No more excuses: Heat is now on Hunt

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Control over the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, ARENA and the Renewable Energy Target have now been handed to environment minister Greg Hunt. With the hard right swept from power, Hunt no longer has any excuses on climate and clean energy policy.

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For the past two years, Greg Hunt has protested that he has been doing the best he can possibly do under the circumstances – being an environment minister in a government that downplays climate change, and is actively opposed to wind energy.

Hunt insists that he has been pushing for ambitious and effective policies as much as he can, and as much as he dared in a government dominated by the far right, and its ideological war against green policies. Did anyone understand the difficulties involved?

QUESTION TIME

But if Hunt craved to be portrayed as a beacon of light in a sea of smog, he did not get a lot of sympathy from those involved in the sector.

Part of that was due to his own choice of rhetoric: in an attempt to appease and impress, or just to get along, Hunt on occasions tried to out-do even the extreme right on the costs of renewables and climate action.

That has now changed, the conservative forces that stood in his way appear to have been swept aside by the sudden rise of Malcolm Turnbull and his declaration that his government will be one looking to the future, not the past.

So, the next phase can be seen in two ways: a test of Hunt’s willingness and ability to introduce long-lasting and effective climate change policies, presumably with the indulgence and sponsorship of his new leader; and a test of the remaining power of the hard-line conservatives.

On the former, the question about long lasting and effective policies, the jury is divided. Few, if any, in the carbon abatement industry or the renewable energy industry believe the current policies are fit for the long term, or even much good for the short term. This is particularly so of the emission reduction mechanisms.

But under the new Turnbull government, Hunt has been invited to be both ambitious and innovative, and he has been given all the levers to do so. He no longer has any excuses not to act.

In addition to climate policy, pursued through Direct Action, Hunt now has carriage of the renewable energy target, which has been switched from the energy and industry portfolio.

His department now also has overview of the two statutory bodies providing real investment in new technologies, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, also switched from energy, and the Clean Energy Finance Corp, shifted from Treasury and Finance.

This is good news for both the CEFC and ARENA, and for the prospects of the emerging technologies, financing models and business models they will help usher into Australia’s energy system, and the disruption that Turnbull speaks of with such enthusiasm.

The CEFC, for instance, should now be free of the constraints imposed by Joe “wind farms are offensive” Hockey, and the finance minister Matthias Cormann. The Abbott regime had tried to stop the CEFC from investing in wind farms and rooftop solar. The CEFC’s response, which has been sitting on the Coalition’s desks for several weeks, will now be dealt with by Hunt. It is expected that a much more nuanced investment mandate will be negotiated.

The big tests for Hunt will come from the renewable energy target and Direct Action.

Hunt – and Turnbull for that matter – have been dismissive of Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target for 2050, both relying on the estimated capital costs and dismissing this as an unnecessary cost to society.

But it’s about time this sort of rhetoric was junked. As most studies of high renewable energy targets conclude – from Greenpeace’s assessment of a global 100% renewable target, to the International Energy Agency’s assessment of a high level of renewables, or investment bank UBS’s assessment of Labor’s 50 per cent renewable target – these costs are offset by business-as-usual costs.

The same is true on emissions targets, where Hunt has been a notorious offender, ascribing a $633 billion cost to a 50 per cent emissions reduction target.

Hunt’s problems with the renewables target are more immediate, however. Unless some certainty can be provided by the government, and incumbents are told that they won’t be able to game the system, then it is possible that even the modest 33,000GWh target by 2020 won’t be met. Investment remains at a standstill.

What that policy needs is a re-affirmation from government that they both like and want renewable energy, and that it will not be cut back should they win the next election, which now seems more likely.

The second key measure is to extend the policy beyond 2020 – which is not to say that the same level of assistance should be continued, but that there has to be a long-term policy vision and a mechanism to achieve it.

The emissions reduction fund is controversial on two levels. The first, because there is huge debate over how much of the abatement is actually “additional”, meaning stuff that wouldn’t have happened anyway.

The second is the so-called licence to pollute under the Safeguards mechanism, which is basically a self-regulated ceiling that allows polluters to emit at their highest levels of the last five years, or even more if they can provide “justification”.

One can imagine that there will be a lot of work going down in Hunt’s department over the next few months about the true cost of Direct Action, and its ability to deliver Australia’s 26-28 per cent emissions target by 2030.

It was the good efforts of Hunt and foreign minister Julie Bishop to get the Abbott-led Coalition even this far. Paris may provide the platform and the justification for Turnbull to go even further, and to junk a policy that has no bite, or give it real teeth – such as decisive emissions standards and pollution controls.

Then we might see business clamouring for what everyone accepts as the cheaper option – bar the echo-chamber created by vested interests – and that is a carbon price.

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16 Comments
  1. howardpatr 4 years ago

    At least Hunt knows no shame.

    At the Solar Council meeting in Mandurah, in the seat of Canning, he had a statement read out on his behalf that implied the LNP had not done all it could to scrap the CEFC. The audience got a good laugh from his duplicity.

    On the positive side, at least Hunt should have no trouble changing his tune – even if he has to deny his past actions.

  2. Reality Bites 4 years ago

    Good article Giles, not so much of the rhetoric and Abbott bashing of the past and more realistic and understanding of the actual difficulties in our elected politicians steering the government in the right direction, albeit probably still not at the pace that many of your readers would like.

    • wideEyedPupil 4 years ago

      so pleased it meets with your approval, RB. Probably best you stick to the Murdoch press if you don’t want you blood pressure lifted with anti-Abbott rhetoric. Abbott’s government was diabolically bad for the Climate and the only difficulty for them was being owned in full by fossil fuel interests and it’s supporters like Murdoch and 2GB

      • Reality Bites 4 years ago

        Plots everywhere I know. The diabolically bad impact on the environment, now and in to the future is China, India and other developing nations. Yes I sometimes lower myself to your level for entertainment.

        • Geoff 4 years ago

          I think your at a level of your very own RB. the lowest possible I would say. yep you set yourself up for this one!
          Yes china is emitting the most with India in 4th place but compared to emissions per capita, then good old Aussie is up there ranked 11. All well and good beating up other countries – that’s how the conservatives do it – but Oz needs to stop blaming other countries until we get our own back yard cleaned up

  3. Phil Patterson 4 years ago

    Damn simple set of opportunities right now for both Hunt and Turnbull, if they really mean what they say, and if they really care. Keep CEFC and ARENA, remove investment barriers and let them do their work, they’ve been making it work. Scrap any notion of removing tax-deductions from environmental groups, scrap any plans to alter the 487 law challenges under the EPBC act. Keep the current set of marine park networks once the review report is published.
    If you really HAVE to keep the ERF, then give it the regulations and higher restrictions to actually put the highest polluters to comply and work like everyone else. Scale up the renewable energy target, open the industry to the free market (Malcolm loves the free market, it’s been his baby since forever), the short and long-term economics of clean energy are a sure winner and with every passing year it’s going to dominate and salvage a huge aspect of the carbon pollution issue.

  4. howardpatr 4 years ago

    The week before last Hunt had a statement read to an Australian Solar Council meeting at Mandurah in the Seat of Canning. He claimed he and the LNP had not made every effort to get rid of the CEFC and ARENA. His duplicity got a good laugh.

    Hunt has so often demonstrated a capacity to say whatever his former master demanded so there is hope that he will bring on some positive policies concerning climate change and renewable energy technologies without the slightest hint of embarrassment. Might even become an asset for MT rather than another dead-weight that TA gathered about him.

    • wideEyedPupil 4 years ago

      Reminds one of a school-age choir boy very enthusiastic to please the school chaplain in everything he says and does.

  5. Malcolm M 4 years ago

    I don’t think you understand the pressures that junior MP’s are under to please their leader. While in opposition I hosted Hunt and our local member at my workplace. They appeared to idolize Tony, but have no choice because all leadership roles are at the whim of the leader. In government, any public statement that did not toe the party line would lead to demotion at the next reshuffle.

    • MaxG 4 years ago

      Very true… and thus the ‘democracy’ exposed as non-existent, and certainly not serving the people.

    • JeffJL 4 years ago

      No backbone, no sympathy.

      And he is still peddling the $600B cost. He is a climate denying potato.

  6. Kevin O'Dea 4 years ago

    Turnbull and Hunt will have to get a move on to prepare a sensible platform in time for the Paris conference. Meantime the Arctic ice is melting further and methane is leaking to compound the carbon bomb further. Planet Earth/Gaia is remorselessly ticking away while we sort out our political response to the issue.

  7. Ron Horgan 4 years ago

    As an adept sailor on the winds of political change, Hunt will tack as the prevailing breeze blows. He will do all the good stuff Malcolm wants without unnecessary fuss.
    Great.

  8. Hugh M 4 years ago

    I have hope that government will recognise that at some point the some 60GW of Aussie coal and gas plants will by some date (2030? 2050? 2080?) have to completely shut down.

    When they do they could use the license to pollute Safeguard mechanism to set a shutdown timeframe: eg across the next 15 years 4GW/yr will be shut in order of most polluting to least polluting. The beauty is with excess supply there is no security supply risk to start.

    The market will automatically adjust to investing in alternatives because the demand and revenue will be there provided. Government can use reverse auctions to provide the occasional technology needed by the NEM that the market doesn’t provide in time, or due to less attractive prospects.

    This is a fantastic/perfect blend of good governance and market mechanisms.

  9. Blair Donaldson 4 years ago

    Now that Hunt is hopefully out from under the yoke of denialists like Abbott, Abetz, Bernardi and other ultra right fruitcakes, it’s going to be interesting to see if he will have the cojones to do what needs to be done. If he drops the ball now, he needs to be replaced.

    • Mick Perger 4 years ago

      He needs to do a lot to redeem himself …..

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