Australian Politics 2017-03-13 15:58:00


Abbott 'teaches' Turnbull on penalty rates

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has again publicly fronted up to Malcolm Turnbull, this time over the government's stance on penalty rate cuts.

It comes after the Fair Work Commission last week recommended Sunday rates be pared back for retail and hospitality workers.

"Against Labor's pitch of 'high wages' versus 'low wages', we need to pitch 'high wages' versus 'no wages'," Mr Abbott told The Australian in an interview.

The government has being trying to position the FWC decision as a pro-jobs, arguing businesses will hire more workers as their wages bills decrease.

But Labor is trying to pin the upcoming cuts to Sunday worker's pay on the government and wants Mr Turnbull to oppose them.

"The issue is not higher wages versus lower wages," Mr Abbott said. "It's about making it possible for more businesses to stay open because if the business is shut no one gets paid anything."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday said the transition to the new rates should be done in "a way that ensures that take-home pay is as far as possible maintained".


Face cover ban for Victorian protests

Victoria will introduce laws banning face coverings at protests as authorities warn "idiots" not to try to disrupt the end of the Moomba festival.

Police made 53 arrests at the festival on Saturday night and Attorney-General Martin Pakula says they will be ready again if there was trouble as the event wrapped up.

"There seems to be a small band of idiots who want to chance their arm," Mr Pakula told reporters on Monday.

"All I can say to those people is Victoria Police is ready for you, they demonstrated that on Saturday night, and no doubt they'll demonstrate it again if anyone is stupid enough to try it on."

Moomba descended into violent riots last year as groups of youths battled each other in Melbourne's streets.

That incident - and other political protests that turned violent - has prompted the state to propose laws banning face coverings at protests.

Mr Pakula said the laws were meant to be ready earlier, but had been complex to draft.

They will give police the power to arrest people with covered faces if they believe the coverings are for avoiding detection or to prevent the use of capsicum spray.

Mr Pakula said the laws will be introduced into Parliament next week.


Bill Leak: doublespeak at freethinker trial

On Friday, March 10, 2017, Australian painter, cartoonist and avant-garde freethinker Bill Leak died of a suspected heart attack. He was 61 years old.

In the two years before his death, jihadists and the political establishment inflicted horrific stress on him because he refused to surrender his creative genius and free mind to the colourless, artless overlords of political correctness.

In 2015, Leak was forced to flee into a safe house with his family after jihadists threatened to kill him. His thought crime was drawing a cartoon of Mohammed in the wake of militant Islamists slaughtering cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

In 2016, Leak was accused under the PC censors’ favourite weapon, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, for offending someone somewhere.

Members of a state-protected minority chose to take offence at a cartoon.

It was offensive to those offended by the truth that some men are alcoholics, some alcoholics neglect their children and some ­alcoholic men who neglect their children are indigenous.

In his submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights into Freedom of Speech in Australia, Leak said: “I was put through two months of ­incredible stress by the (Australian Human Rights) Commission’s investigation. The first complainant … didn’t have to justify anything she did. No one asked her any questions and it didn’t cost her a cent … the tortuous process (threw) my life into a state of utter chaos and it’s not over yet.

“Three months after the cartoon was published, two more complaints were received and ­accepted by the Commission ... So now, two months after being notified of the first complaint and four months after the publication of the cartoon, the possibility that I may yet be required to defend myself in court still hovers, like a dark cloud, over my life.

“This in itself is just another part of the punishment I’ve been subjected to for daring to shine the spotlight on the truth.”

Three months later, still suffering under the immense stress ­inflicted by 18C backers, he died.

Section 18C is an act of violence against those who tell the truth. It is, as the slow torture of Bill Leak revealed, a totalitarian tool fashioned by bullies determined to punish creative geniuses who refuse to toe the PC party line.

It is a censor’s hammer used to bludgeon artists for thinking and speaking freely in ways that entertain truth, delight dissidents and expose PC mediocrities for their inconspicuous talent.

Bill Leak did not repent. He held truth above spin, free thought above correct thought and beauty before duty to the PC party line.

He was a thoroughly unreconstructed artist; he said freedom meant freedom to think and speak and create. He was born male and white! (Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!)


Power shortage: playing politics only prolongs energy disaster


Australians now live with one of the great public-corporate policy failures in decades as the nation once touted as an energy superpower is brought to its knees with spiralling power prices, shortages and system unreliability — as the long and unresolved issue of climate change is overtaken by an energy emergency.

There is no easy fix to this crisis. Indeed, Australia faces multiple problems in meeting multiple objectives around gas shortages, renewable energy policy blunders, energy unreliability, the absence of price signals to achieve emissions reductions, the Paris climate change targets and growing uncompetitiveness hurting jobs, industry and investment.

Malcolm Turnbull’s switch after last year’s South Australia blackouts to a new agenda based on energy security and reliability is vindicated but of little compensation. The nation has spent six months learning about the difficulties of feeding renewables into the power system only to now discover gas production cannot meet demand, the latter danger having been warned about for years.

Cast the net wide for blame. There are no innocent parties. Begin with the obsessive climate change and ideological posturing by politicians, the failures by public servants, regulators and advisers to foresee unintended consequences, the utter inadequacy of the federal-state system and the ongoing shambles of conflicting energy policies across competing jurisdictions.

The costs will be borne by households, businesses and jobs. Forget any notion that this crisis will lead to bipartisanship. That won’t happen — energy policy is highly charged with ideology, cost-of-living and jobs competition. The emerging blame game will be fierce. The more the crisis deepens the more it will dominate both state and national politics. The Coalition, Labor and the Greens are locked in a deepening political struggle where an energy crisis has smashed into the already weakening public “hip-pocket” will on climate change action.

This week the Australian Energy Council, representing electricity and gas businesses, said “sustained” policy failure was driving up electricity prices to “critical” levels and the price impact now “is effectively equivalent to a carbon price in excess of $50 a tonne”. Bluntly declaring “we are running out of power”, the AEC says “ageing power stations keep closing but there is no plan about how they will be replaced”.

The Prime Minister, backed by Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, aspires to a dual task: to limit the factors that threaten jobs and industry, and to mobilise energy as a frontline political issue to discredit Labor. Turnbull is fierce on Labor’s ideological flaws — it rejects coal, bans gas exploration and developments, and has bet the economy on renewables without proper baseload back-up power. His message is that the threat is serious and follows “years of ideological complacency by the Labor Party.” Bill Shorten has joined this battle, saying the energy crisis responsibility resides “solely” with Turnbull, who is delivering higher prices, more pollution and less reliability.

This week Turnbull, facing a crisis in gas production, announced an urgent meeting of gas producers. This comes in the teeth of dire warnings from the regulator about gas shortfalls and ­electricity supply shortfalls threatening NSW, Victoria and South Australia from the summer of 2018-19 onwards.

Turnbull’s task at next week’s meeting is to secure emergency pledges from companies to increase supply in the near term. “They’ve been put on notice,” Turnbull said of the gas companies. “I’ll be demanding from them their explanation as to how they’re going to deliver security for their customers.”

This followed a warning from the Australian Energy Market Operator that, in effect, there is insufficient gas in production to meet demand over the next several years. AEMO says “strategic national planning of gas developments has never been more critical for maintaining domestic energy supply adequacy across both gas and electricity sectors.”

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox says: “Without action on gas there will be massive demand destruction that will claim thousands of jobs. High gas prices and tight supply are at the heart of Australia’s unfolding energy crisis. Gas users are being offered prices three times higher than their last contract and five times the historic average, leading them to rethink planned investments. Businesses that were looking to return production from China are now considering further offshoring.”

Gas was supposed to be the essential baseload substitute for declining coal. But an epic ideological blunder for which Australia pays a high price was the decision by the green and environmental lobbies to cut gas out of the plan in favour of their fixation on renewables. This anti-gas campaign was lethal, had multiple dimensions, exploited the arrogant stupidity of the industry and tapped into farmer discontent.

The reality has come home — relying on renewables, as South Australia does, means that the system needs baseload back-up from gas. The political class, completely unaware of the technical and engineering aspect, has been taught a stark lesson. The message is: if you want renewables, then you want gas. The two fit together.

The gas problem springs from three factors — the ludicrous, destructive moratoriums on gas exploration and development in the states, notably NSW and Victoria; the higher costs for gas development; and the consequences of our massive liquefied natural gas exports, with Australia now exporting two-thirds of the gas it produces, leading to higher parity pricing.

AEMO raised the option of LNG exporters redirecting gas to the domestic market. The left will beat the drum for a gas reservation policy. Turnbull says all measures will be considered but warns of sovereign risk in imposing gas reservation policy, given binding contracts and investment decisions.

But Frydenberg has welcomed as “creative” and worthy of consideration the Queensland government’s recent decision on a tenement in which companies can invest, with provision for domestic market gas. Turnbull and Frydenberg are going to hold the feet of the states to the fire — they need to fix their own mess.

The irony is that Australia has massive gas reserves. It is set to become the world’s biggest LNG exporter but is now being poleaxed on a gross supply-demand gas imbalance. AEMO warns in its report that “holistic planning” across the entire energy supply chain is now imperative. Its suggestions for immediate action include a lift in coal-fired generation, higher gas production, the option of LNG producers redirecting a “small portion” of their export production for domestic use, and greater battery storage.

The long run demands a new approach to exploration and development. The craziness of energy policy is exemplified by the Victorian Labor government, with Frydenberg saying: “(Premier) Daniel Andrews has a real case to answer here. He’s got a 40 per cent renewable energy target, he tripled the royalties on coal which in part has led to the closure of ­Hazelwood and now he’s got a moratorium on onshore gas developments. So I don’t know where he expects Victorians … to get their power from.”

The Turnbull government believes the impact of coal-fired Hazelwood’s closure has been underestimated. It provided about 20 per cent of Victoria’s baseload power and is also important to South Australia. The AEMO report says it was assumed that other sources, including gas, will substitute for Hazelwood, yet the future for gas is “highly uncertain.”

But Labor, courtesy of Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen, looks smart. In the face of much criticism, it embraced a national interest test at the last election in which new gas projects would be assessed according to domestic market needs in the national interest. The only conclusion is that the government misread the full impact on the domestic market of the massive LNG export sector.

Turnbull told the Australian Financial Review summit this week that his government’s three core goals remained energy security, affordability and meeting the Paris emissions reduction targets. He continued to rule out a market-oriented emissions intensity scheme that was rejected late last year essentially on political grounds, but which is now backed by a near consensus of interest groups as the main mechanism for emissions reductions.

This looms as a significant political problem for Turnbull. Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler had a field day this week, pointing out that a who’s who of stakeholders now supported Lab­or’s stance on an EIS, including the National Farmers Federation, AGL, EnergyAustralia, BHP, Origin Energy, the Australian Energy Council, the CSIRO, Frontier Economics and most state governments. “This is the scheme that will get investment going again to replace our ageing electricity infrastructure,” he said. “There is an investment strike on right now.”

The stakes are high surrounding the final report into the energy system by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel. This is a report to the Council of Australian Governments. Its recommended position on the EIS will shape the future of the policy and political debate on emissions reductions and achieving the Paris targets.

The government now pushes the idea of a cleaner, efficient coal-fired power station — but there is little financial appetite for such a venture that would have a 50-year life, subject to high risk from conflicting political positions and financial uncertainties. The Australian Energy Council’s head Matthew Warren has dismissed the viability of such a project: “Plans for expansions to coal-fired power stations have been basically shelved over the past decade. We’re now looking at gas and renewables as the mainstay of investments for us, at least for the next 10 to 20 years.”

On renewables, the Turnbull government has made progress on the political and policy risks flowing from Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030. The Opposition Leader has walked away from his April 2016 policy to legislate this goal while retaining the commitment overall. There is growing recognition that individual state renewable energy targets should be abolished.

At the West Australian election the Labor Party abandoned its plan for a 50 per cent RET. Coalition oppositions in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland now reject the idea of state targets, opening the way for aggressive political campaigns on the consequences of ambitious renewables targets.

BHP Billiton chief Andrew Mackenzie says: “We have lost $US100 million in this period because of the intermittency of power in South Australia and also we are facing more expensive electricity.” BlueScope’s chief Paul O’Malley says Australia’s mistake had been to focus “on renewables first and everything else second”, adding that “if we continue to talk that way, there will be more blackouts and there will be more jobs leaving Australia”.

While Labor remains pledged to the 50 per cent renewable concept, this debate has got a long way to run. Labor remains in denial about the significance of the South Australian blackouts. As Frydenberg has said, this shows “the vulnerability of a jurisdiction that relies too heavily on intermittent sources of generation such as wind and solar without the necessary storage and back-up”.

The pro-renewables cult has much traction in Australia — as revealed by polls — but the price, reliability and security costs have now come into play. Frydenberg has helped to establish in the public mind that there is a price to pay, and that the power system should not become the zone for “experiments”, as happened in South Australia. For Labor, however, this issue transcends policy because it has a non-negotiable need to protect its left flank from the Greens. For electoral reasons, Labor cannot surrender the “renewables position” to the Greens.

At the same time, there is no prospect of Turnbull and Frydenberg succumbing to the demands of their conservative wing and cutting their own 23.5 per cent renewables target. Most of the industry lobbies want the target kept, given long-run investment needs, and the government points to the necessity of achieving its Paris emissions commitments.

Turnbull argues, again, that state governments have failed, saying he is the first head of government to put storage on the agenda. “If you have a large amount of variable renewable energy, wind and solar, isn’t it obvious that you need storage?” he said at the AFR business summit. “Isn’t it blindingly obvious that you do?”

Australia’s energy grid is being disrupted by consumer preferences, new technology, high costs, ill-judged and ideological govern­ment interventions and politics preceding policy. Every government, federal and state, is now caught up in the mire. No solution is possible short of a degree of commonwealth-state concord, not yet evident. Meanwhile, investment in the sector is too high-risk and the upshot is an “enduring dysfunction” in the system.

It has become a template for the Australian disease — the polarisation of politics that makes agreement among governments and in the national parliament a forlorn project. The bottom line is obvious: politics has been given priority for too long and both sides carry much blame. The crisis has now been called — it is a test for the politicians, the companies and all stakeholders.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here