27
Oct
2017

In The Right Direction?

The kerfuffle over the ministerial handling of the Australian Federal Police raids on the Australian Workers Union raises serious questions about why the Turnbull government timed such action now and whether Turnbull himself was more closely involved than appears in the media. It followed Turnbull’s  decision to announce a new energy policy with important details absent and a promise that these will be “explained” in due course. These “rush” decisions by Turnbull may well be connected with an attempt to lift his continued disastrous polling in Newspoll and prevent any move to replace him before Christmas. Yet an examination of recent developments suggests the polling is now more likely to fall than even stay put.

Lack of NEG Details Suggests Rush Job by Turnbull

As we wait to learn the details of Turnbull’s new energy policy (NEG), comments and queries about it have quietened a little because even some critics see it as being “a step in the right direction”. This quietening appears to be based mainly on the decision to cease the subsidisation of renewable after 2020. That decision supposedly reflects a belief that, by then, the cost of renewable will be similar to the cost of obtaining power from coal-fired generators and that renewable can then compete in the market without government assistance. Such a belief may take insufficient account of the considerable cost of back-up power needed to deal with the unreliability of renewable.

In any event, at best the cessation of subsidisation by the Commonwealth must be regarded as only “a baby step” in the right direction. Under NEG many wrong steps would remain in place in circumstances where an opportunity existed (and still does) to make more substantial changes with potential economic benefits and no risk of adverse effects on temperatures. For example, a smaller emissions reduction target than the 26-28% by 2030 could be made without unravelling the agreement in Paris, which allowed other countries to have lower targets (and even zero for China and India). A lower such target for Australia would add virtually nothing to global temperatures even if they suddenly became closely related to emissions (which they haven’t been and which has recently been acknowledged as occurring in recent years even by scientists who are GW believers).

For renewable, it would be desirable to seta smaller Commonwealth target than the supposed existing 23.5% by 2020.  That target comprises 16% for large scale  projects compared with about 10 % now (hydro would provide 7%). Hydro aside, action is also needed to prevent the estimated total usage reaching 28-36 per cent in 2030. This estimate, which emerged out of the blue by Environment Minister Frydenberg in his 18 October article in The Australian, has not had its basis explained and is just one of the many missing “details” still to be announced about NEG. The estimate of 28-36% by 2030 appears right at the end of the advice provided to Frydenberg by the supposed experts constituting the Energy Security Board. Astonishingly, it too provides no justification and simply says that the expected power mix “will also be analysed by the AEMC as part of the detailed modelling requested by the Commonwealth”. Its apparent acceptance by Frydenberg (and hence Turnbull and his Cabinet) without further checking and explaining its basis as part of NEG can only be described as irresponsible.

In further explanation of this scheme the Turnbull government should announce that renewable usage is kept to no more than ,say, 20%. This would allow some increase in renewable and could make sense for the moment. It would reduce the Commonwealth’s budgetary cost of subsidies on renewable which continue after 2020 (although under NEG subsidies  will cease on projects started after 2020, they would continue on pre-2020 projects). Lower renewable would also mean a reduced risk of unreliability in the grid system.

Such changes would almost certainly also lead to reductions in the now high power prices resulting mainly from the supposed clean energy policies pursued to date. But they would also need to involve State governments, which seem to have been largely ignored by the Commonwealth in its development of NEG. Yet it is the states which run electricity and they should be told that policies involving high usage of renewable (such as in South Australia) are not in the national interest and will be taken into account in determining the distribution of grants.

Overall, the handling by Turnbull of the development and launch of a new energy policy illustrates once again not only his poor leadership. It also reveals that the group of experts he set up to advise the government on energy policy appear to support the dangerous warming thesis – hence it advises the need for detailed government intervention which would also be accepted at the state level where there are GW believers. The solution is to replace Turnbull and the advisers he has been using.

Another Rush Job in Attacking Opposition Leader

The decision to instigate a police raid on the premises of the AWU appears to based on a report by the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) that it had received a warning of damage to documents held by the AWU on Shorten’s decisions, when head of the AWU about ten years ago, to donate union funds to left inclined bodies which support Labor, such as GetUp. For present purposes the question is whether Shorten’s decisions had been properly made and recorded in minutes of AWU meetings.

The ROC  is an independent watchdog tasked with the role of monitoring and regulating registered organisations (both unions and employer groups). In 2014 the Abbott Government announced a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, tasked specifically with enquiring into the governance arrangements of trade unions. In Volume 5 of the final report Justice Heydon identified a number of problems with the existing regulatory framework and recommended additional law reform options to address some of the governance inadequacies identified. The bill for an ROC was one of the triggers for the double-dissolution of Parliament in 2016 and was subsequently passed by both houses of Parliament on 22 November 2016 as one of the Turnbull government’s achievements.

This is not the place to discuss  whether Shorten’s actions some time ago were in accordance with the regulations then administered by the Fair Work Commission. It appears, however, that the documents relevant to his actions are likely to be held within the AWU and to be important evidence in any judicial consideration of his and the AWU actions at the time. As an independent body the ROC is not subject to direction by Minister Cash and it decided to secure a warrant authorising investigation of the threat, which it then sought the AFP to undertake.

The questions that do not have clear answers at present, however, are

  • whether the ROC was at all influenced by the Minister in deciding to seek a warrant. The ROC has not explained who its informer was and whether his/her warning was acceptable given that the documents appear to have been at the AWU for about ten years and it is only now that they have come under threat;
  • whether the decision of the independent AFP to accept the warrant was at all influenced by the Minister.

On the surface there seems no reason to think that the Minister was involved other than in regard to the leaking of the police raid and the resultant adverse publicity. However, her decision to deny any involvement by herself or her staff, and then to acknowledge that there was involvement of staff, might be said as reflecting an expectation of activity but a failure to check those knowing about the raid. In fact, it also appears that knowledge of the police raid was quite widely spread. It is relevant that both Turnbull and herself might have considered it useful to try to move media attention away from energy policy and to make Shorten the subject of attention. One way or the other, it is difficult to believe that neither the ROC nor the police would have given Cash and/or Turnbull advance notice of a police raid on the AWU.

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