Today’s Australian says that the Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 23.5% by 2020 will not be changed as part of what is described as Turnbull’s overhaul of energy policy (see Renewable Energy Target). That target was reduced by Abbott when he was PM and the recent National Party Conference voted to “repudiate the central finding of the Finkel review for a clean energy target and eliminate subsidies for renewable to maximise the difference with Labor over surging power bills”, and hence to reject the Finkel proposed clean energy target of 42% of renewable energy by 2030. However, it appears that the halt to increasing the RET mainly reflects the mounting cost of the subsidies, which ran to a remarkable $2 billion just last year and which may already have reached the point where a continuation of the scheme would exceed the RET target without any new investment. There is a reference in today’s report to the likelihood of allowing more subsidies to those whose projects have not been completed. In other words the taxpayer is handing out money to a badly constructed scheme, not to mention the bad decision to have one at all before properly reviewing the basic need for it.
I headed my Commentary on Sunday “Are Our Politicians in the Real World? and suggested that some of the behaviour and events in Canberra and one or two other states in the last couple of weeks indicated that our political body is, like Alice in Wonderland, acting outside the real world. I added that “It would be surprising if tomorrow’s Newspoll does not show a further decline in the Coalition’s rating, which would again emphasise the need to replace Turnbull if the Coalition wants an election chance”.
After I read on Tuesday evening that ASIO Head Lewis had said there is “absolutely no evidence” to suggest a link between the refugee intake and terrorism, I decided early yesterday morning to send a letter to The Australian expressing concern about this assertion and Lewis’s other reported assertion that he doesn’t “buy the notion the issue of Islamic extremism is in some way fostered or sponsored or supported by the Muslim religion”. That letter has been published as the lead letter in today’s Australian, together with a number of others letters in similar vein
Although the ABC and SBS continue to convey concerns about Trump, the realisation that he seems to be on the right track is spreading, including by Turnbull. Of particular importance are the signs that he may have done a deal with China involving the putting of pressure on NK to change its missile threat policy. The article in today’s Australian by its first rate China correspondent, Rowan Callick, suggests that Trump may have persuaded XI to threaten Kim with a reduction in oil supply and in imports from NK (where about 80% of NK exports go). Callick also quotes a Chinese academic as saying publicly that “the fundamental interests of China and North Korea are now conflicting”. Such a statement would not be made in China unless the hint of a basic change had got around (see attached Chinese Policy on NK).
Most commentators, including Turnbull, welcomed or approved Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian airport from where chemical bombs are alleged to have been dumped onthe rebel held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun. Although some claim there is no proof that Syrian President Assad made the decision to bomb, the only alternative deliverer must have been his Russian ally. Hence, one way or another the Assad government of Syria implemented or approved the bombing of the Syrian town.
The lead up to the Budget (on Tues 9 May) is normally pretty quiet except for advance leaks by the government on what we might expect – or not. So far the main possibility being foreshadowed is action to reduce housing “affordability”, which sounds like a worrying move by a government which should be reducing expenditure. But as it happens, some other issues have emerged since Parliament had the break after two weeks in Canberra.
Trump’s Executive Orders and Twitter announcements continue day by day and it is pertinent to consider their effectiveness and possible implications so far: Job Approval ratings in US polling show a slightly higher net rate of disapproval of Trump, on average - 48.3 to 46, with more disapprovals than approvals (see attached on Polling on Trump Job Approval). But the protests shown on our TV, and the imbalance in the news, clearly exaggerate the opposition to Trump. It is probably little different to the election, albeit more aggressive. Even “our ABC” felt it had to mention support for Trump in last night’s TV news. Despite Trump’s critical remarks about NATO, the meeting of European leaders in Malta on Feb 3 seems to have produced mixed views about Trump (see EU on Trump). The British PM (the only one to have met Trump as President) told them that the US under Trump would still cooperate on defence. The French PM, whose approval polling in France was in single figures the last time I looked, attacked Trump’s support of Brexit (but in front of May). It appears that the meeting was mainly concerned with helping Libya stop emigrants to Europe across the Meditarranean and improving controls on entry of refugees. However, the current President of the EU (actually of the Council), Tusk, thought the US is a threat to the EU!
As we get closer to the resumption of Parliament on Tuesday 7 Feb, many have increasingly wondered what issues the Turnbull government will prioritise in the New Year and how it will react to the new Trump government in the US. In today’s Herald Sun (see below), Terry McCrann suggests that Turnbull has offered few indications of the policies he intends to pursue actively and gives the impression that he is ill prepared to handle the new policies which Trump has indicated he intends to pursue in the US. This confirms, McCrann says, what he said back last April when he wrote that “Turnbull was a complete dud”. Perhaps Turnbull will make his position clearer in his promised major address on February 1.
The Weekend Australian ran as the lead report an interview by Paul Kelly with former Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, who is now Chairman of the National Bank. Henry said that more needs to be done to reduce the budget deficit instead of talking about it (see Ken Henry on Budget Deficit). This provided an opportunity to point out that the “times have changed” since Henry was the TS and advised Rudd to go for broke: indeed the advice to Rudd was, at best, highly questionable if not wrong (see my letter below). The Australian is to be congratulated for continuing its helpful advocacy today partly through publishing a swag of supporting letters and partly by having its Canberra Bureau Chief, Phillip Hudson, pen a separate article (see Everyone to blame for our budget spiral of hopelessness). Hudson points out that one of the problems is that “ Neither Labor or the Coalition, on their current trajectory, promise a surplus before the next election. Morrison hopes for one in 2020-21. Labor went to the last election with a plan that would leave the budget $16bn worse off over the next four years before making everything tickety-boo within a decade. These scenarios are based on Australia continuing on its growth path of the past 25 years. What happens if something goes wrong?”
As the end of the first year of Turnbull’s Prime Ministerialism draws nigh, assessments of his performance are appearing in the media from various quarters. The Weekend Australian’s lead article reports former Treasurer Peter Costello as not directly criticising Turnbull but as calling on the Liberal Party to “explain better its agenda, motivations and priorities” and to “smash the high-tax cheer squad”. The AFR has even published a survey of the views of 50 people regarding his achievements and, in the range from A to F, has awarded him only a D+ (see attached Results Turnbull’s AFR Survey). In fact, almost all commentators in the media (including journalists themselves) have reservations about Turnbull’s contribution to the political debate and to where Australia is or should be heading. While they tend to focus on how he has been performing recently against Shorten or on specific issues, rather than the longer term and broader perspective, this suggests that there may not be a ready recovery of Turnbull’s personal polling in the current session of Parliament. This despite Shorten’s poor handling of the contradiction of Labor’s foreign policy in statements made by Shadow Minister Senator Dastyari.