Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Greens’ deal pie in sky

Greens leader Adam Bandt wrote this week to leaders of business groups calling for support for a local version of a New Green Deal to revive the Australian economy and reshape our industrial base.

To receive a letter from Bandt was a pleasant and welcome surprise. The Greens’ dialogue with industry has traditionally been sporadic, haphazard and not particularly rewarding.

The letter was a bold attempt to reframe the debate and discussion on energy, climate and industry policy for the next 10 years. It lacked one clear thing — any prior discussion or understanding with industry to determine where the economy is at, what change it can bear and where it should be in a decade.

Bandt recognises the importance a stronger economy is to lifting the living standards and environmental sustainability of Australians. Too often, environmentally minded leaders seem indifferent to the economy or oppose growth. Were the Greens on board, the prospects of a path that is pro-growth and pro-environment would be greater.

Bandt’s letter is extraordinarily prescriptive. Some elements appear to be ambit claims rather than goals to be pursued.

A 10-year timeframe to phase out fossil fuels across the economy is staggeringly unachievable. It would cause economic disruption and alienate significant sections of our community.

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It means not only retiring the overwhelming bulk of our existing electricity generation cap­acity and replacing it with a mix of variable and flexible new resources but also retiring our existing steel industry and replacing it with new technologies that haven’t been used at commercial scale anywhere. It would mean replacing today’s passenger and road freight fleets. Taken literally, this is not a crash program but a program for a crash.

Bandt’s letter is conspicuously silent on how Australia’s emissions reductions can contribute to the international effort required to meet the Paris temperature ambitions. What matters for an economy that contributes less than 2 per cent of global emissions is to have our contributions leverage sufficient international effort to solve the climate problem. Without this dimension, unilateral action of the scale and speed implied by some of Bandt’s proposals is extraordinarily risky.

The widely supported goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 will require substantial technological change across the economy. All of today’s power stations will retire. All of today’s cars and trucks will be replaced. Australia could have enormous opportunity in a decarbonised world. The idea of a dramatic 10-year effort to accelerate this transition through technology, investment and reform is being seriously discussed in the US and implemented in Europe. But 10 years to complete the transition is a slogan, not a plan.

Australian climate effort needs to be compatible with a dynamic, innovative and profitable business sector. We need to do climate policy efficiently and we need to do taxation, workplace relations, regulation and skills development more efficiently.

Of course, as Bandt puts it, “we cannot allow Australian businesses to be decimated by the climate emergency”. We have had a bitter foretaste of the climate-related impacts we all want to avoid. But neither can we allow businesses and jobs to be trashed by hasty, ill-conceived responses.

There are gaps and anomalies in Bandt’s letter, but an opening is not an ending. Those concerns should not prevent us from welcoming his offer to work more closely on how to achieve environmentally sustainable ad­vances in living standards. We’ll all learn from each other in the process. But for any dialogue to succeed there must be room to compromise. The question for the Greens is what they’d be prepared to give ground on. History tells us not much.

Innes Willox is chief executive of the Australian Industry Group.


Matt Canavan prepared to cross the floor, calling zero CO2 emissions target ‘fantastical’

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan has warned he would cross the floor and vote against the Liberals on key issues like climate and energy, calling a target of zero net emissions by 2050 being explored by the government “fantastical”.

The former resources minister, who quit the Nationals front bench amid leadership ructions last week, said he had the right to challenge legislation that was not in the interests of his constituents.

“Every backbench member of the coalition has the right to form their own position on legislation … if it is against the interests of my constituents,” Senator Canavan told Sky News on Sunday.

“I would ever only cross the floor if it was a severe issue that was against the interests of the people of Queensland.

“I have crossed the floor before, I don’t do it lightly though. It just depends – hopefully it doesn’t get to that situation but … while I’m on the backbench I’m not intending to take a back seat.”

Asked about the target of net zero emissions by 2050 the government is reportedly considering ahead of a UN climate summit in Glasgow at the end of the year, Senator Canavan was scathing, calling it a ploy “to try and hoodwink people that they might do something”.

“How as a country can we commit to net zero emissions in 30 years time, where we’ll receive our last diesel submarine in 35 years time? I mean it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,

“I haven’t looked at the modelling or costs and benefits of net zero emissions closely because it just seems so fantastical to me. It seems like the kind of things that governments say, because they’re not doing much today but they’d like to try and hoodwink people that they might do something in 30 years time,

“It’s exactly the same as saying ‘look, I’m going to lose 10 kilos in 10 years’ time but I’m not going to do anything about it today, I’m not going to go for a jog, I’m not going to go down to the gym, but trust me, in 10 years time I’ll do something’. It doesn’t really sound real to me.

“Obviously that doesn’t work across the world. If every country signed up to net zero by 2050 who are you going to buy the credits from? Mars?

Nationals leader Michael McCormack also blasted the idea of the government committing to net zero emissions by 2050, the target recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change, saying Australia is “not run by international organisations”.

“The IPCC is not governing Australia. The Liberals and Nationals are,” Mr McCormack told the ABC on Sunday.

“We took all of the emissions policies to the election last May and we were re-elected. The Australian people have spoken. We’re not run by international organisations. We’re run by Australians. We’re run by Scott Morrison and we’re run by myself.

“Of course you’ve got to listen to the scientists but what you’ve also got to do is listen to the workers. Listen to the workers who put on a high-vis vest in a coalmine.”

Mr McCormack, who is under pressure following a failed bid to oust him from the leadership last week, denied he would be stepping aside to make way for deputy David Littleproud to take over, insisting he would lead the Nationals to the next election.

“I’ve now put myself to the party room as a leader three times in less than two years. And three times in less than two years, I’ve been endorsed as the party’s leader. That should be enough to draw a line under that discussion.”

“Barnaby Joyce has stated that he will support me. Matt Canavan has...I always believe country people when they look me in the eye and say something. And you’ve got to take people on their word.

Asked if he should have promoted Nationals who voted against him in the party’s recent spill to ease their dissatisfaction with him, Mr McCormack said: “I think that that might look self indulgent and me trying to protect the leadership.”

“More inclusivity needs to happen. And my door is always open to my colleagues. My door is always open.”

“When it comes to the front bench, I’m very happy with those who I selected for those ministerial roles. And certainly, they are going to do a good job. I’m blessed with talent in the National Party room, and I’m very thankful for that. I’ve got some tremendous people.

Senator Canavan, who quit cabinet to support Mr Joyce’s challenge against Mr McCormack said the party had “moved on.”

“It’s been a rough couple of weeks. But a decision was made in the party room and I said the day of the decision that Michael has my support. He’s the elected leader of the party room, and that’s what we’ve got to move forward with.

“Now I think it’s always the case that it takes longer for the media to move on from these kinds of events than it does political parties because the media loves to keep reporting on it. David Littleproud is a great bloke, he’s a nice fella. But Michael McCormack is leader of the Nationals party and I expect that to remain so,” Senator Canavan said.

However Senator Canavan refused to rule out supporting a different leader over Mr McCormack if another leadership spill was called.

“I’m not going to predict events in the future but I cannot see that happening. Michael has our full support and we’re getting on with it.

“We’ve now got a campaign against having one coal fired-power station in North Queensland (a proposed site in Collinsville) … In light of that we really do need to fight for it.


Coalition may use government contracts to crack down on environment protests

The Coalition is considering using federal government building contracts to pressure companies not to engage in or to cave in to environmental boycotts.

In a sign the government is looking for innovative ways to implement Scott Morrison’s threat to crack down on environmental protests, the attorney general, Christian Porter, has sought views on whether the federal building code could be used to “prevent multiple secondary/environmental boycott demands and behaviour”.

The question is contained in an industrial relations discussion paper on the code, released on Tuesday.

The code, last updated in 2016, governs the federal government’s engagement with construction companies and is usually used to influence industrial conditions and the role of unions, rather than environmental groups.

It has been used to ban union flags on worksites, to force employers to reject clauses allowing unions access to worksites for inductions, and to ban clauses limiting the use of contractors.

The paper notes the code already requires companies to report “actual or threatened industrial action and secondary boycott demands as soon as practicable, but no later than 24 hours”.

Although the code directly applies only to companies bidding for government work, those companies must adopt preferred work practices in all their private sector agreements and impose the same conditions on subcontractors in order to comply.

If the code were used to prevent secondary or environmental boycotts, the government could potentially put pressure on a company to build a rail line to Adani’s Carmichael coalmine or lose all its government work, for example.

Asked about the proposal at a press conference in Melbourne, Porter incorrectly claimed the word “environmental” did not appear in the paper, before conceding the government is interested in how to combat “secondary boycotts which would include any number of different reasons” for boycotts.

“We have come across a range of instances where businesses have been damaged by behaviour that could be described as secondary boycotts,” he said.

“In the context of the Commonwealth as a purchaser of construction services … we’re interested in hearing from all of the parties if there is a role for the code to ensure businesses don’t get damaged by unfair secondary boycott behaviour.”

Porter agreed that companies losing work for engaging in or caving in to a secondary boycott were “all possible options”.

A wide range of businesses have been targeted for Adani-related boycotts including banks, such as Westpac, and many other companies outside the construction sector.

In January Greyhound ruled out any extension of work on the controversial Adani coal project after it was targeted for providing transport to workers for the construction company BMD, which is building the railway to take the coal to Adani’s Abbot Point port.

In November Morrison branded environmental protesters “anarchists” and threatened a radical crackdown on the right to protest in a speech to the Queensland Resources Council, claiming progressives were seeking to “deny the liberties of Australians”.

Porter explained that a crackdown could include moves to limit access to litigation funding and environmental litigation and to prevent secondary boycotts by groups such as Market Forces.

He accused the group of attempting to “impose their political will on companies across the country through widespread, coordinated harassment and threats of boycotts”.

The Competition and Consumer Act already contains civil penalties for secondary boycotts, which target one business in order to prevent provision of goods or services to another, including if they cause “substantial loss or damage” or substantially lessen competition.

However, secondary boycotts for the “dominant purpose” of environmental protection or consumer protection are permitted.


Australian public broadcaster loses legal challenge on free speech grounds

Australia's national broadcaster has lost its legal challenge to controversial police raids on its Sydney newsroom last year.

In June, police searched the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a newspaper journalist over articles which relied on leaks from government whistleblowers.

The raids sparked a public outcry and protests across the nation's media.

However, the Federal Court of Australia has ruled the searches were legal.

ABC's managing director David Anderson said the decision was "disappointing". He said the raids had been a high-profile "attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their job".

Why did police raid newsrooms?

Australian Federal Police alleged the stories and reporters at the centre of its searches had breached national security laws.

In the raid last year, they seized thousands of documents over a 2017 ABC investigation which alleged Australian armed forces had committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Police also raided the home of News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst. In 2018, she had reported an alleged attempt by a government agency to spy on Australian citizens.

Australia's conservative government tightened its security laws in 2018 to make it a criminal offence for journalists to receive classified information from military or intelligence sources.

Canberra has previously said it backs press freedom but that "no one was above the law".

What was the ABC's challenge?

The ABC tried to challenge the legality of the police search warrant, arguing that it breached an implied constitutional right for free speech on political matters.

However, the court rejected that argument. It said "the purpose of the warrant in this case was entirely legitimate" as police had been investigating "valid" national security offences.

The court also said the few legal protections for journalists' sources were not applicable in this case.

The industry's union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the case's dismissal showed "ongoing and serious threats to the public's right to know".

Mr Anderson, from the ABC, said the ruling was "a blow for public interest journalism".

Police have not ruled out prosecuting Ms Smethurst, and ABC reporters Sam Clarke and Dan Oakes over their stories.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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