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Federal

May 14, 2014

Environment: green policies casualties of Abbott's vengeance mission

Tony Abbott seems to have taken personal umbrage as a result of Greens and green-minded MPs denying him power in 2010. Now he's in charge, and our sustainable programs are on the chopping block.

For Prime Minister Tony Abbott, his was not so much a budget as a settling of old scores.

Cast your mind back to 2010, when Abbott was denied power in a hung Parliament by Labor, the Greens and two country independents who wished to advance policy on climate change and renewable energy. Ever since, Abbott and the right-wing faction that put him there — the people Paul Keating famously described as “right-wing nutcases” — have vowed revenge.

The proposed trashing of the $3.1 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which under various guises has for years backed Australia’s world-leading solar research and demonstration projects for the energy technologies of the future, was the coup de grace.

The budget has provided Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey the opportunity to implement many of the 75-point wish list drawn up by the influential Institute of Public Affairs, which the government attempted to disguise by asking the Commission of Audit to prepare its 86 recommendations in its ham-fisted documents. Hence the attack on education, health funding and welfare payments that will affect the least advantaged, and the tax cuts for corporates.

But it is “green policy” and anything that resembles it that riles this government the most. Consider Hockey’s comments about wind farms being “utterly offensive”. With proposals to repeal the carbon price, dismantle the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the dilution of the Renewable Energy Target already in train, the budget measures, which include the closure of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the dumping of the million solar roofs program (both contrary to election promises) and the research funding cuts at the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology and elsewhere, means that the obliteration of the Clean Energy Future package will be complete — if it can get past the Senate.

The closure of ARENA, which still had $3.1 billion of funds to be invested over the next 10 years, appears the most vindictive, and like the move to pull the CEFC, a case of economic and environmental vandalism. The budget document talks endlessly about the need for “innovation”, for new investment and infrastructure. ARENA, like the CEFC, was able to leverage billions of dollars in private finance — a rate of $2.50 of private funds for every $1 invested.

Chief executive Ivor Frischknecht says that until the Senate decides otherwise, the agency will continue to work through its applications. It has more than 190 proposals worth $7.7 billion (two-thirds private money) on the table. He says that reflects not just the level of disappointment, but the “scale of investment that is unlikely to go ahead because of the proposed closure”.

ARENA has been branded as one of many examples of “corporate welfare”, but in reality more than 150 of its 180 projects already allocated are in support of research and development, a core competency of any advanced economy. Future funding of that research will be lost. Corporate welfare will continue to be doled out to manufacturers in other sectors.

“Instead, according to Abbott and Hockey, we are to build the roads of the 21st century. Welcome to the asphalt economy.”

ARENA was not the only victim of the budget axe. The million solar roofs program, once a $1 billion centrepiece of Direct Action to bring solar to lower-income earners and renters, has sunk without trace — replaced by a derisory $2.1 million program to install solar on RSLs and bowling clubs in seven marginal electorates (yes, really).

It has cut another $459.3 million (or around three-quarters) of remaining funds from the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships Program, cut $16.8 million over two years from the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative, slashed $111.4 million over four years from the CSIRO, $10 million from the Bureau of Meteorology, and $21.7 million from its Environmental Science programs.

Left in place are $525 million to pay up to 15,000 under-25s to pick up litter at below-award wages under the guise of the Green Army, and a diesel fuel tax exemption for miners and other off-grid users worth $2 billion a year, which may ironically relieve some of the pain of having financing for cleaner, cheaper options such as off-grid solar removed.

The centrepiece of the government’s Direct Action policy, which replaces the carbon price, also seems to be in a state of utter confusion. The budget papers mention $2.55 billion set aside “over 10 years” rather than the four set aside by the government previously. The office of Environment Minister Greg Hunt described this as a “printing mistake”, but Treasury documents also allocate just $1.1 billion of actual expenditure over the coming four years, suggesting that Treasury boffins have little faith in the emissions reduction fund attracting any meaningful offers for abatement. Bankers still describe the policy as “wishful thinking”.

ARENA chairman Greg Bourne says that while the outcome of the RET review — led by climate change sceptic Dick Warburton — is not yet known, it looks as though the government is looking to “clear the decks” of clean energy.

“From cleared decks, the question is then, what do you build?” Bourne said. “The government is leaving behind a set of options that would allow it to accelerate the deployment of clean energy, and they may well need those options in the future. We are trying to build the infrastructure of the 21st century in terms of energy.”

Instead, according to Abbott and Hockey, we are to build the roads of the 21st century. Welcome to the asphalt economy.

*This article was originally published at RenewEconomy

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20 comments

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20 thoughts on “Environment: green policies casualties of Abbott’s vengeance mission

  1. Roger Clifton

    >> “ongoing war on renewables and climate change”. The right-wing nutcases have been able to dismiss the seriousness of climate change because it is easy to dismiss many of the impractical claims of the renewables lobby.

    We need our commentators to separate the two issues. After all, averting climate change is about converting to non-carbon energy, whereas renewables would be needed if we were running out of non-renewable resources. There is more to “non-carbon” than just “renewables”, such as nuclear.

    Climate disasters will eventually persuade LCP voters that we are running out of time. But they will never see us running out of carbon.

  2. MJPC

    Hold on, didn’t Citizen comment that removal of the Carbon tax…levy…tax… would result in cheaper electricity for all. Another lie coming up to haunt him when they get the CT removed and the electricity rent seekers spin why prices haven’t fallen (and will not ever).
    I thought the Green Army had been shelved as a joke, and now it is resurrected as a keystone environmental policy of these imposters. I dareway all of the school leavers waiting 6 months for the dole for jobs that have been off-shored can serve a stint painting rocks and sweeping paths west of the black stump.
    Memo to the Labour Party;
    1: recall Paul Keating as leader. “Right wing nutcases”; indeed!
    2: Start firing the bullets being loaded by the LNP.

  3. Stuart Coyle

    Coal and cars is all they care about.

    19th century technology and 19th century social attitudes show through very clearly with this budget.

    Let’s ignore the 21st century. Let’s not have a modern energy infrastructure nor a modern network infrastructure. When Tony Abbot says he is the “infrastructure Prime Minister” he has decided that “infrastructure” means only that technology that is at least a century old. Anything else is way too cutting edge and progressive for him.

  4. Electric Lardyland

    And still, the only ‘direct action’ being implemented, is against people who believe in acting to reduce carbon emissions.
    And still, I haven’t noticed any Australian journalist, ask Abbott the increasingly obvious question of, “When are you going to stop telling the lie to the Australian people, that you believe in the science of climate change?” Actually, since it’s probably been a while since Abbott has even been asked to comment on climate change, that question should now probably be, “Why did you decide to relentlessly tell the lie to Australian people, that you believed in the science of climate change?”

  5. Zeke

    Roger Clifton. There’s nothing wrong with a carbon economy as long as the carbon you use is recycled, ie using vegetation based energy. Climate change is coming about because of the burning of fossil fuels, not fuels based from carbon based renewable resources. Plants take carbon from the air, we burn carbon and replace it, no problem.

  6. Roger Clifton

    Zeke says that the problem [for the Greenhouse] from using carbon fuel would vanish as long as all the carbon gets recycled in vegetation. Sure, but every citizen on planet Earth would require several square kilometres of rich forest, to be lightly harvested with saintly self-discipline. But there is no such spare forest, and the archaeological record shows that there never has been such saintly restraint. We have been a weed species, doomed to repeatedly climax and collapse.

    Zeke’s vision is poetry, no doubt appreciated by the faithful. However, to Conservative voters, it is a hopelessly impractical whimsy. In their ridicule, they also dismiss the very real threat of climate change as an equally unreal fantasy that they can afford to ignore.

  7. mikehilliard

    These morons don’t have a clue. They can kill the messenger but the fact remains that as electricity prices fail to come down, carbon tax or no carbon tax, people will take matters into their own hands. Technology is fast outstripping the dinosaur brains in Abbott’s clique. Sooner rather than later installing solar or wind technology with storage batteries to provide almost stand alone systems will be as common as buying a new lounge. The great shame of Abbott’s policies will be that that technology will be sourced from overseas.

  8. Dogs breakfast

    Thanks Roger, but back in the real world, where nuclear is not an option; apart from the cost, the unproven next generation technology, and the fact that more carbon emissions are produced from the building of a nuclear power station than can ever be saved, and the fact that it is politically impossible in this and most countries, oh yeah apart from that, that leaves us with,

    oh yes, renewables.

    May as well get on the bandwagon now before you get hopelessly left behind.

    The word ‘philistines’ seems just wasted on this government.

    The Arena cuts are particularly galling, but what would you expect.

  9. Liamj

    The voluntary human extinction movement thanks Tony Abbott & LNP voters for their support.

  10. Graeski

    OK – I’ve done it. I’ve just joined the Greens. Would have considered Labor but I’m not in a union. Either will do – I just want these bastards out. I can’t sit back and watch them destroy our country any longer.

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