Why does media fall for Angus Taylor’s ridiculous scare campaigns?

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Angus Taylor has been waging scare campaigns since before he entered parliament, but even he must be stunned by the media’s complicity and gullibility with his latest efforts.

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(AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
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Energy minister Angus Taylor has form on scare campaigns. Long before he became an MP, Taylor was a relentless campaigner against wind energy, becoming the poster-boy for the nasty and anonymous website Stop These Things.

Taylor’s schtick was that wind farms would damage health and cause economic ruin, and he gave speeches along those lines in front of Parliament House, along with radio shock-jock Alan Jones, and promised to bring the industry to an end when he got to parliament.

Taylor also knows a thing or two about modelling – and meeting clients’ expectations – from his time when he was a director, along with current ACCC chairman Rod Sims, of the consultancy Port Jackson Partners.

But even Taylor must be astonished at the gullibility and the complicity of mainstream media in swallowing some of the idiotic claims he has promoted in the lead-up to, and during, this election campaign.

On the front page of the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, for instance, was a complete crock of a story suggesting that billions of dollars would need to be spent on all new homes, ensuring that they all had three-phase power and EV charging stations. “Hidden Chargers: ALP electric car plan to hit housing”, it cried.

As the Electric Vehicle Council, a new body bringing together utilities, car manufacturers and others suggested, the idea of a “housing tax is completely ludicrous.

“Taylor has cooked up with some truly ridiculous and dishonest scare tactics during the course of this campaign. They are tactics that should, frankly, be beneath the Energy Minister of Australia,” an exasperated EVC chief Behyad Jafari said in a statement.

“This ‘housing tax’ line is a contender for the silliest scare tactic yet, perhaps even sillier than the Prime Minister predicting “the end of the weekend.” (You can read more on that in Bridie Schmidt’s report in our EV-focused website, The Driven).

Even more worrying than the EV nonsense is that the modelling garbage produced by economist Brian Fisher – and endlessly promoted by the Coalition – about the supposed costs of Labor’s emissions reduction targets has found its way, yet again, on to the front pages of virtually every mainstream paper in the country, and even featured prominently in the Guardian.

“Labor’s carbon cuts will still hurt,” said the AFR.

“Bill Shorten’s climate policies could cost $542 billion,” said Nine News.

“Price carbon cuts? Yes you can,” said The Australian.

“New modelling to unleash explosive row over climate change costings,” said the SMH, and The Age.

“International permits crucial in emissions reduction policy, modelling shows,” said the Guardian.

The coverage – largely uncritical and with little context – claimed that Labor’s 45 per cent emissions reduction target could cost between $260 billion and $540 billion, and might cost more than $1 trillion if the Greens prevent Labor from accessing international offsets. It is little different, and still as far from the truth, from Fisher’s previous efforts.

The AAP report, widely published, including in websites such as the New Daily, quoted Taylor as saying that the modelling provided the “clearest picture” to date of Labor’s climate targets. “What’s clear in all of these scenarios is very big impacts, and intuitively that makes sense.”

The Coalition has already had several goes at this, and each time they have been debunked and rebuffed by the experts. Fisher, as this backgrounder featured below from the Climate Council points out, has been a favoured modeller for the fossil fuel industry for years.

And as Taylor would know from his own modelling and consultancy career, if you want to deliver a certain answer to a client, you simply massage or crank the numbers up to fit the bill.

Fisher’s calculations are based on assumptions that put the cost of abatement at around 10 times the cost of most analysis, and his estimates on the costs of renewables and storage are completely out of the ball park. Taylor, himself, has been caught lying when claiming that Fisher’s absurdly high storage costs are based on ARENA cost estimates.

This is important, because as the CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator have pointed out, the cost of wind and solar – even paired with sufficient storage – is clearly cheaper than new fossil fuel investments.

Professor Ross Garnaut this week said this gave Australia a unique opportunity to decarbonise its electricity grid, in little more than a decade, and end up with a reliable and much cheaper grid. In turn, this gives huge opportunities for cheap abatement in the transport and manufacturing industry, and even for abatement exports to other countries.

Similar analysis has been done internationally. The conservative government in the UK is reportedly bringing forward its ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 to as early as 2020, because it will reduce costs as well as emissions.

International studies point to the potential of wind and solar delivering zero carbon emissions in not just the grid, but transport and manufacturing. And lower costs at the same time. Imagine that. None of this, of course, registers with the Coalition, and rarely with the media, who remain in the thrall of idiots and ideologues.

Experts were, once again, scathing of the Fisher modelling. But the main media only started reporting this one news cycle after the scare campaign was re-initiated, despite the fact that it was the same old rubbish.

The Smart Energy Council, pointing to the assessments by the likes of ANU’s Frank Jotzo and other experts, described it as a “hatchet job by the climate deniers in the Liberal National parties and their fellow travellers.”

Labor’s Mark Butler, more focused on announcing new jobs and renewable energy zones, said that Fisher is so far to the right he even thought John Howard was “too much of a pinko lefty.”

The Investor Group on Climate Change said politely that Fisher’s modelling had “significant limitations” and ignored the considerable costs of no action.

Business and investors don’t need another decade of hypothetical modelling exercises. We need a policy that delivers real world investment outcomes and unlocks jobs and opportunities in the transition to net zero emissions,” CEO Emma Herd said.

Angus Taylor has a secret admirer: the anonymous anti-wind farm hate site, Stop These Things.

The one hope is that this scare campaign will be as successful as Taylor’s war against wind energy.

Despite his best efforts, and his promise to constituents to kill the renewable energy target, and the hope of his supporters that he would deliver the “death knell” to wind power, the wind industry has actually flourished in Australia, and investment has totalled around $10 billion.

Taylor is clearly resentful. Last year, he failed even to attend the opening of the Crookwell 2 wind farm, despite the fact that it was in the middle of his own electorate and he is the country’s energy minister. It seems some jobs and economic benefits are not worth celebrating.

But a scare campaign is all the Coalition has, and The Australia Institute, in a new survey, highlights that while Labor is seen as having the more credible policies for reliability, price and emissions reductions, the percentage of “don’t knows” remains the biggest cohort.

“Crucially, the large number of voters who ‘don’t know’ which party has the best policies for energy reliability, prices and emissions suggests there’s still a lot of voters up for grabs with a little over two weeks of electioneering to go,” TAI’s climate change policy expert Richie Merzian says.

That’s the fish that Taylor is trying to hook, and the media is happy to throw in the bait.

Personally, I can’t wait for the media and political discourse to actually catch up with what the industry and the experts say: That this transformation can happen quickly and cheaply.

Perhaps then, they will focus more deeply on the costs of not acting. There’s enough data and research around to make even bigger, and truer, headlines. Then they can send this type of nonsense back to where it belongs – with the conspiracy theorists at the margins of society, and out of the mainstream.

190502 - Brian Fisher Backgrounder
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