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Coalition turns Clean Energy Finance Corp into election slush fund

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First, they branded it the Bob Brown green bank or slush fund, and then they spent nearly three years trying to abolish it. But now the Coalition government has found a new use for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – a ready source of funds for some good old election pork-barrelling.

In March, the Coalition announced to great fanfare the creation of the Clean Energy Innovation Fund, a “new” $1 billion fund designed to incorporate prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s pet slogan “innovation”. But its monies were entirely sequestered from the existing budget of the $10 billion CEFC.

At the same time, the Coalition confirmed then that it would scrap the remaining $1.3 billion of funds available through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for grant making, an essential financing tool for early-stage technologies, and relegate ARENA to the role of “supporting” the CEFC.

Bleached-Greg-Hunt-RenewEconomy-1000px691px copyOver the weekend, Turnbull and environment minister Greg Hunt announced another new fund, sequestering a further $1 billion in CEFC money over 10 years to support “clean energy” and “clean water” projects along the length of the Great Barrier Reef.

The money would go to a loans scheme aimed at reducing the agricultural and waste water run-off that is diminishing the reef’s ability to withstand rising sea temperatures.

“Much of this will come in the form of financing solar energy, which of course will reduce emissions but also enable farmers to manage their land more efficiently …” Turnbull told reporters in Townsville.

There are a couple of ironies in this. Firstly, the Coalition has been arguing that there is no point halting new coal mines in Australia because there would be little impact on global emissions and temperatures.

Now, apparently, a few solar panels on some farm land – the likes of which would have been funded by the CEFC anyway – will bring down emissions enough to make a difference to the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, the initiative includes no measures to stop new coal mines, with the Adani mega project looming large on the horizon.

Part of the CEFC money will also go to a loans scheme aimed at reducing the agricultural and waste water run-off that scientists say is diminishing the reef’s ability to withstand rising sea temperatures.

This appears to be outside the CEFC brief, which is focused on clean energy and energy efficiency. And like the CEIF, the new fund also pushes much of the funding out towards and beyond 2025, with the money drip fed over a 10 year period.

The CEFC was created in 2012 by the Labor government, at the insistence of the Greens and with the support of Ross Garnaut. It has played a critical role in greasing the wheels of finance to ensure that at least some clean energy projects get built amidst the confusion and constant changes in Coalition policy since it was elected in 2013.

The CEFC was supposed to be independent, with a broad mandate set by the Coalition. But in the last few months, some $2 billion of the $10 billion it was to have available have been sequestered to new Coalition project.

The Australian Solar Council accused the Coalition of using the CEFC as a kind of piggy bank – usually described as “pork-barrelling” in the context of an election campaign. It said the reef needs substantial government support, but it should be funded through the federal budget, not the CEFC.

“Apart from not having a legal mandate to invest in clean water projects, the CEFC funding needs to be repaid – with interest,” CEO John Grimes said.

The Greens said the Coalition had not stated how much of the clean energy finance money would go into water quality, but even $100 million a year over ten years into Reef water quality is far short of what the reef needs. And this spending will come at the expense of clean energy funding.

“It’s startling that Turnbull Government is trying to sell this plan to cut money from clean energy while pushing ahead with coal mines as somehow being a plan to save the reef,” climate spokesman Larissa Waters said.

Environmental NGOs pursued the same theme, welcoming Turnbull’s admission that Climate change is the biggest single threat to the reef but lamenting his government’s failure to do improve its climate policies.

““The money announced today has already been promised to renewable energy. Today’s announcement isn’t going to lead to any additional renewable energy projects being built and we know that for a healthy reef we need a rapid increase in new renewable projects being built and a phase out of coal mining,” Greenpeace said.

“Raiding money from renewables, then dressing it up as money to protect the Reef whilst continuing to prop up the greatest threat to the Reef – the fossil fuel industry – is no sign of leadership,” 350.org said.

Labor’s climate and energy spokesman Mark Butler described the move “the biggest ever con job”, and had come just weeks after the Coalition had forced UNESCO to remove any reference to Australia, and particularly the reef, from a report on world heritage sites impacted by climate change.

“It provides no new investment. It is just a redirection of existing resources,” Butler said in a statement. “This is spin and political desperation on a grand scale. For three years we have seen the Abbott-Turnbull Government duck, weave and avoid doing anything meaningful to address climate change.”

   

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  • howardpatr

    Cayman Turnbull and Hunt doing the bidding of Mad Monk Abbott’s ghost – the ghost that continues to haunt the LNP.

  • DevMac

    “When all’s said and done, there’s more said than done”

    And the LNP aren’t even saying very much on climate change, so I can scarcely imagine anything worthwhile being done. They’ll consider their “mandate” on climate change to be absolutely minimal.

  • DevMac

    Off topic: Giles, some of the ads showing between the articles and the comments seem a bit dodgy and on the borderline of Not Safe For Work. Your advertising provider may allow you to select topics that may be more appropriate to your readership.

    • Chris Fraser

      My ads include mobile internet, swimming pool pumps and, for some reason, skin care for celebrities. What products are your cookies finding for you ?

      • nakedChimp

        I’m getting solar ads.

        • Ian

          Yeah right, don’t be so solarer than thou!

    • Hi DevMac. thanks for heads up. The way the Google ads work is that each individual will see Google’s best guess at what that individual is interested in. So I see lots of solar and wind ads, my kids see restaurant or shopping ads etc. If there is particular ad that offending you, let me know and i will see if i can ban them.

  • Alastair Leith

    The northern reef was mostly unaffected by agricultural run-off (read livestock industry overgrazing and land clearing) and it was bleached worst of all. So water quality programs will do what for the reef if temperatures continue to rise? And rise they will with a minimum of 0.5º C of additional heat in the atmosphere to come due to lag even if we stopped all FF emissions at 6PM tonight. This would send the average air temp anomaly to +1.5º C as a bare minimum and we already had a +2º C ocean warming event from an average of 1.0º C. Coral is very vulnerable above 1.0º C temperature rise.

    Meanwhile the biggest source of GHG emissions in Australia, livestock production (largely in QLD and NT) continues to continue a pace.

    Hunt, nor anybody else on the political spectrum seems to want to talk about the 54% of GHG emissions coming from the land use sector (bze.org.au/landuse).

    • Peter Campbell

      Yes, Worst bleaching in the most pristine areas. Therefore mainly temperature. See:
      http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2015/s4472312.htm

      • Alastair Leith

        of course 50% of corals on the central and southern ranges have already been lost, so water quality and most likely overfishing also take their toll. but it’s ridiculous of Hunt to pull $1b from the CEFC and give it to farmers. Probably the same farmers who are being paid to reduce their land clearing yet whose livestock emissions would easily over shadow any net benefit from paying them to reduce land clearing in a small way.

        The only way livestock corporations (often foreign owned) can reduce sedimentation on the reef is stop livestock silting our streams and rivers like the Fitzroy and Burdekin which outflow onto the reef. That would mean heavily reducing their livestock head counts during the dry, especially during droughts. But what do they do? They apply for drought relief and buy in feed.

  • Nick

    Hi Giles. I want to say thank you for your informative website and hard work!

    Just wanted to say i have been a LNP voter all my life, and grew up in the country’s most conservative electrolate. As a right wing political supporter I have been swayed by your articles. The flagrant stalling and deliberate disruption of our renewable energy sector by the coalition is so dissapointing. It seems there is a major discord between the liberal party and the majority of moderate conservatives.

    Maybe all your readers could sign up for the Flux Party and sway the vote in favour of renewable energy progress! It certainly seems an interesting concept.

    • Alastair Leith

      Climate action needs to be very strongly supported across the spectrum of political parties or it becomes a football or worse yet, a sacrificed policy area. It’s great that some conservatives can see the importance of a rapid (and just) transition to clean, green energy. It’s not the whole solution but it’s a big part of it. Unfortunately Liberals and Nats policies aren’t even remotely commensurate with the undertakings Bishop made in Paris (poor as they were leaving Australia left out of the High Ambition group of 70 odd nations).

      Ag sector emissions are 54% of Australia’s GHG when the accounting gets done right, nobody is even talking about that (because 90% of it is associated with livestock mainly and that is a sacred cow in this country!)

    • neroden

      There’s a reason we’ve nicknamed the current government the “COALition”. They seem to be completely in the pocket of the coal industry — voters be damned!

  • Ian

    While Federal government fiddles state governments burn with renewables enthusiasm check this out : http://www.energyandresources.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1193281/9057-DEDJTR-ESD-Renewable-Energy-Roadmap-20150820.PDF

  • MaxG

    Well, today the Libs said they would have to investigate, whether any funds for the Whyalla Steelworks would be available; but if they would support the steelworks, the money would come form the Clean Energy Fund.
    When do the people wake up to these environmental criminals, filling the coffers of the corporations involved!?

    • wideEyedPupil

      if they started producing exclusively Green Steel then that would be a good use of CEFC funding. somehow I doubt that is what’s planned. probably they use Auatralian metallurgical coal because it “clean” and call it a great advancement. this government and Hunt in particular are sick.