Friday, March 10, 2023

Greens off on another planet: Today’s Greens make their predecessors look sensible

Judith Sloan

It was the formidable Labor finance minister, Peter Walsh, who first described the Greens as akin to fairies at the bottom on the garden. He held their idealistic and unrealistic ideas in complete contempt. In his view, the Greens’ way was a highway to penury, particularly for those on the lowest incomes.

He was also suspicious of their environmental methods, claiming, for instance, that the failure to maintain national parks by clearing, weeding and regular burn-offs would simply lead to devastating bushfires and an extraordinary loss of environmental benefits.

Fast-forward through the intervening decades and it would seem that the Greens have moved on from the bottom of the garden and are now flying in an entirely parallel universe where the practicalities of running a government completely elude them. Indeed, from today’s perspective, former Greens leader, Bob Brown, appears almost sensible; OK, at least he was living on Planet Earth when he was in parliament – at least most of the time.

Today’s cohort of Greens parliamentarians has less connection with the environmental movement – saving forests and endangered species, etc, (although they are obsessed with climate change) – and more connection with hard-left political stances. They support big government, high taxation, anti-capitalism and favourable treatment for all minority groups. Sadly, most of them can’t even spell freedom.

The Greens are now led by the unappealing Adam Bandt who comfortably holds the seat of Melbourne, home to woke types, students and some doctors’ wives. There is no prospect of Labor wresting this seat from the Greens and the adjoining ones are always at risk of being lost to some former teacher turned climate activist.

Of course, it’s been great sport watching the antics of Lidia Thorpe, former Greens senator for Victoria. For those in the Greens party room, it must have been like having a rabid dog running around, incapable of being controlled. Even though Bandt assures us he did everything he could to keep her in the party, one suspects that there were a few sighs of relief when she decided to quit and become an independent senator.

Even so, she probably continues to inflict damage on her former party through her opposition to the Voice on the basis it doesn’t go far enough – truth-telling and treaties are the only road for her – and her antics at the recent Pride March in Sydney.

What is the point of lying on the road and stopping the procession of a float? It escapes me, although she was evidently making a point about the brutal and discriminatory behaviour of the police force. Luckily, the attending police officers had no hesitation moving her on.

Thorpe has zero chance of being re-elected to the Senate as an independent, but she will be in office for some time still, creating mayhem and damaging the Greens – maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

But let me get back to the chasm that the Greens deliberately create by advocating much higher government spending while calling for all sorts of perverse measures, up to and including the banning of coal and gas projects. Without these projects, there is no prospect there will be sufficient revenue to fund their over-the-top spending aspirations.

The Greens’ wish list is close to endless: free childcare, free TAFE and university, free dental care, higher dole, higher rental assistance, more public housing, more public transport, more spending on government schools, more foreign aid and on and on it goes.

Unless you believe that government spending is costless and never-ending – OK, for a while the crazy advocates of Modern Monetary Theory held sway until the ugly face of inflation reared its head and the interest payable on government debt began to rise – the Greens cannot escape that perennial political question: how are you going to pay for it?

But here’s the thing: the main reason Australia is not completely in the fiscal dog-house is the surging company tax revenues from mining companies and high commodity prices. Now I know some Speccie readers are a little bit allergic to numbers, but bear with me if I point out a few simple facts.

Take iron ore, which is a mainstay of our budget. For every $US10 increase in the price of iron ore per tonne, there is a lift of $600 million in company tax receipts. The high prices of coal, both thermal and coking, as well as liquefied natural gas, have similarly led to rapid growth in company tax receipts.

At the time of the election last year, the Treasury expected company tax revenue for 2022-23 to come in at a tad over $90 billion. It now expects it to be $127 billion – a jump of nearly one third. Company tax revenue is now at an historic high which, in turn, is mainly because of the surging tax being paid by the mining companies so reviled by the Greens.

Talk about contradictory: it’s not just having your cake and eating it too; it’s about having the whole bakery. This underscores my conclusion that the Greens are now living on a different planet rather than partying at the bottom of the garden. They want to shut down most of the resource sector but think that government spending can be jacked up big-time.

And let’s not forget here that federal Labor already has substantial spending plans. Next financial year, it expects to spend $666 billion and in 2025-26, the figure is $729 billion, an increase of over 9 per cent in real terms. The Greens’ ambitions are in addition to this increase.

Don’t get me onto some of the other proposals from the Greens. The geniuses in the party think that imposing national rental controls is the answer to our housing rental crisis. The fact that the attractiveness of residential real estate for investors has declined is regarded as neither here nor there by them. And this is before the full impact of the higher cost of investment loans.

They also want to achieve net zero by 2035, think that the ambition of B1(Climate Change and Energy Minister, Chris Bowen) to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 is woefully inadequate and want 100-per-cent renewable energy by the end of the decade. In Bernie Sanders’ style, they think that ‘taxing the billionaires and big corporations’ will release oceans of revenue and a 6 per cent annual wealth tax is the way to go.

Walshy must be spinning in his grave; he would surely conclude that the dotty Greens of his era were sensible pragmatists compared to today’s loopy lot.


Pervasive greenwashing apparent

A quick look on the websites of some of Australia's largest companies — from fossil fuel and electricity providers, to telecommunications and banks — shows many are "certified carbon neutral".

National Australia Bank (NAB) claims to be the country's "first carbon-neutral bank", Cooper Energy claims to be "Australia's first carbon-neutral domestic gas supplier", and Telstra is certified for its "business operations, and its retail electricity and gas products".

Their carbon-neutral credentials come from Climate Active — a government-backed program that started life as the National Carbon Offset Standard in 2010, and as "Greenhouse Friendly" before that.

Climate Active claims to oversee one of the world's "most rigorous" carbon neutral certifications.

According to its website, the program assists businesses in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and that by "supporting businesses with the Climate Active trademark, you are supporting climate action".

But critics say the government-backed body is engaging in "greenwashing" — providing environmentally friendly cover for polluting industries to carry on with business as usual, while giving the impression they're taking meaningful action on climate change.

The devil in the details

On NAB's website, there's a page dedicated to the company's track record on, and ambitions for, climate action.

"In 2010, we became the first Australian-owned bank to achieve carbon neutrality under the Climate Active (then National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS)) Carbon Neutral Program," reads a description on the bank's Environment and Climate Change page.

But Polly Hemming of the Australia Institute says what the bank is referring to, and what the average person on the street might interpret their statement to mean, aren't necessarily the same thing.

In February, lawyers acting for the Australia Institute lodged a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), asking the ACCC to investigate whether the Climate Active trademark program, including its use by companies involved with the program, was misleading or deceptive under Australian Consumer Law.

Melbourne Law School economist and former chair of the ACCC Allan Fels says some of the complaints made by the Australia Institute against Climate Active, and potentially some of the companies using their accreditation, will be looked at seriously by the ACCC.

"One of the claims about deceptive conduct looks fairly persuasive," he says.

Against Climate Active in particular, Professor Fels says it must be established whether they're engaged in trade or commerce, and therefore covered by Australian consumer law.

"Climate Active receives significant income from certificates and other things. Is that enough to constitute trade or commerce?

"In a sense, it's a good test case for that."

Part of the Australia Institute's criticism stems from what, under the Climate Active certification system, is termed "emissions boundaries" — things that are inside or outside of consideration, depending on the type of certification being granted.

In the case of NAB, their certification type is listed under "organisation". Inside their emissions boundary are things like office electricity use, vehicle fuel and office paper.

But outside their boundary are international emissions, emissions from the use of the products they sell, from downstream leased assets, capital goods, investments and lending — including to fossil fuel expansion projects.

A report from Market Forces in 2021 estimated that the lifetime emissions from fossil fuel projects funded by NAB between 2016 and 2020 will run into the billions of tonnes.

In short, only a part of NAB's total operations are carbon neutral. And it's a similar story for many other Climate Active-certified banks.

Gas exploration and development (mining) company Cooper Energy also displays its carbon-neutral certification prominently on its website and in sustainability reports, and claims to be Australia's first carbon-neutral domestic gas supplier.

Again though, that's carbon neutrality for the organisation and doesn't include "downstream processing of products by customers, downstream transmission and distribution of products by customers, or downstream combustion of products by customers and consumers".

In other words, it doesn't include the burning of their gas, which they produce "exclusively for Australia's east coast market".

The things outside these companies' emissions boundaries mostly fall under what are termed scope 3 emissions — emissions outside the direct control of the company.

They often add up to a much larger footprint than the direct emissions of a business, which are known as scope 1 and 2.

Scope 3 emissions are also generally the hardest to get down.

Most certified brands acknowledge, though sometimes in finer print, the limitations of their certification, and Climate Active details the emissions boundaries for each of its certified brands in annual reports.

And Climate Active's classifications, including for organisational carbon neutral certification, are based on Australian and international standards, such as the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

But Climate Active also claims to be helping consumers make informed, climate-friendly choices.

Ms Hemming says instead, the carbon neutral certification is potentially misleading consumers.

"You really have to go quite deep into the certification. You have to understand different terminology in relation to carbon accounting — scopes, supply chains, downstream emissions.

"That's a pretty unreasonable ask of a consumer."

According to polling by the Australia Institute last month, nearly 60 per cent of the 1,012 people surveyed said that all emissions from a business's "operations, products and services" should be included in claims of carbon neutrality.

"A majority of people said a carbon-neutral organisation is an organisation that has offset its products, processes and investments," Ms Hemming said.

Professor Fels says Australian law about greenwashing covers claims that are "misleading or deceptive in the mind of the consumer".

"It doesn't matter what the intention of the person issuing the statement is, it's how an ordinary consumer would interpret it.

"The ordinary consumer doesn't have a great technical knowledge, and you would take that into account."


British rail expert backs push for upgrades to 'rather decayed' Canberra to Sydney train line

A British rail expert has described the train line from Sydney to Canberra as "rather decayed" and thrown his support behind calls to upgrade it to cut travel times between the two cities.

The train journey between the national capital and Sydney currently takes more than four hours, making it far slower than travelling by bus, car or plane.

Three years ago, Infrastructure Australia estimated only 1 per cent of people making the trip used rail.

Professor Andrew McNaughton, the chair of the authority that manages Britain's high-speed rail line, recently examined the route as part of a yet-to-be-released fast rail strategy delivered to the New South Wales government.

He said basic improvements to the track, such as straightening out bends, could reduce the journey to roughly three hours, which would be comparable to travelling by road.

Professor McNaughton said he believed this would lead to increased demand and more frequent trains, taking cars off the Federal and Hume highways and helping build the case for a new high-speed rail line in coming decades.

"Most of it is just about basic infrastructure management to get a decent railway out of what you've got," Professor McNaughton said.

"Traffic will build up. More people will elect to go by rail, particularly if it's a decent quality service."

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has long urged the NSW and federal governments to fund improvements to the 320-kilometre-long track, which winds around hills and was built to 19th-century freight train requirements.

In 2017, Mr Barr took the train to Sydney to illustrate his point, and his journey took even longer when his service got stuck behind a freight train.

"[The track] is like a canal, it goes all over the place to keep gradients down," Professor McNaughton said.

"If you want serious journey time you need something pretty straight that goes up and down the hills."

In 2020, the line was added to Infrastructure Australia's priority list for upgrades, including potential straightening and duplication.

NSW Transport says about 18,900 passengers per month travelled on the route over the past year, which was roughly in line with pre-COVID levels.


More control over your electricity usage coming

The Albanese government and the Greens have a hidden agenda and it’s not good for you. Why you might ask did the Greens demand as their trade-off for supporting the government imposing price caps on gas, that the government provide tax-payer funded subsidies to get households to get rid of their gas appliances and go all electric. You might also wonder just why there is such a rush for electric cars. The two are connected.

AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) publishes information that provides some answers but it never gets publicly discussed. The fact is that part of the government’s plan involves use of devices owned by you. The plan is called the Distributed Energy Resources Program or simply DER and it’s designed to suck up your stored energy. That is the energy stored in for example your car battery, your solar panels and your domestic battery storage system. The plan is to allow AEMO to fill shortages of electricity in the grid with your stored energy and ration your use of electricity by turning off your hot water system or air-conditioner through your smart meter which you will be required to have.

The push for electric cars is about making more battery storage available – not to improve your driving experience. As long as your car battery is charged up at home, it’s ready to have its stored energy siphoned off. All of this is known to the cognoscenti but totally unknown to everyday Australians being fed a constant diet of propaganda as to how cheap and simple renewable energy is.

And then there is the inevitable new database ready to hack – and thereby compromise – all of your DER devices so they can source your stored energy.

AEMO describes DERs as, ‘consumer-owned devices that as individual units can generate or store electricity or have the “smarts” to actively manage energy demand’. It then lists examples of DERs as rooftop solar photovoltaic units, wind generating units – residential or commercial, battery storage systems, pool pumps and air-conditioners, smart appliances and electric vehicles.

AEMO describes its desired two-way energy system stating ‘DER devices are “plugged in” to the energy grid with the objective of secure and reliable power for all’. In other words, it is admitting the grid needs a base-load energy resource and how your car battery and other devices will provide it.

This is where the Greens demand for subsidies to get people out of their gas appliances fits in. You cannot plug in gas-powered devices so they want people to have electric devices that are available for their stored energy to be fed into the grid. This cannot be done with gas hot water systems, nor can this happen with a car with an internal combustion engine but it certainly can with an electric car battery.

Much is speculated about the importance and potential success of big batteries termed BESS (Battery Energy Storage Systems) or ‘grid-scale’ batteries, a term which might cause one to believe they are something large and special but they are not. In the words of AEMO they ‘consist of rows of domestic or lithium batteries installed together’.

In their grand plan, these systems are seen as essential to the wish to move off fossil fuels, but the language is aspirational and hopeful for the future, not concrete or factual. Quotes from AEMO clearly show this:

‘New innovations in technology are overcoming limitations… as technical innovation expands storage capacity, batteries will be able to deliver power for longer periods of time’. ‘The 300 MW battery to be completed in Geelong will have the theoretical capacity to service the average needs of 400,000 household for one hour’. ‘System strength and system restart are two key services provided by coal/synchronous generations that are not currently provided by batteries. However, as technology improves, and with sufficient batteries installed they may be able to take on this role with the potential to operate as a vertical synchronous machine’.

This they hope will take on some of the role of coal-fired power stations which provide over 60 per cent of our power needs.

All this just confirms the technology to get rid of base-load power provided by coal and gas does not exist. There are hopes and aspirations that it might in the future but at what cost, inconvenience and risks to households and businesses alike? AEMO’s forecast demand for 2030 and 2050 is that maximum demand is for 44 gigawatts for 2030 and 55 gigawatts by 2050. The cost estimates for achieving this through a grid powered by renewables are eye-watering and estimated in the trillions – and in the words of Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute ‘is just an exercise in magical thinking’.

Having access to capacity to store energy in individually owned personal devices is essential to the government and Greens dream to rid Australia of fossil fuels which we will continue to export as it pays our nation’s bills.

The estimated capacity is 69 gigawatts of power from rooftop solar panels and 31 gigawatts from domestic and electric vehicles with charged-up batteries ready to be siphoned off by a government agency. DER scenarios require the owners of these devices to foot the bill and the more batteries that are cycled the more they wear out.

The DER program is designed to try and fill the gaps in the dream or fantasy of having Australia’s homes and businesses powered by wind and solar. Thousands of square meters covered by panels (which, along with the thousands of windmills, have a limited life-span and are thus all destined for landfill) will not give households and businesses all the power that is needed. Even the addition of hugely expensive grid-connected power generators, 13,200 km of new transmission lines, Snowy Hydro 2.0, new pumped storage schemes, grid stabilisation controls, cost of property leasing, and transmission line rights of way still won’t keep the lights on.

By closing coal-fired power stations prematurely, restricting gas exploration and generation, and refusing to entertain nuclear solutions, the politicians forcing this upon the nation without telling the truth of what is entailed place individuals and the nation at great risk.




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