More Concern Expressed About Turnbull & G20 Meeting Doesn’t Seem Global

Turnbull’s Policies, Not the Liberal Party’s

My last Commentary (on Thursday) argued that a number of reports/comments in The Australian added to the increased recognition that the policies being pursued by Turnbull are often not consistent with Liberal Party objectives and that “it is difficult to envisage that Turnbull could make a come-back for the Coalition before the election whereas appointing a replacement in the near future would give it a reasonable  chance”. I have now written a letter to The Australian with the same theme and pointing out that it is laughable to see the suggestion by some Ministerial colleagues that the cause of Turnbull’s problem is the expressions of concern in the last fortnight by Tony Abbott. My letter  says  that “the problem is not Abbott but the policies pursued by Turnbull”.

In part it reflects an editorial in Weekend Australian which, while noting that Turnbull is yet to comment on concerns being expressed by parliamentary colleagues,  “when he arrives home (from G20)  he needs not only to speak Mr Abbott’s name but also to deal with this shambles” (see OZ Editorial July 8-9). But my letter also argues along similar lines to the excellent article by Chris Kenny, who once worked in Turnbull’s office, that the determination of energy policy is a major test for Turnbull  (see Kenny on Energy Policy, 8 July). Following extracts from Kenny’s article are pertinent:

“Energy is the most crucial and volatile policy issue in national politics. In the wake of Finkel, we await a detailed plan from the government. It will be a defining factor in whether the economy can ­reclaim confidence, rekindle growth and diversify. It will determine whether the Coalition has a chance of remaining in office beyond the next election. And it will be critical in resolving or unleashing the titanic policy and personal struggle ­between Turnbull and his ­aggrieved predecessor.

Tony Abbott talks a big game on electricity now he is free from the constraints of office or cabinet solidarity… exposes him to charges of hypocrisy, changeability and opportunism….but ­Abbott makes a lot of sense, ­especially to mainstream voters worried about the impact of power prices on household budgets or business cash flows.

The core policy challenge is ­described by Turnbull as a “trilemma”: meeting three criteria of affordable energy, secure supplies and reduced emissions. The fatal flaw is that reducing emissions is precisely what has made power more expensive and ­less reliable. If we really want the cheapest and most reliable electricity we would concentrate on thermal baseload generation and forget emissions. And if we really want lower emissions and refuse to ­embrace nuclear, we must accept higher prices and less reliability”.

Relevant too is the question of whether a greater  use of batteries, often mentioned by Turnbull, might help support the use of power from renewable. Premier Weatherill  made a bit thing of the offer by Tesla Motors, already the beneficiary of $5 billion of taxpayer subsidies from various sources, to build 100 megawatts (*or 129 megawatt hours) of battery storage in South Australia. An analysis by Brett Hogan of the IPA suggests this would provide 6 minutes of electricity for South Australia and the cost (if met by SA taxpayers) would be over 15 times the annual the cost of keeping South Australia’s last coal-fired power station open a little longer (see South Aust Use Of Batteries)..

G20 Meeting

The meeting of 20 world leaders at Hamburg, attended by Turnbull, has received considerable publicity, a good deal of it related to ant-capitalist street protests and injuries to a large number of police. One wonders why Chancellor Merkel’s government chose a city renowned for demonstrations by groups supporting alternative cultures and opposed to the globalisation supported by Merkel herself.

The most important “outcome” is the address made by Trump in Poland before the meeting started. Trump used the occasion to get across that his government’s concern is not confined to America alone but to “Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield — it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilisation are no less vital, and demand no less defence, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilisation, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory… I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilisation will triumph” (see Trump in Warsaw). I suspect that Trump decided on this as a useful predecessor to the meeting, given that he knew the US was in a minority but could at the same time remind some other participants of their past role and America’s  “saving” of Europe.

Of course, much has also been made of the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change and the separate section referring to this in the Communique, viz

“We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The United States of America announced it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution and affirms its strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs. The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally-determined contributions.

The Leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible. We reiterate the importance of fulfilling the UNFCCC commitment by developed countries in providing means of implementation including financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes and note the OECD’s report “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth”. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances and, to this end, we agree to the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth as set out in the Annex”.

Much of the media commentary attempts to portray this as meaning that the US was “isolated”. But there no reports of heated exchanges at the meeting of leaders or at the meeting which drafted the communiqué. Arguably, it is the other 19 countries which are going their own way in interpreting the Paris Accord. Note that both paragraphs above  acknowledge  that in effect there are “nationally determined contributions”, which in the case of the two biggest emitters who attended G20 (China and India) do not aim to actually reduce their emissions before 2030. In short, the assertion of isolation is meaningless, just as is the statement that “the Paris Agreement is irreversible” by the other G20 members, none of whom are punishable under the Accord is they fail to meet their pledges.

Importantly, the reference to nationally determined policies also appears under the section dealing with migration. That includes the following

We emphasise the sovereign right of states to manage and control their borders and in this regard to establish policies in their own national interests and national security, as well as the importance that repatriation and reintegration of migrants who are not eligible to remain be safe and humane. We commit to countering migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings and we are determined to take action against people smugglers and traffickers.

This will doubtless have been “pushed” by the UK and is important to that country, as it is to Australia.

Overall, it is difficult to see that this G20 meeting decided anything  of substance as “global” policy. As in the past, there was much discussion but the important policy decisions continue to be left to nations.

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