Monday, January 03, 2022

The Liberals no longer the party of the establishment

How did the Liberal Party cease to be the party of the establishment in Australia?

The latest example of this strange progression is the group of rich and financially prominent independent candidates attempting to defeat a number of sitting Liberal members in the forthcoming federal election.

The concept of the “establishment” was first identified by the English journalist Henry Fairlie in the 1950s with reference to those groups in the community who, although not elected parliamentarians, exercised much of the power and influence that directed the affairs of the nation. It is still true in Britain that much of that power and influence lies in the hands of a small group who attended the great public schools, such as Eton, and then Oxford and Cambridge universities.

In Australia, for the first four decades of the postwar years, the establishment broadly included big business, the Protestant churches, the medical and legal professions, senior public servants, the ABC and university administrators and academics. These groups largely supported the Liberal Party and, up to the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, Labor had spent almost a quarter of a century in opposition. Many of these establishment forces did not accept this change of government and their obstruction of its policies ultimately led to the events of November 1975 when the government was dismissed from office by governor-general Sir John Kerr.

Towards the end of the 1980s, however, a cultural change, later to be called political correctness, began to take hold of many public and private institutions in Australia. As this phenomenon developed over the next three decades, it took on the zealotry of a religious movement with some of its key tenets being hostility to the resources industry as an obstacle to climate policy; depiction of Australian society as essentially racist; antipathy to all forms of Christian religion but especially the Catholic Church; transference of political questions from parliaments to courts by way of a bill of rights; a policy of open borders without any restrictions on unauthorised immigration; and support for governance by international bodies, such as the UN, on the basis that they were entitled to override decisions of the Australian government.

In an almost complete turnaround from the 1950s and ’60s these views are now widely prevalent in almost all departments and faculties in universities; most media organisations; legal professional groups; and the boards of many large corporations. To these bodies can be added others that have become prominent in more recent times but essentially subscribe to the same articles of faith – community welfare groups; literary festivals and writers awards; governing bodies for commercial sport; and the committees determining honours and titles. There is naturally a considerable overlap between the membership of these groups so they are able to largely exclude from their ranks those who deny or even question the canons of political correctness.

Most members of these bodies are not actively engaged in party politics but it will be observed that their views are generally inconsistent with support for the Liberal Party. In a strange way, therefore, Labor and the Greens have become the parties of the new establishment, supported by those groups that are the major sources of extra-parliamentary power and influence in this country. It is intriguing to ask what Sir Robert Menzies would have made of such a reversal of fortune over a relatively short space of time for the party he substantially created in the late 1940s.

It is interesting that a somewhat similar transition has occurred in the US where the Republicans, once the party of big business, now rely heavily on working-class votes while the Democrats, once the voice of those workers, is now the party of Wall Street, Hollywood and identity politics.

None of this means the Liberals cannot win elections at federal and state levels. Indeed, they have been in office in Canberra for most of the past decade, although facing a difficult election early in 2022 and having been defeated in elections over the past two years in Queensland, Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory, with their only victory being in Tasmania. But, in light of their history for a long period as the party of the establishment, it is something of an irony that they now depend very much on the votes of ordinary members of the community and cannot rely on the support of the self-styled elites.


Desperate measures being used to keep Australia's eletricity flowing

Unpredictable output from "renewables" is the problem

Australia’s most powerful energy companies have sounded a warning over the increasing need for intervention to safeguard the power grid, saying the national energy market is being undermined to secure supplies in renewable-rich regions.

The Australian Energy Market Operator, which runs the electricity system, is being forced to intervene at record rates, issuing directions to energy generators and users to ensure grid stability on a daily basis. The Australian Energy Council – which represents the country’s biggest power and clean energy companies including AGL Energy, Origin Energy, EnergyAustralia, Alinta, Snowy Hydro, CleanCo and Iberdrola – said it held serious concerns over the practice.

“Since 2017 AEMO directions have run into the hundreds per year. Particularly concerning is the repeated circumstances of the directions and cursory reporting of them,” AEC general manager of policy Ben Skinner said.

“Current practice suggests some parties now consider direction a legitimate long-term alternative to commercial arrange­ments to procure essential power system services. The AEC considers this practice entirely inconsistent with the intent of the power, and if allowed to continue, will undermine the market.”

AEMO has been forced into increasingly frequent and expensive market interventions, such as leasing diesel back-up generators and ordering expensive gas-fired plants into the market to guard against the risk of a thermal generator failing or a change in the weather, such as a lack of wind, knocking out renewable generation.

The Australian Energy Regulator should focus on the extent and cost of directions in its 2022 monitoring, the AEC said in a submission to the national body.

“A matter which has not been mentioned in the focus paper, but in AEC’s view is a serious and immediate concern of wholesale electricity market performance, is the ongoing excessive use of AEMO’s intervention powers under Section 116 of the National Electricity Law to maintain a secure system,” Mr Skinner said.

“Prior to 2017, the use of this power was a rare event and consistent with its intent as a last-resort action in exceptional circumstances where, for whatever reason, market or contracting mechanisms failed to obtain the services required to maintain a secure or reliable system.”

Experts have been warning for several years about the risks posed by the issue.

South Australia’s electricity system was in the spotlight back in 2019 for increasingly operating under the direct intervention of the grid operator, with last-ditch interventions normally reserved for emergencies becoming a default way of managing the network, as large amounts solar generation tested the system’s strength.

However, the reduction in the strength of the electricity network – most pronounced in South ­Australia – has also spread to southwest NSW, northwest Victoria and north Queensland, adding to wholesale costs incurred by users.

Big swings in the energy supply mix over the New Year period in South Australia underscored the issue of variability in a high-renewables system that needs to be managed, according to electricity market designer Jess Hunt.

“Over the course of the week we went from over 130 per cent ­renewable energy to less than 4 per cent, with everything in between.

“The challenge for policymakers is to design a market that can mix and match different types of supply-side resources to meet demand across the full spectrum of conditions,” Ms Hunt wrote on LinkedIn.


Jobs boom to ignite federal election campaign

Josh Frydenberg

Employment numbers have surged by almost half a million since the height of the eastern state Covid lockdowns, with the economy poised for a new year job boom, as Josh Frydenberg declares the election will be a referendum on jobs growth, tax policy and economic management.

Fresh tax office data shows that 485,000 new payroll jobs were added to the labour market since the economic trough of the Delta lockdown in September, with employment levels now 5.7 per cent higher than prior to the pandemic.

The new figures, which have outstripped the most recent forecasts, consolidate Australia’s position as leading the major advanced economies in job growth with new hires rising sharply – by 45 per cent – in December.

The better-than-expected bounce-back has also led to a further reduction in the nation’s welfare bill, with a 1.8 per cent fall in the number of people receiving unemployment benefits in December.

Mr Frydenberg said the new data showed the labour market continued to “roar back” to life following the lifting of lockdowns across NSW, Victoria and the ACT in October and November.

“Our economic recovery plan is also leading to fewer Australians relying on government support, with people on income support falling rapidly as the jobs market strengthens.

“We are working to a clear fiscal strategy to drive down unemployment to historically low levels. This has seen Australia avoid a scarring of the labour market so reminiscent of Australia’s previous recessions in the 1980s and ’90s. By growing the economy, getting more Australians into work and off welfare, we will help secure Australia’s economic recovery.”

The new jobs statistics, based on Australian Taxation Office single touch payroll (STP) data, showed there were an estimated 485,000 jobs added to the labour market by the end of November, compared to the trough in September during the height of the lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.

This included the recovery of jobs lost during the lockdowns but also new jobs created since the restrictions were eased. NSW came out of lockdown on October 11, the ACT on October 15 and Victoria on October 22.

Job numbers are now 5.7 per cent higher than pre-Covid levels and are up across all states and territories.


Covid cases surging, but intensive care units not under siege

Fewer than 0.001 per cent of the 188,594 Australians with active Covid infections on Sunday are in intensive care, fuelling hopes that the vast majority have little to fear from the Omicron variant.

According to the latest statistics, there were 148 Australians in intensive care with Covid, only 48 of whom required ventilation.

While most states – particularly NSW and Victoria – had seen significant growth in Covid hospitalisation rates in recent days, authorities were heartened that admissions to ICU had remained steady.

In NSW, the number of Covid-positive patients admitted to hospital had risen by 18 per cent in the latest reporting period. However, there had not been a corresponding spike in ICU admissions, that total growing by four to 83.

The rise in hospital admissions – 163 more patients in the past 24 hours – came as the state recorded a drop in daily case numbers from 22,577 Saturday to 18,278 on Sunday.

NSW Health data showed that about 20 per cent of all test results recorded were now positive, following national cabinet changes to protocol requiring only symptomatic cases and their household contacts to have PCR tests.

There were 1066 Covid patients in NSW hospitals on Sunday, with 83 people in intensive care, 24 of whom required ventilation.

Victorian government frontbencher Ingrid Stitt said she was pleased to see “relatively stable” numbers of Covid patients in the state‘s ICU wards, despite 7172 new cases on Sunday.




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