More ‘Movement at the Station’ Needed

More “Movement at The Station” Needed

Many will be aware of Banjo Patterson’s ballad on The Man from Snowy River,  which began with There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around That the colt from old Regret had got away, And had joined the wild bush horses”. Clancy of the Overflow then caught the escaped horse and turned around the other horses which had formed a collective with the colt. But Clancy had first to overcome numerous obstacles.

There is increasing recognition that Morrison needs also to make more ”movements at the station”. This is widely reflected in the weekend media.

He has succeeded in overcoming some challenges and displays enthusiasm to do more. But, as Chris Kenny points out, every time Morrison “tries to solve one problem it seems to create another. Hence a rushed announcement on our ­Israeli embassy aimed at winning votes in the Wentworth by-­election doesn’t work and exposes the government’s cynicism; an overreaction to the partially leaked and dishonestly characterised recommendations of the ­Ruddock ­review on religious freedom prompts rushed new laws that come unstuck; and a quick fix with Indonesia to send Turnbull to a Bali conference opens ­internal schisms in the ­Coalition and sends mixed signals to the public” (see Kenny on Morrison).

Kenny argues that “If climate is set to be a major issue at yet another election — as seems clear — then Morrison must have a comprehensive policy that sits in stark contrast to Labor’s reckless plan for a 50 per cent ­renewable energy target and 45 per cent emissions reduction goal. Getting into a climate compassion competition with Labor is the road to ruin, economically and politically”. Further, “if the Coalition can unite behind a clear agenda while attacking Labor, the government will stand a good chance. However, recent history suggests such cohesion and tactics might be beyond them”.

It is time, Kenny rightly says, for “Morrison to admit the government had drifted off course under Turnbull and for him to be unashamed about applying a corrective, especially on climate and energy. He doesn’t need to overdo it because, as outlined, the fundamentals are strong. A steady continuum from here will spell certain defeat. It will not be enough for the Morrison government to campaign on the best achievements of the Abbott and Turnbull governments. It can only succeed if it rapidly develops a character and agenda of its own, and engages in robust battles with Labor on areas of Coali­tion strength”.

In a word,  bring the horses home and get them together as a group, just as Clancy did.

Importantly, The Australian’s political editor has pointed out that “with the Coalition trailing Labor in Newspoll 53-47 per cent on the two-party-preferred vote, Mr Abbott has now said he would do “everything I can” to help Mr Morrison win the election, which is due to be held by May next year… Mr Abbott, referring to his removal as Liberal leader in 2015 and Mr Turnbull’s removal three months ago, said: “People who regard themselves as Liberal voters who are dismayed and disappointed with the events of the last three years must grit our teeth and vote for the better choice of the Scott Morrison-led Coalition over the Bill Shorten-led Labor Party”.“In the end, an election is less about striking a pose than choosing a government. “No government is going to appeal to every single voter but when it comes to a choice between Morrison and Shorten it is a no-brainer” (see attached OZ on Abbott}.

Moving Abbott to a more important “station” than he now has would be one of the measures Morrison could take – and needs to do so asap – in the near future.

Indeed, changes such as this could help the Coalition in Victoria in the 24 November election, where it appears to be behind in the polls (about 49/51 TPP) but has just secured considerable financial assistance from the Cormack Foundation. A win in Victoria would be of considerable assistance to Morrison, who faces a Newspoll on tomorrow which is unlikely to show any improvement (see Labor Ahead for Vic Election).

Part of the basis for another change could also be found from the release of a new data series from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Friday showing that coal mined in Australia in 2017-18 was valued at $65.6 billion, up from $41.4bn in 2013. “This is the first time that statistics for output (by commodity) and intermediate use of inputs have been published for the mining industry,” the ABS said. Gas production also increased dramatically over the past five years, rising from $22bn in 2013 to $46.5bn in 2018. In 1994-95, gas production was worth $2.6bn (see Energy Ministers Meet).

As domestic usage of coal would probably have fallen since 2013, or at least not increased as much as the ABS data indicates, the increase in exports could be used to argue not only the important role it is playing in increasing national income but the absurdity of further reducing emissions here while the overseas users of our coal  are increasing their emissions, with some such as China doing so quite rapidly.

This development could provide the basis for the Morrison government informing the Paris agreement authority that it has already made its fair share of emissions reductions for the time being and will stop subsidies for renewable except for projects already started. Such a policy change would provide a major difference between the Coalition’s climate change policy and Labor’s.

There is plenty of ammunition available to support a  more moderate climate change policy and provide budget savings. Judith Sloan’s survey of the increase in electricity prices and the cost effects of policies provides a basis for having more moderate polices  (see Sloan on Energy). For example, the subsidies for renewable are costing $2-3bn per annum and are being paid by taxpayers/consumers. Her conclusion is that  “the NEM (National Electricity Market) is in disarray, but let’s not kid ourselves that this is because of policy paralysis. This is because of incredibly poor policy where the consequences in terms of price and reliability were completely foreseeable. The challenge for the federal government is how to pull us back from this abyss”.

Of course, a more moderate federal climate change policy would not prevent some of our states from continuing policies which are costly and have no effect in reducing temperatures. But it would establish a scenario in which state political parties could follow the moderate federal approach and in which Australia would be leading the way towards changes to policies which are approaching those adopted by the US.

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