ENERGY AND GAS ISSUES MOUNT

There are a lot of energy headlines today, with a report, a submission to a government review and comments by a regulator each painting a disturbing picture — together they are even more worrying.

After industry warnings yesterday about a gas shortage in Australia’s east coast, today the Australian Energy Market Operator is also warning that the country faces a threat to power security from next year. The ABC reports AEMO chief operating officer Mike Cleary saying: “If we do nothing, we’re going to see shortfalls in gas, we’re going to see shortfalls in electricity.”

The AEMO says the country faces “continued upward pressure on pricing”, which is bad news when read alongside analysis by the University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College, which shows wholesale electricity prices have already increased to twice what they were under the former Labor government’s carbon tax. In a study, commissioned by the Greens and reported on by the Fairfax papers, the high prices are blamed on gas shortages and uncertainty about policy in the sector. 

There are calls for a bipartisan approach to energy and the introduction of an Energy Emissions Scheme, which while different to the policy previously in place, has been ruled out by PM Malcolm Turnbull. The bipartisan approach isn’t really happening, Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told Fairfax gas should be used to bridge the gap created by closing coal-fired power plants and had a go at state governments:

“This is why we are calling on the states and the Northern Territory to drop their counter-productive gas bans and moratoriums … We need more gas and more gas suppliers to increase competition and drive down prices,” he said.

In The Australian, a submission from the Australian Energy Council, which represents electricity retail groups, also shows steep rises in energy prices in Australia to the equivalent of having a $50 a tonne carbon price. The carbon price we had under former prime minister Julia Gillard was $23 a tonne. The submission from the Australian Energy Council also blames policy uncertainty for high prices: “In Australia, the lack of ­national policy certainty is now the single biggest driver of higher electricity prices.”

How will this debate go forward? Senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon told the Australian Financial Review‘s Business Summit yesterday he would not negotiate on company tax cuts until the nation’s energy and gas crises were sorted out.

PASSING THE CENTRELINK BUCK

Department of Human Services officials defended the government’s controversial robo-debt system at a Senate hearing yesterday, while the Australian Tax Office says it had no role in people’s tax returns being used as a data-matching tool to generate debt notices.

DHS has blamed welfare recipients for issues with the system for not “engaging” with Centrelink over the issue. DHS Secretary Kathryn Campbell said yesterday: “I think what we underestimated was how many people would not clarify, and would not engage, and so I think if I was to sum up what the problem has been it is that, when we wrote those initial letters, that recipients and former recipients didn’t engage.”

This comes just a week after Senate estimates showed 28 million callers got a busy signal when calling Centrelink in the last year.

The public services union has blamed cuts to the agency for both the incorrect notices and the difficulty in contacting Centrelink to clear debt notices.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

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Cory Bernardi’s $1m secret shows why the parliamentary rules are broken

Liberal election fighting fund fuels rising internal tension

‘Bloody lefties’ are filling WA kids’ heads with ‘rubbish’, says Pauline Hanson

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Sydney: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will tell the Australian Financial Review‘s Business Summit Australia risks its AAA credit rating if politicians don’t commit to proper debate on the economy. “This situation is as serious as it is real, yet some people choose political soundbites and petty point scoring over facing up to our nation’s economic challenges,” he will say.

Canberra: A hearing into the omnibus savings and childcare bill will hear from the Australian Council of Social Services, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Department of Social Services, among others.

Western Australia: It’s the second last day of the state election campaign, with Labor set to release its policy costings after the government released theirs yesterday. One Nation leader Pauline Hanson will be in Geraldton. It’s not all good headlines for Hanson, with some former party officials accusing her of being ageist and Queensland media angry at a radio interview (given in January) in which Hanson said she would happily support moving GST revenue from Queensland to WA.

THE COMMENTARIAT

Policy trade-offs for Pauline Hanson One Nation votes won’t work — Niki Savva (The Australian $): “The little foxes, oblivious to facts or history, working in packs, launch nightly raids on the chookhouse in their efforts to destroy Turnbull and reshape the Liberal Party in their own image, by turning it into something it was never designed to be — a capital-C Conservative party.” 

A shared home equity scheme will put roofs over more people’s heads — Peter Martin (The Age): “…if it’s such a bad idea (socialist, even) why was it first proposed by the Liberal Party-aligned Menzies Research Centre, why did Prime Minister John Howard commend it to his home ownership task force, why have both Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison championed it, and why was Tony Abbott an early adopter?”

Gas supply untapped as lights go out and costs look set to rise — Senator Matt Canavan (The Australian $): “I recognise the political pressure that the Victorian Government has faced. Landowners are understandably upset when they cite a lack of rights and the cowboy-like behaviour of some gas producers. The response should be to fix these issues, not just walk away.”

TODAY IN TRUMP

As International Women’s Day dawned in the US, President Donald Trump tweeted his “tremendous respect for women”.

Up on the Hill, Republicans in both houses have written to FBI director James Comey asking to be briefed on Trump’s unsourced allegation that Barack Obama had his phone at Trump Tower tapped. Congressional investigations into Russian interference in the US election have also moved forward, with members being provided with raw intelligence and formal interviews expected to begin soon.

THE WORLD

Leader of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has abandoned the Iraqi city of Mosul, Iraqi and American officials believe. Al-Baghdadi has not been seen in a video since November last year and is thought to be hiding out with Sunni tribal groups in a desert region of Iraq, though his location is not known for sure. US and Iraqi forces are confident of retaking Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State. — Reuters

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack on a Afghan military hospital in which militants dressed as doctors, opening fire after a suicide bomb was detonated. At least 38 people are believed to have been killed in the attack, which took place in Kabul. Islamic State has a smaller and less powerful presence in Afghanistan than the Taliban but is still capable of carrying out deadly attacks. — The Guardian

Major tech companies have responded to yesterday’s WikiLeaks CIA dump, with Apple insisting its latest iPhone updates have dealt with vulnerabilities exposed by the release. Other companies were more circumspect, with Samsung — whose smart televisions have allegedly been compromised — saying it would “urgently” look into the matter. — BBC

The small country of Malta is in mourning after a beloved rock arch collapsed into the sea. The “Azure Window” was a hit with tourists and appeared in television programs including Game of Thrones. It was felled by a heavy storm, and the news of the structure’s collapse was dubbed “heartbreaking” by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. — BBC

WHAT WE’RE READING

How millions of kids are being shaped by know-it-all voice assistants (Washington Post): “Many parents have been startled and intrigued by the way these disembodied, know-it-all voices — Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Microsoft’s Cortana — are impacting their kids’ behavior, making them more curious but also, at times, far less polite.”

White riot (New Statesman): “Tall and mildly charismatic, with a mane of peroxide-blond hair even more distinctive than Trump’s, Wilders is attracting roughly a fifth of the electorate in a country that was once synonymous with tolerance, consensus and progressive liberalism: a country that used to consider itself the gidsland, or model, for the rest of Europe.”

Welcome to the post-human rights world (Foreign Policy): “Less than two months in, President Donald Trump is already shaping up as a disaster for human rights. From his immigration ban to his support for torture, Trump has jettisoned what has long been, in theory if not always in practice, a bipartisan American commitment: the promotion of democratic values and human rights abroad.”

Can Uber be saved from itself? (The Verge): “Uber has been burning through capital, pissing off drivers, alienating riders, and generally wreaking havoc since its inception over six years ago.”

Experts baffled as robots sent to clean up Fukushima nuclear site keep dying (The Independent): “The latest attempt to harvest data on Fukushima failed after a robot designed by Toshiba to withstand high radiation levels died five times faster than expected.”

Donald Trump sexism tracker: Every offensive comment in one place (The Telegraph): “Brace yourself.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

Peter Fray

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