Was the Warburton Review a complete waste of money?

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The Abbott government has now revealed the cost of the highly controversial Warburton Review of the Renewable Energy Target, as bureaucrats appeared to concede the panel went beyond its terms of reference when it recommended that the target be ditched or significantly wound back.

Under questioning in a Senate estimates committee, the government revealed that the Warburton review cost $587,329 – not including incidentals such as accommodation, or the salaries of staff seconded to the review.

According to the PM&C’s Brad Archer, who ran the secretariat from within the offices of Tony Abbott’s department, the budget was still met by the Environment Department (which had taken carriage of the previous review, but was apparently not trusted to go solo this time round).

According to Archer, the costs included:

– $287,468 to modelers ACIL Allen – whose modeling, under instructions from the government, included assessing the cost of coal-fired generation while ignoring climate, carbon, financing risk, as well as community opposition. In other words, to ignore commercial reality.–

dick warburton– Dick Warburton, the former Caltex chairman, climate change denier and pro-nuclear advocate, received $73,000 for his role as chairman (the review process ran less than six months).

– Brian Fisher, who RenewEconomy revealed on Monday had installed a subsidised solar system on his farm this month, after recommending that solar subsidies be ditched, received $39,900. That would be about enough to install a 20kW system, about four times the size of the solar system that Fisher installed – not that the local network would have allowed him.

– Shirley In’t Veld, another climate skeptic and former head of WA’s Verve nergy, received $43,900.

– And Matt Zema, the CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, who was sitting in a “private” capacity, received $29,700.

Archer was given an uncomfortable time in the Senate Estimates committee by Greens leader Christine Milne, who asked if the Warburton Review had gone beyond its terms of reference, which was specifically to assess the price impact of the RET on consumers. (You can see it here).

Why, she asked, had the Warburton review ignored the cheapest options, and chosen the two most expensive options that would cause the biggest rises in consumer prices, the least investment, the least jobs, the biggest rise in emissions, and the greatest benefit ($9.3 billion according to the panel itself) to the coal industry?

Did it occur to the government, Milne asked, that the government had been misled by the panel – which advocated that the target be closed to new entrants, or reduced to a “real” 20 per cent target, rather than the current 41,000GWh target.

Archer: “No. I don’t think it occurred to the government that it had been misled.”

Did the secretariat take issue itself with the findings, given that they went beyond the terms of reference?

Archer: “Ultimately, the report looked at a broader range of considerations than impact of RET on electricity prices.”

But why didn’t you point out that this was beyond the terms of reference?

Archer: “I think the panel was well aware of the recommendations it was making.“

The Senate estimates revelations came as the Climate Change Authority – the independent authority that the Abbott government wants to muzzle by abolishing it – confirmed it will produce its own RET review by the end of the year, as it is required to do so under its statutory rules.

But while the Warburton Review focused mostly on the impact to coal-fired generators and the pandering of climate sceptics, the CCA says it will take a different approach.

“Australia, together with the broader international community, has agreed to a goal of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” it said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

“In its Targets and Progress Review released in February 2014, the Authority recommended an emissions budget consistent with that agreed goal.

“In the Authority’s view, key considerations for reviewing the RET are the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (both now and in the longer term), and the critical role that a decarbonised electricity sector will play as Australia and the world move to a low-emissions economy.

“In the absence of alternative policies to decarbonise Australia’s electricity supply, severely curtailing the RET would risk stalling Australia’s progress, at a time when climate change science makes it clear that rapid reductions in emissions are required.

“The Authority will conduct a necessarily limited RET review, with the aim of making a constructive contribution while not exacerbating policy uncertainty for the electricity sector. It will draw on its previous work as well as the public submissions, analysis (including modelling) and report of the recent Warburton Review. “

Of course, it’s previous work – completed just 22 months ago – rejected the very same arguments mounted by the fossil fuel industry.

bernieCCA chairman Bernie Fraser told the Senate estimates committee on Monday that it will be a “limited review” because of time constraints.

“We do have a fair bit of knowledge and experience about the RET arrangements from the initial report finished 18 months ago. And we will have access to the public submissions to the Warburton Review, and the modeling that done for that review.

“That will be part of the grist to our mill,” he added, before noting that there was “quite an array of modeling out here.”

As Fraser noted, the CCA will make its judgment “independent” of the Warburton review, or the influence of Abbott’s office. That will provide an interesting backdrop to the negotiations between the Abbott government and the Labor party to try to find a “bipartisan” deal.  

  • barrie harrop

    A complete waste of money.

  • howardpatr

    The Warburton crew would of course refute most things put to them about ACD, (Anthropogenic Climate Disruption), but more in the general public should be aware of an article on the topic from online newspaper “Truth Out”.


    I have asked the Editor of the Goulburn Post to publish it for the benefit of voters in the State and Federal Members of Parliament for that region, Pru Goward and Angus Taylor. Both vehemently oppose wind farms and renewable energy technology in general.

  • Mic Wells

    Worse than a complete waste of money, it stalled the large scale sector and damaged both the large and the small scale renewables sectors costing jobs and confidence, creating sovereign risk, stalling emissions reduction whilst completely failing to provide any long term context on how Australia should fully transition to a low carbon future.

    It also sought to trash over a decade of effort on energy efficiency by households, business, local governments and community groups that have successfully reduced their electricity demand for sustainability purposes including to tackle climate change. It tried to use reduced demand as part of the justification to damage the RET. Reduced demand does not belong to the Government or the big three gentailers and the RET Review Panel was made aware of this.

    It then went further to damage what is left of GreenPower by suggesting that in future, GreenPower be part of any RET, not additional to it. Damaging GreenPower is clearly outside the terms of reference.

    • Alen T

      The ‘carbon tax’ was claimed to have cost many many jobs, but I would love to see a comparison of how many jobs the ETS cost and how many jobs the uncertainty and the Warburton review cost, oh and while we’re at it a comparison of how many jobs the axing of the ETS created and how many jobs retaining the ETS as is will create.

    • David Rossiter

      RECs have been surrendered as one way of verifying abatement for GreenPower purposes for many years. While that verification process is widely used I agree that to install GreenPower under RET could get rid of the additionality of GreenPower.

  • Alan Baird

    Answer: Yes

  • Rob G

    It’s a lot of public money to waste on puppets that say what they are appointed to say. Did Abbott really believe this type of review would bring credibility to his RET aggression? If anything it has helped to clarify him the politician and his truly miserable attitude towards the environment.

  • Jason

    Coal isn’t even big business in Qld- it doesn’t employ that many people as a sector in relative terms and most of the benefits outside the direct jobs flow to a few overseas corporations and shareholders… neoliberalism at its best ….

  • Sean Sweetser

    If the Labor party votes with the coalition and waters down the RET. I will never, ever, ever vote for them again and encourage everyone I know to vote against them.

  • john

    Not a complete waste of money the finding did show that RET is/was working and how it has lowered the cost to consumers both now and more importantly in years to come.
    The uncertainty however has had the desired effect of stopping any investment in Large Scale Renewables.