Australia heads back to bottom of barrel on climate, clean energy

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Only one minister, the ACT’s Simon Corbell, has had the courage and vision to stand up to incumbent bully-boys and introduce policies and targets that match the climate science. Yet the Coalition and most media continue to peddle nonsense dismissed most cogently by the new chief sloganeer, Malcolm Turnbull.

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Last Friday, ACT environment minister Simon Corbell stood up at the Local Energy and Micro-Grids conference in Sydney to announce that the ACT was going to accelerate its push to renewable energy, and would supply 100 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2020, almost all of it from wind and solar.

The new target  will be achieved at no added cost to the previous target of 90 per cent, and the ACT will still retain its ranking as the city with the cheapest electricity in Australia. In fact, if Canberra households embrace the energy efficiency measures on offer from the government, they will hardly see a rise in their bill at all.

Corbell told the conference, co-hosted by RenewEconomy, that not only are such targets achievable and affordable, they have to happen. “The science tells us that and the decisions at the COP (conference of the parties, or Paris climate conference) tell us that. We have to keep global temperature rises well below 2°C.”

So Corbell and his government have decided to do something about it. And that makes Corbell and his government unique in Australia. No other Australia political leader, in a position of actual power, has implemented energy and industry policies that actually fit with the science.

Yes, others, including the Greens, have equally ambitious policies. But Corbell is the only one who has dared take on the incumbents and walked the walk, as well as talking the talk. In doing so, he has single-handedly kept the large-scale renewable energy industry alive as federal policy fights brought the sector to a standstill.

foyster's cartoon

The contrast between the ACT government policies with what is happening within the walls of the big building on Capital Hill at the heart of Canberra, and on the federal political landscape, could not be any more stark, or any more depressing.

Federal Labor last week trotted out more details of its own climate and clean energy policies. It seeks a 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, a 50 per cent share of renewables by the same date, and plans for two separate emissions trading schemes, in a staged introduction designed to keep the cost of carbon low.

Although described as “credible”, even Labor admitted that it was the “minimum” that was required to meet the agreed Paris targets – especially given the extraordinary and unexpected developments on emissions, temperature rises, ice melt and coral bleaching being acknowledge around the world in the past week.

It might have been the least that Labor could do on the policy front, but it was as far as it was prepared to go on the political front. Any hope that its policies could present a small political shift and/or establish a basis for a return of bi-partisan support – Labor had, after all, adopted much of the Coalition’s likely policy path to meet the Paris climate targets it signed – quickly evaporated.

In a sign that Malcolm Turnbull is no longer the man most people thought he could be, and may be just a carbon copy of the man he usurped, Tony Abbott, the Coalition dusted off its scare campaigns and were joined by much of mainstream media, who accused Labor of policy and political over-reach, and of threatening Australia’s economic future.

Within 24 hours, almost the entire Coalition cabinet had managed to trot out the Abbott-era slogan of a “great big electricity tax”, and launched an attack ad against leader Bill Shorten on YouTube.

In the same week that the Coalition had trumpeted a $50 billion spend on French submarines as “economy building,” it attacked Labor’s $48 billion spend on renewables as jobs-destroying. Defence jobs good, green jobs bad.

The themes pedalled by the Coalition and the mainstream media were so similar, they could have been orchestrated: Renewables are too costly, cutting emissions will destroy the economy, Australia is leading the rest of the world, and what Australia does in any case won’t matter because it accounts for less than 2 per cent of global emissions.

Of course, the best argument against all those claims have been made by Turnbull himself, in this speech to parliament on February 8, 2010, where he skewered the very arguments he is prosecuting on behalf of the fossil fuel lobby, thanks to the dark deal he cut with the conservative rump to take over leadership of the Liberal Party.

It was the same speech where he described Direct Action as “reckless” and a fig leaf for serious action. “Australia should take action now in advance of and in order to promote a global agreement,” Turnbull said at the time. “While our emissions are only a small share of the global total, we are in per capita terms one of the highest emitters.”

That the latest attack on Labor is a demonstrably fact-free exercise didn’t bother much of mainstream media either. They were only too willing to amplify the scare campaign of the conservatives.

The Daily Telegraph, all too predictably, led the way with its much-talked about front page. It then gave the floor to the head of the coal lobby in NSW, who said the answer lay in new “clean coal” power stations. Apart from the fact that they won’t help reduce emissions, has anyone at the Tele checked out the cost of those new plants? They will be significantly more expensive than new wind or new solar.

The Australian newspaper said it would cause “great economic harm”, would cause power prices to surge and would do little to reduce missions, all for the “moral vanity of the inner-city Green-Left.” It followed up on Friday with an “exclusive” front page lead proclaiming that the ALP’s climate policy would “leave some in the dark.”

The Australian Financial Review also accused Labor of being “too ambitious”. It ignored the welcoming comments of the main business lobbies and fell in the with special interest groups and ideologues, warning against the “destabilising” impact of “unreliable” renewables, and criticising Labor for not embracing “cheaper” low emissions technologies such as “clean coal” and nuclear.

It seems that not even the lead writer of the nation’s business daily is capable of reading a basic chart on the cost of energy.

So, how did we get to this, and how to get our of it? The Coalition appears to have forgotten that it was the Party that signed the Paris agreement that aims to limit warming to between 1.5°C and 2.0°C.

Corbell says it is about dealing with the incumbents and embracing change. He, unlike others on the national stage, can see what is happening on the international stage. And the ACT, without a local coal or gas industry, can see above the policy smog of the fossil fuel industry.

“Fundamentally, the way to sum it (the national policy debate) up is incumbents don’t do disruption,” Corbell told the audience.

“Their position in this market is fundamentally threatened by this transition, so they will always assert that any shift from the status quo is a threat … to the economy.

Turnbull had said much the same thing six years ago: “All of us know in this House that industries and businesses, attended by an army of lobbyists, are particularly persuasive and all too effective at getting their sticky fingers into the taxpayer’s pocket.

“Having the government pick projects for subsidy is a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale and there will always be a temptation for projects to be selected for their political appeal.”

Corbell has shown that there is another way.

“We are looking at an energy future that is going to be supplied by wind and solar and battery storage, with 100,000 Canberra homes supported to improve energy efficiency and reduce their demand.

“These sound like big targets, but all of them – all of them – have been achieved using the existing policy measures and state and federal powers.

“We are demonstrating through these policies that not only is a transition to a renewable energy future achievable, it is affordable and it is creating jobs. The incumbents will try to protect their position, it is up to governments to push through.”

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  1. Rob G 3 years ago

    A question I always wonder about is – how does a conservative voter vote when they want action on climate change. Surely there must be many people in this position who don’t like the “Lets pretend it’s all a big con”, position that both federal and state Liberals take? Who speaks for them?

    • Jason 3 years ago

      I’ll let you know if I ever meet one.

    • Steve159 3 years ago

      Since they’ve all drunk the Kook Aid, “Direct Action” will work. Whatever is endorsed by Abbott and Co, is good. Labor is bad. The world is black and white. Easy. No qualms, no misgivings when voting.

    • Coley 3 years ago

      Greens or independents.

  2. DogzOwn 3 years ago

    Does anybody remember it was John Howard who did free market economy changes to introduce current electricity and gas regulators, to promote privatisation and “competition”. “Natural monopolies” led to prices rising 75%. Ironically, during carbon price period, prices went down slightly. Surely everybody other than Coal-ition should be able get traction with this, or is democracy completely trashed by Murdoch media?

    • MaxG 3 years ago

      The latter: democracy has been trashed by all media. Corporations reign, pollies are their puppets, going full throttle without regard for the environment and the people. A no-win situation.
      BTW: it was labour under Keating who commissioned the Hilmer Report and pushed, with the LNP in tow, for ‘corporatisation’ of the public utilities. (IMHO: This should never have happened.)

      • Coley 3 years ago

        The mad dash for privatisation was led by the UKs pit bull Thatcher, to deliver the nations wealth into the hands of the 1%ers,
        God ( insert deity of choice here) alone knows why other nations followed suite, delivering their vital national utilities into the hands of foreign venture capitalists.
        Murdoch and his media empire also have a lot to answer for.

        • MaxG 3 years ago

          I fully agree with you… (sad as it is; not “agreeing”, but the facts)

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Correct on the latter especially.

  3. howardpatr 3 years ago

    Cayman Turnbull constantly demonstrates that he is a man driven by his massive ego and need for power at the expense of what his Treasurer, ScoMo, calls the “Mums and Dads’ of Australia.

    Cayman Turnbull; demonstrably a man of few principles.

    • Coley 3 years ago

      What’s with this “Cayman” reference?
      Puzzled, UK-;)

      • john 3 years ago

        Cayman Islands being a tax haven.
        Hence the tag when it was realized allegedly the said PM may have used same; rather a bit like Mr. Cameron and his father’s connection to a shall we say not straight forward connection in the middle of the America’s

  4. Vastmandana 3 years ago

    Never imagined you Aussie’s could be so stupid. . sell out your children? You are a bunch of f’n idiot sheeple sucking of your corporate masters. The best solar options on the planet yet you spew carbon like drunks

    • MaxG 3 years ago

      What I have been saying all along — just a bit nicer. 🙂

    • nakedChimp 3 years ago

      Heyhey, the morons exist planet-wide, that rather want to burn coal, oil & gas to convert to electricity for their own short term profit.. this is not an outstanding feature of us down under here.

      • MaxG 3 years ago

        What ever it might be — still no excuse for being stupid (just because others are) 🙂

    • Coley 3 years ago

      Aye, and where do you hail from? The UK is busy trying to hit renewables while desperately trying to save the biggest white elephant in the UKs history, the cheap and on target ‘Hinkley point’

      • Stephen Boris 3 years ago

        One can hold two views at once, that one’s own country is stupid while at the same time think other countries are also stupid.

      • JohnOh 3 years ago

        THE UK renewable have hit s spot of pommy bother with the truth about renewable. The sector had an operating surplus of £169m, yet energy costs were equal to 330% of that sum.
        This paper explains it.
        Australia youre standing in it. Its Bull excrement when it comes to renewables. These cause much pollution when being manufactured and doesnt stand up to real independent scrutiny in terms of total MEGAWATTS being generated as its all intermittent, saving ZILCH.

    • Gary 3 years ago

      Marx referred to us as ‘pampered palace slaves’.

  5. Macabre 3 years ago

    The important message here is that the Coalition with Turnbull as its leader is the same as the Coalition with Abbott leading. The polls seem to indicate the floating voters are coming to that conclusion.

  6. Cooma Doug 3 years ago

    The ACT will be, in many ways, a major system stability asset to the major HV grid. The location of the ACT in terms of energy transfers between the Snowy Scheme and the major two states NSW /VIC is a major advantage for voltage control and serious frequency disturbance.
    With 100000 homes in that location having battery storage, a lot of peaking plant now poised to perform, will be made redundant.
    This is not a small influence.

    The technology advances and efficiency gains that go hand in hand with this are major influences on our future.

    If we look deep into the ACT situation, there are so many positives. As these things progress and other large towns and circles of influence get the picture, each renewable nest in the entire system will render large base load uglier with each step.

  7. Bob Fearn 3 years ago

    England and countries that have English DNA like America, Canada, NZ and Australia are all countries that have wasted their resources, abused their native populations, despoiled their environments and created vast inequality. This is the English way and the reason that England has the greatest inequality in Europe and the reason England has been at war with someone for over 200 years. In all these countries crapitalism has been embraced and this puts profit before anything else, including the future of the planet.

    • Coley 3 years ago

      Agree with your point re; crapitalism, as for the rest, bollocks.

    • Stephen Boris 3 years ago

      If you think the English are bad wait until you see the Spanish!!!

  8. john 3 years ago

    When decisions are made on the base rule that states 1 Everything they propose is wrong because a b and c.; is the method of policy decision there will never be any meaningful progress.
    Trotting out made up stuff may fool most of the people most of the time, but once they realize they have been hood winked the fury is far worse.
    Malcolm Turnbull would be well advised to be sober in his comments, because the scare campaigns are rather pithy.
    The ACT Government is showing a lead, which will be followed it is just a matter of time and learning for those, who will not study.
    It is a wonder that a solar party has not been launched.

  9. Tommy Griffiths 3 years ago

    Great article Giles. I read both the fin review and the Aus last week and was bitterly disappointed with their reporting (although it was not unexpected).
    I agree, that similar to our current federal government, that they have little or no hard facts to substantiate their claims that household energy costs will increase under a carbon tax or ETS.
    I’m an optimist. I see the great energy debate as one of biggest challenges of our generation. Although we appear to be in a political impasse, I still have faith that the Australian people will see the light and will vote for the correct outcome (thanks to reneweconomy representing facts and some real political will shown by the likes of Simon Corbell).

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