If a government wanted to figure out how best to defend the country, it wouldn’t hold an inquiry into the air force. It would hold an inquiry into … defence. So if a government wanted to figure out how to plan for responsible energy consumption in an age of climate change you’d assume it would hold an inquiry into energy consumption. Instead, the Australian government holds an inquiry into … nuclear energy.

That single fact tells you almost as much as you need to know about the value of the Switkowski inquiry into nuclear power. It’s a political con job perpetrated by a government which is less than a year away from an election and is being dragged kicking and screaming into the debate about climate change.

In fact, Australia did hold an inquiry into energy in 2004 which produced the white paper Securing Australia‘s Energy Future. This told us what we already knew – that, economically speaking, renewables are a hard sell in Australia. Our embarrassment of fossil fuel riches means that low-emission technology will be more expensive for the foreseeable future. That includes nuclear energy. Nuclear and “other forms of energy like renewables probably can only be competitive” with a carbon tax, acknowledged Ziggy Switkowski yesterday.

If the Howard government was genuine about climate change it would conduct a comprehensive inquiry into all energy sources, all technologies, all emissions and all the economics.

In the meantime it’s just window dressing and Labor Party wedging tarted up with false gravitas.

Peter Fray

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