2016 was the year that Australia’s voting public turned on wind power with a vengeance.
Once upon a time, we were treated to pumped up claims from wind industry spruikers, like the Clean Energy Council, yes2ruiningus and ruin-economy based on loaded ‘surveys’ that there were only two types of people: those already in love with these things; and those who were just about to fall in love.
That was then, this is now. All it took was a run of statewide blackouts in (notionally) wind powered South Australia and rocketing power prices: after the closure of its last coal-fired power plant, generation costs in SA are now fully triple those enjoyed in neighbouring (coal-powered) Victoria.
Against that backdrop, 2017 will be the year when the politics of renewables turns rancid.
For political hopefuls, including the Australian Labor Party, the moment has arrived when banter and rhetoric gives way to hard, cold political reality. It’s a moment when political parties are bound to choose sides.
In a recent column in The Australian – ‘2016: The year of voting dangerously as One Nation resurges’, former Queensland Labor Senator, John Black hit the target with this observation about the fortunes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation:
The outer suburbs and the urban marginals are a bit of a mixed bag. Where you have lots of Australian-born blue-collar workers — think Penrith or Ipswich or Perth — the One Nation vote may not be enough to pull ahead of the major parties and win seats in its own right, but One Nation could take enough votes from both sides to determine who wins and who loses. If Labor cosies up too closely with green-left issues such as energy, live animal exports or coalmining, then I think it is toast. This is playing out in industrial regions relying on the consumption or generation of baseload power and it will not end well.
The same applies to the Liberals if they waste too much time talking about issues of zero concern to an unemployed 55-year-old Townsville refinery worker with two kids and a mortgage he can’t pay.
The ALP was once well-rooted in working class, blue-collar territory: it sprang to life in western Queensland during a shearers strike in 1891. These days, however, the ‘workers’ party’ is almost unrecognisable, the branches having been hijacked by wind-worshipping, hemp-wearing, smashed-avocado eaters and the Parliamentary wing run by cynical former union hacks, most of whom are failed lawyers.
However, there was a time when to be called a ‘true Labor man’ was a mark of respect and an acknowledgement of principled integrity. Fighting for a better outcome for workers and their families was once the hallmark of the ALP. One exemplar of what is now termed ‘old Labor’ is Graham Richardson.
‘Richo’ was renowned in the 1980s as a political fixer and ‘head kicker’, who used guile and political clout to enforce the Federal ALP’s line, which helped build and maintain Labor’s Hawke/Keating Golden Era in Federal government.
These days, ‘Richo’ (notwithstanding a struggle with cancer) still maintains a whip hand over politics as a political journalist on Sky and as a columnist in print with The Australian. Ruthless and tough as nails, Richardson has never forgotten his working class roots and the principles his ALP forebears stood and fought for.
In this brilliant and timely essay, Graham cuts to the chase, slamming the Twitter-fuelled ideology that drives the modern ALP, with punishing consequences for what was once Labor’s Heartland.
Labor’s green goals mean higher energy costs for the poor
6 January 2017
It’s time for Shorten to rethink silly green goals: pushing up power prices would mean betraying the poor
The price of power will be the big issue facing Australia during the next few years and it will become the focus of furious debate. The predicted increases in the price of electricity will mean that the push for more and more renewables to come on line faster and faster will come under increased scrutiny.
Renewable energy had huge popularity when climate change was accepted as absolute truth a decade ago. Now there are more and more climate change sceptics in Australia and around the world. And the zealots calling for more use of renewables, irrespective of cost consequences for electricity prices, will have to begin to justify their stance.
The Coalition is all over the place on renewable energy. In the Liberal camp, Environment Minister Greg Hunt does believe in renewable energy, albeit with a caveat on the speed with which these technologies can be implemented. Malcolm Turnbull no doubt believes in renewable energy as well but, as on so many issues, he will not do anything about his belief because he sold out his policies on climate change to get his job. The Nationals are scornfully dismissive of climate change and its energy transfer solutions.
That means no momentum to kick along the pace of implementing bigger targets in shorter timeframes will come from the conservative side of politics.
There is also room for the government to hoe into South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill for his alleged failure to safeguard his state from what are becoming quite regular blackouts.
Forgetting about the politics, it is embarrassing that large industrial users such as Roxby Downs or the Arrium smelter in Whyalla are scratching their heads, wondering how they can be guaranteed continuous energy supply.
If the iron ore is not heated properly it solidifies and that would close the plant for god knows how long. Blokes with jackhammers would have to go in and clean the plant out in the Roxby Downs case — they would have to suspend mining and no enterprise wants to face that.
Outside of South Australia it is not widely known that the Eyre Peninsula and Port Lincoln in particular suffered mightily in the big blackout. The port was without power for three full days. Business can’t handle that kind of outage and it costs the town millions.
Weatherill and his Energy Minister, Tom Koutsantonis, will hold talks with the mayors and representatives of the affected towns next week and you can bet that the reception will be hostile. I just can’t see how at the moment the Premier can guarantee reliable continuous electricity.
The Labor Party, as I have pointed out before, has renewable energy targets it has no way of justifying. The lame claim that it is only when in government that the necessary facts to back up the targets can be found is, in my view, completely farcical. You can’t set policy on a wing, a hope and a prayer. You set policy only after you have sat down and closely examined the facts and then drawn your conclusions. Labor cannot out-green the Greens and I can’t see how these silly targets win the party any votes. If the government ever gets its act together and begins to criticise those targets they could even be a vote loser.
I have always admired Anthony Albanese for telling Julia Gillard he would cross the floor to vote against the then Labor government’s policy of reducing benefits for single mums. Albo was raised by a single mother in a housing commission flat. He has never forgotten where he came from and was prepared to risk his job on principle.
It is disturbing, then, to look at the huge increases in electricity prices, which will affect every Australian. As Labor rushes, headlong and helter-skelter, into urging more renewables that add to the cost of power, I wonder if the party remembers its core reason for being.
When I was in my teens my father always figured I would finish up in politics. He urged me to remember that Labor — and that of course meant me — should never forget that its fundamental duty was to protect those at the bottom end of the socioeconomic scale. As a union secretary he represented mail sorters and postmen. He knew how they lived and he died trying to make their pay and conditions better.
When electricity prices go up sharply, pensioners, the unemployed and the working poor have to make a decision on whether they turn on the airconditioning in summer and the heating in winter. This is a decision they should never be forced to evaluate. This country cannot allow those without a quid to shiver and sweat while the rest of us are comfortable. I would love to hear Bill Shorten make a few speeches about this. It would renew my faith in the party I have belonged to for half a century.
To add certainty to the grid, why not build another coal-fired power station each in NSW and Queensland? There would then be no doubt for all those enterprises in South Australia or the people of the Eyre Peninsula, or big industrial enterprises in Victoria like the Portland aluminium smelter. All of our politicians, state and federal, should take note that when the lights go out on the punters, it won’t take long before the punters turn the lights out on them.
Common sense rarely needs an advocate.
If Graham Richardson’s observations as to the political nightmare waiting for any political party still foolish enough to sacrifice working class voters on the altar of reactionary ideology needed any confirmation, support or corroboration then the letters to The Australian’s editor that followed readily fit that bill.
Labor’s energy policy could hurt its heartland
7 January 2017
An implication in Graham Richardson’s excellent article is that renewable energy is a potential election-losing issue (“It’s time for Shorten to rethink silly green goals”, 6/1). But the question is, for whom? Direct loss of coal-industry jobs and the loss of jobs in industries that depend on reliable, competitively priced energy may have strong regional implications — a bit like the rust-belt effect in the US presidential election. The inequitable implications of renewables policy could hit Labor’s heartland because the poor will be hit relatively harder as electricity prices rise.
But there’s another nasty inequitable sting in the tail of renewables policy: the poor will actually pay more for their energy than the rich. The chief scientist explained why in a recent report: the poor will not be able to afford the high cost of technology that can reduce use of grid power which will rapidly become more expensive as the inevitable higher reliance on renewables starts to bite — as we’ve seen in South Australia.
But it doesn’t end there for the poor. They will not be able to afford the technologies that guarantee their power when the grid is down. However, the rich will. And grids are likely to fail more often if SA is a guide.
What’s the electoral impact? It depends who’s seen as responsible. Arguably if the climate sceptics in the Coalition can influence state and federal policy away from renewables, Labor is likely to pay heavily.
George Finlay, Balaclava, Vic
Graham Richardson raises salient points. Labor, in its attempt to be better than the city-centric ideological Greens, appears to have forgotten its core philosophy — protecting the people who can least afford price rises. And there are also Coalition politicians who see the electoral benefits of the renewable energy mantra.
Pensioners and those on low incomes will now have to be judicious in the way they use their power. Many of these consumers do not have the luxury of solar panels to supplement their requirements.
Hugh Francis, Portland, Vic
The only means for any Australian government to give reality to energy security and power sustainability at reasonable prices for all consumers is to embrace the new technology of coal-fired energy. If they wish to differentiate themselves from the outrageous policies of the Left, the Prime Minister and Coalition MPs must get on the front foot against environmental alarmism and explain to Australians the benefits of the production of coal power via the new technology being used by several thousand such modern plants now online or in development across Asia and Europe.
Kevin Begaud, Dee Why, NSW
It is unfortunate that there appears to be emerging a class of consumer that can afford to pay for technologies to generate their own electricity (“Marginalising coal comes at a heavy price for states”, 5/1)).
I understand that, during the recent power failure in South Australia, generator sets sold out. I wonder if and when we might reach the number of installed domestic and commercial generator sets that will produce the same or more greenhouse gases and pollution as the SA decommissioned coal-fired power station, or the hoped-for gas power station. Perhaps it might be better for the environment to bring back coal-fired power.
Peter Balan, St Peters, SA
While people wrestle with Australia’s energy crisis we have lost sight of the fact that the solutions offered are aimed at satisfying the politics and/or ideologies rather than examining the reality and acting sensibly.
There is plenty of base-load generating capacity, but ideology gets in the way of using it sensibly. Rational thinking has been defeated by politics where those who seek to milk the scare campaign about us all frying are only focused on self-interest.
When Australia’s exported emissions via coal and iron ore are considered, our domestic contribution is not worth bothering about. None of this is part of the debate on power, it is secondary to the politics and ideology, and the solutions get further from sanity as time goes on.
In SA we have a gas-fired station in mothballs and a coal station in the process of demolition. Our wind power is a joke that costs the earth and delivers nothing of value.
David Bidstrup, Plympton Park, SA
The Liberal and National Coalition government is not immune from the political punishment that will be dealt out with thumping certainty in working class suburbs and regional cities and towns around the country. Think Donald Trump’s domination of the rust-belt/fly-over states in America’s mid-west.
Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg continue to run fluff and interference as they try to deflect attention from the Federal government’s Large-Scale RET and its responsibility for rocketing power prices and, in the case of South Australia, an erratic and unstable power supply, as well – throwing the blame at the feet of State Labor governments for what they call ‘unrealistic’ renewable energy targets.
That crude little ruse is unlikely to pass the pub test with John Black’s apocryphal ‘unemployed 55-year-old Townsville refinery worker with two kids and a mortgage he can’t pay’.
When it comes time to vote, Townsville’s unemployed refinery workers and, soon to be, unemployed smelter workers from Portland in Victoria or Whyalla and Port Pirie in South Australia will, as Graham Richardson notes, readily “turn the lights out on” politicians both State and Federal.
Turnbull and Frydenberg can bank on it.