Energy Policy under Turnbull & US Role in Syria

Energy Policy

My Commentary on Sunday April 1 covered many issues but, from a domestic political viewpoint, the most important was Energy Policy. Attached to that Commentary was my draft letter to The Australian about the Turnbull government’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG) that appeared to be the central component but which had not yet been explained to the electorate despite details having been promised some months ago. The draft letter also referred to the recent analysis published by three expert US climate scientists which, if accepted, would mean the abandonment of NEG.

Yesterday a slightly different version of my letter was published under a heading in The Australian “Energy Initiatives might save Turnbull government but with a section deleted (see Letter on Turnbull Energy Policy).  The complete version was as follows.

You rightly say that “If the Turnbull government can strongly prioritise affordability and reliability over climate gestures it will put a compelling choice to voters” (Editorial 4/4). Indeed, one might say that unless it so prioritises, it will lose the election and allow Labor to pursue an energy policy that would undermine our competitiveness.

The Paris Agreement is voluntary and some big emitters are effectively exempt while some others are  unlikely to meet their targets. In these circumstance it is absurd to have a National Energy Guarantee policy that would provide over 40 per cent of energy for electricity from uneconomic and unreliable sources.

Analyses by three expert climate scientists recently published in the US suggest that coal usage is not only desirable economically but poses no serious threat of dangerous warming. They conclude that “rising levels of CO2 do not obviously pose an immediate, let alone imminent, threat to the earth’s climate.”

This is reflected in the energy policy now operated by our ally, the USA. Why not in ours?

Meantime developments in the debate on energy policy seem now to have reached the point where Turnbull’s NEG is unusable politically as well as in coherent policy terms. This conclusion comes in part from an article not by an “expert” on climate but by one of Australia’s best policy journalists, Greg Sheridan. He argues that the “Turnbull government’s energy narrative has completely collapsed in a welter of indecipherable internal contradictions and ridiculous figures plucked from the air in a way that inevitably brings to mind the last days of the Gillard-Rudd years”(see Sheridan on Energy Policy).

It also comes from the announced formation of an internal division within the Coalition of a “Monash Forum” designed to promote government support for the construction of new coal-fired power stations. This group of 20 or so includes Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce and there appear to be others who have not signed up but are supportive. The new “high efficiency” coal power stations envisaged by the Monash Forum are now being extensively constructed by countries such as China and Japan and are much more costly to run than the “normal” coal power ones that could be built in Australia. But they would be much cheaper than the use of renewables proposed by Turnbull (and some State governments) as a sizeable component of NEG.

The use of “Monash” by the group reflects the fact that Sir John Monash, an outstanding Australian soldier, engineer and administrator, played a major role in developing the Victorian coal industry in the Latrobe valley. While opponents to the use of his name, which include some members of his family, argue that Monash would not have supported the objects of the group, it cannot be established that an engineer of his ability would today have opposed the use of coal rather than high-cost renewables.

The timing of the establishment of the group is, of course, related to the fact that the next Newspoll on Monday will be the 30th. This provides a challenge to the continuation of Turnbull as leader of the Coalition in circumstances where it has been continually behind Labor in the polling and where he has been increasingly regarded as not pursuing the “small government” philosophy of the Liberal Party. It is unlikely at this late stage that he will announce on Monday next any major changes in policies, but energy policy might be a candidate.

US in Syria

It now appears that, with Russian help, Assad has re-established a form of government in most of Syria and that the Kurds are under serious threat from both Assad and Turkish forces. Their retention of a separatist role, which provided much support against ISIS, depends on the US maintaining a role in Syria with the 3,000 or so troops it has there with air support.

According to an article published by the Gatestone Institute (see US in Syria), “the rumor is spreading that Trump is about to end all American involvement in Syria and bring American military personnel back home. The result, within months or even weeks, will be the expulsion from their homes of the Syrian Kurds, who have been the most faithful allies and most sincere admirers of the United States. Such a betrayal will indelibly and permanently mar the reputation of Donald Trump, giving satisfaction to all those who claimed that this successful businessman has zero competence in politics.

The result of an American withdrawal should be blindingly obvious from recent events. Turkey has just driven 200,000 Syrian Kurds from their homes in Afrin and has announced its intention to proceed from there to Manbij. Only the presence of American military personnel in Manbij has so far deterred Turkish President Erdogan from continuing his crazy persecution of Kurds. Should American personnel be removed from Syria, Erdogan will be able to use his tanks and warplanes to revive the Turkish genocidal tradition by expelling the Syrian Kurds from their towns and villages along the entire border with Turkey. These are the same Kurds — remember Kobani? — who drove out ISIS from its Syrian “caliphate” and enabled other Syrians to regain their freedom and return to their own homes”.

As Trump has just appointed John Bolton as White House adviser on foreign policy, and Bolton had previously established the Gatestone Institute, Trump is likely to be advised to expand the US role in Syria. Such an expansion would also be important in supporting the development of more democratic government in the Middle East and in providing protection to existing governments such as Israel, which is currently under attack from terrorist groups such as Hamas. Australia should also be supporting an increased US role.

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