Sep 13, 2017

Could energy uncertainty be the gift that keeps on giving for Turnbull?

By prolonging uncertainty around investment in energy generation, the government gives itself scope to keep blaming Labor and renewables for blackouts -- at least until voters wake up to it.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

As Crikey fearlessly predicted last week, the government is now backing away from a bipartisan Clean Energy Target to provide certainty for energy investors, in favour of a more coal-centric policy. The goal is to portray Labor as the party of letting the lights go out, complete with clunky nicknames such as "Blackout Bill" and "Brownout Butler" (sadly, we've had "No Coal Joel", not the more obvious "Flickering Lights Fitzgibbon"). Shorten and Butler, apparently, were in charge of Australian energy policy until a few months ago, so deserve the blame.

A deliberate attempt to avoid bipartisanship on energy will prolong exactly the uncertainty that has curbed investment in power generation capacity, exacerbating the growing under-supply of power. But, judge the government how you want, it's looking at a persistent six-point polling gap that would see it tossed out of office in a flash if it were forced to an election; desperate times call for desperate measures.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

17 thoughts on “Could energy uncertainty be the gift that keeps on giving for Turnbull?

  1. graybul

    If one is looking for credibility in politicians surely “blackout Bill” simply can’t cut it against Guy’s spot on, “The Napoleon of Bellevue Hill”. The inescapable truth is that Government’s are charged to implement policy . . . not bullshit.

  2. Nudiefish

    I’ve been trying to figure out the coalition’s endgame with all this slavish devotion to a dying commodity. What is the benefit for pursuing coal when the entire world is turning its back on it? It defies reason and is not sustainable. Even worse, they are starting to look very stupid and even energy suppliers are crab walking away from the LNP.

    I just can’t see the plan of blaming Labor on energy failure working out whilst they are backing fossil fuel to the extent that they are. These are the lackwits who passed a lump of coal around parliament as if it were a ruby. They pretty much own the disaster about to overwhelm them.

    1. Will

      Coalition energy policy isn’t about economics, Nudiefish. It’s solely about politics. The Coalition adopted vehement anti-environmentalism as a strategy to distinguish its brand of neoliberalism from Labor’s. Anti-environmentalism drives an ideological wedge between Labor’s traditional working class base and its newer ‘inner city’ middle class supporters (and party operatives), because environmentalism means shutting down the sort of dirty industries that traditionally employed the great mass of working class people.

      The Coalition of course knows the economics don’t work and supply crises are looming, but that’s precisely why it and its media backers have commenced such an unprincipled yet furious propaganda blitz to blame Labor starting now for what’s coming. It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to create enough doubt in voters minds that the energy market crisis is not all the Coalition’s fault for it to escape electoral punishment for its economic vandalism.

      The question now is can Labor rise to the amazing political opportunity this represents and bravely tack away from neoliberalism and take a grateful public with it, or will it try to play it safe and simply join the Coalition in kicking the can down the road. Sadly, most likely, the latter, I think.

      1. Nudiefish

        Thanks Will, I understand the attempted wedge to Labor well enough, but it is a stupid wedge and cannot work. The LNP are not even pretending to act sane anymore, which is a prerequisite for a successful wedge. I’ll give you an example:

        Turnbull summoning the AGL boss to Canberra ordering him to reverse the closure of the Liddell power plant can only have one outcome. Only one… the AGL board telling him to get stuffed. There is no way the AGL shareholders will throw money away just to satisfy the PM’s political problems with his own backbench. How can you pull off a wedge on Labor on this issue? Labor are just standing back watching the LNP kabuki theatre and eating popcorn.

        I understand that when it all falls over they will try some desperate spin – that is all they have left, but they are also down the hole for about 20 seats, to date, so the spin they deploy better be a freaken dozy.

      2. AR

        Alas and alack, your last sentence is true, forsooth.

    2. drsmithy

      What is the benefit for pursuing coal when the entire world is turning its back on it? It defies reason and is not sustainable.

      Its sponsors have rights over coal in the ground.

      Coal in the ground is worthless. Dug up and sold, even for a relative pittance, still makes more than leaving it in the ground.

      Ergo, as much coal as possible must be dug up and sold.

      (There’s also the anti-environmentalist identity politics aspect.)

      1. Nudiefish

        I disagree. Digging coal up when nobody is buying the stuff is not even making a pittance.

        The way I see it is that the carbon industry is panicking and is not acting rationally anymore. They are now reaching the “Louie XIV” stage just before the 1789 revolution and the LNP is captive to their fantasies.

        1. drsmithy

          People are still buying it. There’s still plenty of coal power stations around the world.

  3. Dog's Breakfast

    “Politically, the perpetuation of under-investment in power generation will increase the risk of blackouts, which can then be blamed on renewable energy and Labor.”

    How? How could it be? That can only happen when the mainstream news media is bereft, dysfunctional and largely brain dead. This could not happen with a functioning media.

    Isn’t the government just about to stitch up some new media laws? Wow, what a coincidence. Look away!

  4. pinkocommierat

    Having seen what became of Colin Barnett, the PM and Minister for Environment and Energy would know what happens to governments that don’t deliver.

  5. klewso

    Did Oliver say that ‘the government’ was misrepresenting/”misinterpreting” the findings of the AEMO report?
    Why would Turnbull and Frydenberg want to depoliticise the issue – as soon as they did that we’d start thinking about their other chronic cock-ups?

  6. Bill Hilliger

    Blackout Bill” and “Brownout Butler” (sadly, we’ve had “No Coal Joel”, not the more obvious “Flickering Lights Fitzgibbon”). Shorten and Butler, apparently, were in charge of Australian energy policy until a few months ago, so deserve the blame. This is what Malevolent / Malfeasance Mal would have us believe.

  7. AR

    It could be that we are all overthinking the government’s floundering and there is no cunning plan – they are simply too stupid and/or frightened of what the sponsors will do when, not if, they fail to deliver a sooty future.

    1. drsmithy

      I’ve no doubt there’s a plan. I’m not sure it deserves the description of “cunning”.

  8. John Hall

    Labor should just promise to nationalize the whole industry again. After all it looks like Turnball is starting to try to do it station by station – in a truly incompetent & inefficient manner.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details