is wrong. Not some chance it might be wrong, but an absolute conviction that it is wrong.

    He should never have been able to enter an election with climate policy (elimination of emissions pricing) at the top of his agenda without being required to be honest and forthcoming about where he actually stands on climate; what we got – and still get – was enough hints (deniable dog whistles) to convince those who care (in both directions) of his real position, mixed in with enough vague affirmations of the need to take the problem seriously to not alarm the less informed and less politically engaged by revealing he is completely out of touch with science based reality on this.

    The pro-nuclear noises to that crowd are mere pacifiers intended for those amongst them that accept the reality of the climate problem and who might not be prepared to keep heads down and maintain solidarity for his pro-business team. It’s not any kind of commitment to nuclear, it’s a “don’t worry, we can always fix things if climate change turns out to be as bad as they say” bit of reassurance to keep a currently quiescent minority of the business community quiescent. And it has about as much actual substance and meaning as Rudd’s “commitment” to Carbon Capture and Storage as that PM watched benignly over the coal boom.

  • Dark green

    The IPA has always been a weeping sore of ignorance and greed, but it has multiplied in size since getting tax-deductible status and more directly soliciting/servicing the already rich. Legalising prostitution is fine, but the IPA have integrated it with LNP policy setting.

  • Rob G

    We also have massive reserves of sunlight and wind – they’re free and we should make to most of these.

    • Vandemonian

      Yes, but they’re not controlled by puppeteers!

  • CoreyAnder

    I agree with all of the sentiments expressed here. However, our society is till ambling towards the precipice with Abbott and co in the lead. We don’t understand what motivates these leaders, perhaps we never will. But our democracy demands that we who can see another, better way need to act – we need to be brave enough to engage with our fellow citizens and convince them to act as well. Petitions, letters, protests but most importantly talking to all who will listen.
    Solar Citizens is doing all of the these things on the solar front and there are plenty of other active groups as well. Get involved. The house is burning – we need more firefighters.

    • Annette Schneider

      Try the Non Violent Direct Action techniques employed by Front Line Action on Coal http://frontlineaction.org/ as they fight the monster open cut coal mine at Maules Creek in NSW. If we all do our bit we will beat them.