NOT CHASING WATERFALLS: NEW SNOWY HYDRO PLAN

Australia’s energy policy is going back to the future, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to announce an expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme to provide up to a 50% increase in its energy output. The plan, which has a $2 billion price tag, does not involve building new dams, but a series of new tunnels and power stations with the potential to power 500,000 homes. The original Snowy Hydro scheme was built from 1949 to 1975, with workers from 30 countries. 

The government will commission a feasibility study to be prepared by the end of this year, and the project itself is expected to take four years. Turnbull is quoted in the Fairfax papers saying the plan would create jobs and help make renewable energy reliable:

“By supercharging the Snowy Hydro precinct, we can ensure affordable and reliable electricity for Australian households and businesses.”

Interestingly, The Australian reports the scheme will be partly funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency — yes that’s the same ARENA the Coalition once tried to put on the scrapheap.

CHANGING STATES: GAS TO WATER

We’ve gone from gas to water in just 24 hours, it was just yesterday that Turnbull was meeting with bosses of big gas exporters to discuss domestic supply. The PM says the gas industry has guaranteed more supply for domestic use. “So there won’t be a repeat of a situation where a gas-peaking power plant is called on by the regulator to produce electricity during a heatwave and there’s no gas available,” he said. Peter Martin has an excellent explanation in the Fairfax papers of how we got to the point where so much gas ended up going offshore.

SHE REALLY SAID THAT

“I believe in the rule of law where the law is fair and right, but when it’s unjust, I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.”

That’s new Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus defending illegal industrial action in an interview with Leigh Sales on 7.30. The government has reacted as you would expect, slamming the comments. Labor leader Bill Shorten has distanced himself.

IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID

Legalising same-sex marriage isn’t just about equality, it’s also about business, according to an exclusive report in the Oz. Dennis Shanahan characterises a letter being prepared from 20 business leaders, including CEOs from companies like Telstra, Optus and Holden, as threatening “to open an explosive new front for the Prime Minister, who faces a divisive debate next week within the Liberal Party over the Racial Discrimination Act”. The letter will say “Enabling loving, committed couples to be married, regardless of their sexual orientation, will contribute to a stronger economy and a more inclusive Australia”.

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Snowy Mountains: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will announce the Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme on site.

Sydney: Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu will meet with Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne.

Sydney: Myer will release its half-yearly financial results, and there are expectations it won’t be good news for the retailer.

Ranchi, India: Australia takes on India in the third test, beginning at 2:30pm AEDT.

THE COMMENTARIAT

The Australian is howling offence. But calling Bill Leak a racist is ‘free speech’ too — David Marr (Guardian Australia): “I was there in the Q&A audience in Adelaide. Up on stage panel members were speaking with respect for Leak, carefully negotiating the difficult territory between regret for his death and regret for his work. Then up the back, a couple of angry people started yelling that Leak was a racist. That ticks a few boxes. It’s offensive. It’s insulting. It breaks a taboo in our society about criticising the recently dead. But it’s free speech.”

Despair is not an option when it comes to climate change — Tim Winton (The Sydney Morning Herald): “Just think of it for a moment, a creature so desperate to escape its own intolerable world it casts itself ashore to die. The pathos of that. And consider what it might mean for all those other creatures, unseen and unnoticed, beneath the sunlit surface.”

How the big three robbed us of our own gas — Peter Martin (The Age): “An (incorrect) way to describe what’s happened is to say Australians are at last paying the international price for gas after being shielded from it for so long. But the international price is low. There’s a glut. Australians are paying far more than the international price (more than Japan is paying for Australian gas) in order to allow the big three at Gladstone to fulfil watertight contracts.”

TODAY IN TRUMP

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston found Donald Trump‘s 2005 tax return in his post box, and progressive news anchor Rachel Maddow has revealed what was in the document. All up it was not bad news for Trump — the businessman earned more than $150 million in 2005 and paid $44 million in tax, which is all above board. Trump foes had been calling for him to release all of his tax returns, which is customary for presidential candidates, since the start of the election campaign. Now that this one year’s document did not turn up anything out of the ordinary, many, including Johnston himself, are wondering if Trump was the one who sent the document anonymously. “It’s entirely possible that Donald sent this to me,” Johnston told Maddow. “It’s a possibility, and it could have been leaked by someone in his direction.”

Trump’s claim that his predecessor Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign is coming unstuck, with the House Intelligence Committee saying, “We don’t have any evidence that that took place”. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions says he never discussed a wiretap with Trump. 

And Politico reports: “FBI Director James Comey has agreed to appear at a public House Intelligence Committee hearing next Monday on the investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election.”

THE WORLD

The US Federal Reserve has raised interest rates for the third time since the global financial crisis, saying the US economy was expanding “at a moderate pace”. Inflation in the US is reaching the Fed’s target 2%. The benchmark rate is now between 0.75% and 1%. — Bloomberg

Two members of the Russian spy agency the FSB are among four men under indictment from the US Justice Department for hacking 500 million Yahoo accounts. The Department of Justice says Russian and US government officials, including military and security personnel, were targeted. The other two men facing charges are another Russian national and a Kazakh national living in Canada. — BBC

Polls just closed in The Netherlands general election, and turnout has been high. A poll on the eve of the election suggested Geert Wilders‘ anti-Islam Party for Freedom was running just behind incumbent Mark Rutte‘s centre-right VVD Party. Wilders has promised to close all mosques, ban the Koran and leave the European Union. Most parties, including the VVD, have ruled out a coalition with Wilders, but whether he can get enough seats in his own right to form government, or whether a coalition agreement can yet be worked out, remains to be seen. — The Independent

German police have raided the offices of luxury carmaker Audi as part of an investigation into the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal. Six VW executives are facing criminal charges in the United States, and dozens more are being investigated in Europe. — The New York Times

WHAT WE’RE READING

People are scared: Paranoia seizes Trump’s White House (Politico): “A culture of paranoia is consuming the Trump administration, with staffers increasingly preoccupied with perceived enemies-inside their own government. In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions: that rival factions in the administration are trying to embarrass them, that civil servants opposed to President Donald Trump are trying to undermine him, and even that a ‘deep state’ of career military and intelligence officials is out to destroy them.”

Americans are applying to move to New Zealand at an astounding rate (Vanity Fair): “Americans are applying in droves for citizenship in New Zealand, a country as far away as physically possible from the United States, and one with a strong social safety net. With U.S. politics more chaotic and divisive than ever, the number of applications for citizenship has soared a whopping 70 percent in the three months following the election, compared to the same period of time last year.”

The tax reform Donald Trump is pushing would have saved him $31 million in taxes in 2005 (Quartz): “And $31.3 million was paid in ‘alternative minimum tax,’ which is applied to high income earners with big deductions to insure they ‘pay at least a minimum amount of tax,’ the IRS says. This is a tax that Trump has vowed to abolish, and which nets the US Treasury tens of billions of dollars each year from the country’s richest.”

Here’s what happens when the US pulls out of a major trade deal (Politico): ” … New Zealand seizes the opportunity to send more of its milk and cheese to China. Japanese consumers pay less for Australian beef than for American meat. Canadians talk about sending everything from farm products to banking services to Japan and India.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

Peter Fray

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