Australian Politics 2022-12-06 08:06:00


The wave of investment into renewables could bring forward the closure of coal plant by up to a decade

Mark Collette above

This guy is a loon. He proposes to replace dispatchable coal power by new dispatchable gas-fired generation. What a waste of capital investment! It won't please the Greenies as gas is a "fossil fuel" and it will create a huge cost burden on already high gas prices. New demand must push gas prices higher. Maybe they are banking on Russian gas becoming available again. We can hope.

Power giant EnergyAustralia has revealed plans to spend $10bn over the next decade building new electricity generation as part of a broader industry push on green spending, a move that may hasten the departure of NSW’s last coal plant by up to a decade.

Ahead of a planned intervention into Australia’s domestic energy market, the nation’s third-largest electricity retailer and generator set out the new investment target to be split across renewables, storage and solar and battery systems in households.

The wave of investment required to hit Labor’s aim of tripling renewables capacity to 82 per cent by 2030 could also bring forward the closure of EnergyAustralia’s Mt Piper coal plant by up to a decade.

The Mt Piper facility was expected to be the final NSW coal plant to shut in 2040, but that timeline may jump forward by as much as 10 years depending on how quickly replacement generation is installed in its place.

“I‘m worried more about closures happening faster than new entry at the moment,” EnergyAustralia managing director Mark Collette told The Australian. “There’s a lot of modelling out there that shows a lot of closures coming. Historically, Australia’s had maybe three big coal closures in the past 10 years, with Australia facing something like 15 in the next 15 years.”

Asked if an expected wave of green investment would accelerate the exit of Mt Piper, Mr Collette said: “All of the coal-fired power stations in the country, I’d expect all of them to be gone as soon as there’s replacement technology available.

“So for Australia, the challenge is long duration storage. At the moment, coal and gas form that insurance for the system, so we can get through all weather conditions. The date at which coal closes is purely about how quickly we can have replacement from those sorts of services.”

The September quarter produced “a massive acceleration” in the timetable for closure of coal-fired generation on the east coast, according to consultancy EnergyQuest.

EnergyAustralia’s $10bn spending plan over the next decade mirrors a plan by Canada’s Brookfield to invest an extra $20bn in Origin Energy through to 2030 to build new renewable and back-up energy capacity should it prevail with a live takeover bid under way.

The nation’s other big player, AGL Energy, has also said it would need to find up to $20bn to accelerate its exit from coal generation, after announcing plans to bring forward the closure date of its Loy Lang A power station in Victoria.

EnergyAustralia has been in talks with investors to help fund its multibillion-dollar pipeline of projects, with the company’s parent, Hong Kong-listed CLP, previously pointing to a deal with pension giant CDPQ for its Indian business as a potential model it would consider for Australia.

“Our primary areas to invest in are behind the meter to bring the best of small-scale energy technology with grid technologies for customers. And then in flexible capacity, which is the reliable capacity that underpins a very high concentration of renewables and brings it to life,” Mr Collette said.

The company plans to install a giant battery at Wooreen in Victoria’s Gippsland region, a gas-fired power station near Goulburn in NSW, Lake Lyell pumped hydro in NSW along with the Tallawarra B gas plant.

“We can quite clearly see that for our market share it’s quite easy to get to investments of $10bn over the next 10 years. The energy transition is quite expensive and like all players, we’re working on the best ways to fund that transition,” Mr Collette said.

The energy industry is bracing for an expected intervention, with the Albanese government prepared to intervene in South Australia and Victoria on a gas price cap at $11-$13 a gigajoule amid a stoush with states on imposing coal price caps to lower bills.

EnergyQuest said targeting temporary financial support for consumers who are most vulnerable to energy price shocks would be a far better solution.

“Moves to cap gas prices would not only increase east coast gas demand and reduce supply, but it would also amount to a whopping and inefficient fossil fuel subsidy of over $20 a gigajoule,” EnergyQuest chief executive Graeme Bethune said.

“The Treasurer is getting $50bn of windfall gains to his budget through the increases in company tax and Petroleum Resource Rent Tax from the spike in fossil fuel prices. The states already have a mish-mash of energy grants for energy cost relief that could be much better targeted through the Commonwealth welfare payment system.”

Large manufacturers are being offered gas contracts for 2023 at rates up to five times the level being offered last year, with the government warning factories will shut down unless it makes an urgent market intervention to cut prices.

Oil and gas industry sources, who are concerned about Jim Chalmers expanding the petroleum resource rent tax to subsidise retailers and households, have said the government would face constitutional issues if it imposes price caps on east coast gas producers and not WA producers.


Push for Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold to go over Lehrmann rape trial

That a "she said" / "He said" case went to trial is a disgrace

image from

Apparatchik Drumgold

A leading Canberra criminal lawyer has called for the resignation of ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC and an investigation by the ACT Integrity Commission into the decision to prosecute Bruce Lehrmann for the rape of Brittany Higgins.

Peter Woodhouse, the managing partner of Aulich lawyers, said an investigation by the Integrity Commission was needed after revelations by The Weekend Australian that police believed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Lehrmann, but could not stop the DPP from doing so because “there is too much political interference”.

The police reservations about prosecuting Mr Lehrmann were expressed in diary notes made by the ACT Police Manager of Criminal Investigations, Detective Superintendent Scott Moller, and in executive briefing notes made by investigators, which included serious concern for the mental health and ­wellbeing of Ms Higgins.

On Sunday, Mr Drumgold was reported to have expressed “serious concern about the potentially unlawful sharing of police material” after publication of the documents by The Australian.

Mr Woodhouse said the Integrity Commission “needs to explore whether Mr Drumgold let his own thirst for media ­attention or own political affiliations cloud what is supposed to be his independent judgment in such matters”.

He said it was “astounding” that Mr Drumgold had announced the decision via press conference and asked whether the DPP was “hoping to get on the front foot and was attempting to pre-emptively cover his backside, knowing this fallout and the exposure of the rift between his office and ACT police was coming”.

At his press conference on Friday, Mr Drumgold stood by his belief that there were reasonable prospects of securing a conviction in the case.

However, according to Mr Woodhouse, “what is abundantly clear is that there does not seem to be anybody in the ACT legal system, outside of Mr Drumgold’s office, who shared that view, including senior ­members of criminal investigations in ACT policing”.

“The DPP in jurisdictions such as ours are supposed to be politically independent.”

Mr Woodhouse notes that Mr Drumgold has tenure until December 2025, designed to allow him to operate without political interference, and can be ­removed from office only in exceptional ­circumstances.

“If Mr Drumgold’s decision to prosecute Mr Lehmann has been influenced in any way by political pressure, his position as ACT DPP is not sustainable and he must ­resign. It appears the ACT system is irreparably broken and there is only one way to quickly fix it and to restore public faith in the ­criminal justice system in the ACT. Shane Drumgold must resign as ACT DPP.

The claims of political interference in the case come from notes Superintendent Moller made of a conversation with his boss, ACT Deputy Chief Police Officer (DCPO) Michael Chew, on June 17 last year while discussing the ­Higgins/Lehrmann sexual assault case.

“DCPO (Mr Chew) advised he had a meeting with DPP who stated they will recommend prosecution. DCPO stated ‘if it was my choice I wouldn’t proceed. But it’s not my choice. There is too much political interference.”

At that point in the investigation, more than half of the witness list had yet to be interviewed by police, but it appears the DPP, led by Mr Drumgold, had already ­decided to prosecute.

Some media reports of these developments over the weekend wrongly claimed it was solely the decision of the Australian Federal Police to lay charges in the case.

A statement prepared by Detective Superintendent Moller, obtained by The Australian, reveals that on 30 July 2021, Mr Chew “directed that the investigation move to charge Bruce Lehrmann via summons … he stated that this direction was based on legal advice received from ACT DPP and the Independent Investigational Review conducted”.

Other senior legal figures have also been highly critical of Mr Drumgold, including prominent Sydney barrister Gray Connolly, who tweeted that his behaviour was “shameful” and had produced “a catastrophic result” in the case.

Mr Connolly echoed the comments of other lawyers that Mr Drumgold’s public statements on the merits of the case were “entirely improper” and that it was “a sad day for the rule of law”.

“Prosecutors speak in court through the cases they make and not through media re cases they abandon. In any serious first-world jurisdiction, Drumgold’s position would be untenable.”

Mr Connolly described Mr Drumgold as “a DPP (who) trashes centuries of prosecutorial ethics and obligations, by simultaneously withdrawing a criminal prosecution in the court & then try to continue it in the media”.

The barrister said the presumption of innocence should extend all the more strongly to a person against whom charges have been withdrawn by the DPP.

“You cannot – even as the most newly admitted lawyer let alone as a very senior prosecutor – simultaneously withdraw a case from the courts and then also try and run that same case in the media. It is simply horrific.”


National cabinet walking a tightrope on energy policy

This week’s national cabinet meeting is one of the most dangerous gatherings of national leaders in recent times. Inexperienced in energy complexities, politicians and public servants could easily plunge the east coast of the nation into chaos, especially as the industrial relations legislation has destroyed business trust in the Albanese government. The first energy plan that was proposed, a price cap, may be rejected on the grounds of state opposition. But those state objections were almost irrelevant: the “cap” was a recipe for chaos.

Now a tax is being proposed on energy producers, where the ­revenue will somehow be diverted to help industrial and domestic consumers. That proposal has less risk and some advantages but again has the potential to create chaos. To help readers understand the dangers facing the nation I will first detail what is likely to happen if there is a price cap and then look at some of the potential repercussions of a tax.

I strongly urge all the ministers and public servants in the national cabinet to study the research work of Commonwealth Bank energy economist Vivek Dhar, which I have found invaluable.

Each east coast state is different. We start with NSW. Purely on the basis of cash production costs, and ignoring their enormous capital costs, renewables are the cheapest form of energy. Accordingly, in a price cap regime, as the lowest cash cost source of electricity, renewables will take the first slab of demand – assuming the wind is blowing and the sun is shining.

On the basis of a proposed cap of between $11 and $13 a gigajoule, the next lowest cost level is gas-fired power stations. Unless there is some form of complex quota, gas power stations will therefore run flat out as a baseload operation, creating gas shortages.

Then comes black coal generators which, because of the gas price cap, suddenly become the highest cost power provider. But black coal power generation needs constant output and is extremely expensive and dangerous if it is forced to be the swing producer. It is a recipe for chaos in the generation of power in NSW. Queensland will be affected in a similar way but not as severely. Then comes poor old Victoria and its infamous energy policy, partly based on preserving ALP inner city lower house seats.

Victoria is more dependent on gas than any other east coast state, and the energy regulator says that Bass Strait will go into steep decline in about three years. Woodside and Exxon are prepared to spend large sums trying to extend the output for a few more years.

The WA-based Woodside has been blunt: if there is a low price cap that money will not be spent. Victoria can swing.

Victorian government politicians scoff and demand that gas should be piped down from Queensland and NSW at the low cap price. It’s nonsense, of course. Even if such a supply is legislated, the pipe network was designed to send gas north, not south and although changes can be made to improve the “south delivery”, there will be a massive shortfall for Victoria – especially as NSW and Queensland power stations will be absorbing as much gas as possible.

Daniel Andrews’ decision not to develop Victoria’s large onshore gas fields which don’t require fracking has worked: there was no green decimation of ALP inner-city seats in the recent election.

Without the Woodside/Exxon “rescue” expenditure, Victoria has the choice of developing its onshore gas or suffering huge shortfalls in about three years’ time, when the next election is due. The inner-city green seat issue remains. Victorians voted against gas development, so can’t complain if they are hit hard by the repercussions of any price cap.

The alternative of a profits tax creates even greater complexity.

Any extra profits-tax calculation somehow or other must adjust for different cost structures in different areas. It is highly likely to put out of business the wrong energy producers. And again, almost certainly, Woodside will tell the government to jump into Bass Strait if taxes are boosted.

And then comes the issue of who in the community receives the “subsidy” benefit funded by the tax. Small business is probably the most likely to benefit, but the industrial legislation has an employment definition that is problematic and will not stop carnage. It is possible the distribution of the tax will be based on a green agenda. There may be a delay between revenue collection and money distribution, which will hit both enterprises and consumers.

There is no way anyone will be happy. To try and sort out this mess we must start with the basics.

If the politicians and public servants in Canberra are prepared to do their homework between now and the cabinet meeting, they will discover that the ideal way to operate a non-nuclear power system like Australia is to have renewables and coal providing the base power loads. Gas and hydro cater for demand swings. Over time the coal runs down, replaced by extra renewables, including hydro.

And in time gas will be reduced by batteries, extra hydro and other means. Carbon-based power generators can be encouraged to engage in regeneration agriculture and growing saltbush and other plants whose root systems store carbon in the soil.

Of course, even better, maybe we boost power supplies via smaller nuclear power units — but that is hard for politicians to endorse. Nevertheless, their back is to the wall and nuclear technology is improving. The old waste problems are rapidly diminishing.

But again, there is no trust because of industrial relations. So where there is lack of trust combined with inexperience there is grave danger of a total mess.


Mask wearing disrupts decision-making ability, Queensland study finds

Mask wearing can seriously disrupt a person’s ability to make decisions, particularly when they feel under pressure, a new Queensland study has found.

Dr David Smerdon of the University of Queensland's School of Economics studied 8500 worldwide chess players aged between 5 and 98, comparing how they played a game of chess both with and without masks on.

After analysing almost three million individual chess moves he found wearing a mask substantially reduced the quality of a player’s decisions.

But the disruption to decision making was also only temporary and players were able to recover from their initial brain fog within four to six hours, before returning to their normal playing capability.

“We found that the early part of the game you’re not playing as well as you usually would,” Dr Smerdon said.

“The data showed masks were more likely to decrease performance in situations where there was a demanding mental task with a high working memory load.

“The decrease in performance was due to the annoyance caused by the masks rather than a physiological mechanism, but people adapted to the distraction over time.

“The results suggest that the effect of masks may depend on the type of task, the duration of the task and working memory load.”

Dr Smerdon said it was important to find out what -if any- kind of effect mask wearing had on the general population, with his initial findings also indicating minimal disruptions to children’s decision making.

“From a methodical point of view, it’s been hard to get evidence on this topic and chess gave us those circumstances as it requires calculation, memory, problem-solving and pattern recognition and has been used extensively in psychology, neuroscience and economics to measure changes in cognitive performance,” he said.

“What surprised me was the level of effect for experts, particularly in very important games, the effect is very large.

“When we looked at just juniors, up to the age of 18 we didn’t find any effects of mask (wearing), and that could be because of the comparison of kids to the overall (study) numbers or maybe because they are just more adaptable.”

Dr Smerdon said understanding the impact of mask wearing could help individuals and organisations, particularly if it becomes mandatory again in future.

“A lot of communities have discussed mask policies since they were introduced,” he said.

“This is something to keep in mind for occupations in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as other professions that demand a high level of working memory such as language interpreters, performers, waiters and teachers.

“For example, education policy makers may need to bear in mind the disruptive effects of masks when designing exam conditions to address concerns about student health and fairness.”


Teachers banned from Christmas activities, holiday countdowns

Queensland schools have been accused of playing the Christmas “grinch” after some teachers claim they were warned against hosting Christmas festivities or countdowns to the holidays in their classrooms.

The message has been slammed by the Teachers Professional Association of Queensland, which described the decisions as “grinch-like”, but the Education Department said it had not issued a directive on these issues and insisted it leaves these decisions to individual principals.

A state high school teacher posted in an online group that their school’s executive team had banned a Christmas holiday countdown because “it sends the wrong message”.

Several teachers responded to this post saying their current or former schools had similar views on Christmas activities and holiday countdowns.

However, many teachers replied saying their schools encouraged celebrations.

The Courier-Mail has seen correspondence in which a state high school staff member defends their support of students’ end-of-year celebrations after the staff member alleged they were criticised by their principal.

The staff member makes the point that they did not see the celebrations that spanned a matter of minutes affecting the students’ exam performances after a year of hard work.

TPAQ secretary Tracy Tully said she had received an estimated 50 reports in the past few weeks from members saying their school had issued directives around Christmas classroom celebrations, end-of-year celebrations, or holiday countdowns.

She said these reports were coming from state schools, describing them as “frightening” and “almost communistic”.

“This is abnormal what we’re seeing this term – the rhetoric is militant,” she said. “Teachers are feeling lost and sad that they can’t farewell their students in the ways they have done previously.

“The norm is for classes to have a party and kids to bring a plate of food and give gifts – this still happens in many primary and high schools.”

Even parents were saying they had always given Christmas gifts and now they were not sure whether they were allowed to, Ms Tully said.

“The Christmas lights have been turned out,” she said.

The Education Department said it did not issue directives around Christmas holiday countdowns or festive celebrations.

“Principals are best placed to make decisions about celebrating Christmas in their schools, in consultation with their local communities,” a department spokesman said.