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July 6, 2022

Thus Spake Mungo: Finkel panders to ‘technology agnostic’ Turnbull

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MungoMungo MacCallum

Malcolm Turnbull likes to describe himself as a technology agnostic.

As with many of his other utterances, this is not to be taken literally; our prime minister is not wrestling with the problem of whether technology actually exists or not. After all, Turnbull is the master of innovation; Tony Abbott once said that he practically invented the NBN, although perhaps we had better not go into that right now.

What Turnbull is presumably saying that he is unconcerned about what kind of technology he employs, particularly when it comes to energy generation. Coal, gas, oil, nuclear, solar, wind, hydro – even parliamentary bluster if nothing else suffices.

It is all the same to him as long as it works, by which he means as long as it is acceptable to the party room. It has little if anything to do with the real issues around climate change: it is all about satisfying Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, George Christensen and Eric Abetz.

For this reason Turnbull also refers to his insistence that the debate must be technologically neutral, which is seriously misleading. Energy generation is not about taking the engine out of gear and letting it coast along as far as it will go; it is about choice, about looking for the most efficient solution.

But of course this involves making very sure that the question can be defined in a way that entails its own answer, which is what Turnbull did. He asked the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, to look for ways to make energy cheap and reliable – and, as almost an afterthought, to control emissions within clear limitations.

Finkel, like Turnbull says he wants to get rid of the ideology around the decade long quarrel; perhaps he is being ironic. Climate change is about science, not ideology.

Finkel, acutely aware of the politics of his brief, could not even consider what his fellow scientists and economists all but unanimously agree would be the best result: a price on carbon, preferably morphing into an emission trading scheme, giving security to investors and mandating a swift and orderly transition towards away from fossils to renewables.

He was forced to opt for second, or even third, best: a so-called Clean Energy Target that continues to offer carrots rather than sticks to polluters, a pious hope that electricity prices can be reduced and a hospital pass to Turnbull and his colleagues, leaving it to them to decide just what the target should be and how – or perhaps if – it can be realised.

Finkel, like Turnbull says he wants to get rid of the ideology around the decade long quarrel; perhaps he is being ironic. Climate change is about science, not ideology; the best minds on the subject agree that man-made emissions, especially of carbon dioxide, are having a measurable effect, overall global warming is increasing and as a result extreme weather events will become increasingly more common and more severe. The ideologues are those who either choose to deny the science, or, even less forgivably, regard their own self-interest as more important than that of the planet.

Step forward Tony Abbott, who sometimes regards the science as crap and at other times not, but in any case sees it as irrelevant. To settle the issue would prevent him from getting into another good stoush, the fading memory of his triumphant mud wrestle against Labor’s carbon tax. Thus any olive branch from Bill Shorten must be rejected, and if that involves tossing Finkel under a bus in the process, well, tough.

And so he has hoisted his battle flag, with its heraldic arms emblazoned by a shining lump of coal. In spite of Scott Morrison’s bizarre appearance in parliament a couple of months ago, not all Liberals are active coal fetishists. Most, indeed, can probably take it or leave it and the heavy users can, presumably, be weaned away from it – perhaps they can be persuaded to embrace other forms of carbon, like graphite, or better still diamonds.

Only the gullible and desperate have fallen for the hype: Queensland’s Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk clearly believes that there will be, sometime, somewhere, a pot of coal at the end of the Adani rainbow.

But coal has become a symbol – an ideology, if you like. It can be used as a casus belli against Labor and that is all that really matters. Finkel, understanding their obsession, has offered them an out – longer life for coal fired power stations and even the prospect of building new or refurbished ones, if anyone silly enough to invest in such anachronisms can be found.

To Labor, the Greens, and probably the majority of the electorate, this is not acceptable; it is fair enough to allow a reasonable time for coal to be phased out, but the idea of encouraging, even subsidising, new coal as part of the energy mix of the future is perverse. Which leads us, inevitably, to Adani.

Adani is not yet a coal mine; indeed many good judges believe it will never be a coal mine, despite all the ballyhoo about its founding chairman Gautam Adani signing off on the project. It has been clear for some time that the economics of Adani are, at best, rubbery, that the claims of jobs are absurdly exaggerated and the actual returns – financial, environmental and social – for Australia are more likely to be a net negative than the bonanza being trumpeted.

Only the gullible and desperate have fallen for the hype: Queensland’s Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk clearly believes that there will be, sometime, somewhere, a pot of coal at the end of the Adani rainbow. But even she admits that it will not happen soon; in the meantime she is handing out the prospect of a royalty holiday for Adani (the proceeds of which will presumably end up in the family vaults in the Cayman Islands) and ramping up the pressure for Turnbull to give a billion dollar loan to the company to build a railway to transport its products to the Great Barrier Reef.

It is not certain that this cosy little arrangement is part of the deal Adani signed last week, but what the hell – federal Labor is largely against it, so it makes a great wedge issue, a definite strike in the ideological war Abbott and his colleagues are determined to pursue.

And they will take any allies they can get: Clive James is an accomplished poet and a brilliantly successful entertainer, but as he boasts, he knows bugger all about science, let alone the complexities of climate change. Nonetheless, last week he let fly in The Australian with a barely coherent diatribe like a more literate version of the deranged One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts – and the right wing ideologues lapped it up.

James’s last major work was a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy – a medieval fantasy about good and evil, entirely appropriate as a manifesto for the Mad Monk Tony Abbott and his band of crusaders.

 


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2 COMMENTS

  1. What a load of bollocks: “what his fellow scientists and economists all but unanimously agree would be the best result: a price on carbon, preferably morphing into an emission trading scheme, giving security to investors and mandating a swift and orderly transition towards away from fossils to renewables.”
    Trading schemes and prices on carbon do not give investor’s security because, as Abbott clearly demonstrated, government’s can take the incentives away and turn a reasonable investment into a dud.
    What is working in Australia and overseas is renewable auctions like the ones being used successfully by the ACT.. They work because investors get the confidence that comes with a contract. Contracts that cannot be withdrawn without reasonable compensation.
    The confidence that comes with a contract means that bids will be very competitive and thus produce low prices.
    Federal parliamentarians should go out and find out what the ACT is doing.

  2. My mistake but I originally thought our energy policy was idiocy leaning towards lunacy. Now its explained to me I thought I would precis it for the benefit of similarly unilluminated punters. You see this is how it works, Aust shuts down its base load power stations and then discovering there is an completely unexpected energy shortage makes customers pay exorbitant sums to foreign businesses. We then sell our unused coal cheaply to China who contributes >25% of worlds Co2 burden and opens up one Coal powered generator a week. China then produces very expensive wind generators using the coal power stations, using our coal and sells/leases them to Aust to make up for the loss of base power. Well, when the wind blows anyway. Once the country is visually and aurally polluted with these triffids they start making power. And here is the stroke of genius. A typical 3Mw wind generator attracts subsidies of ~ $800,000 a year. Australian customers then, through their massively increased fees, send that money back to China for them to buy more coal, open more coal powered power stations and make more wind generators..
    Communism didnt die when the USSR collapsed. They got smart. Collapse the west from within, not without with the help of collaborators.

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