Australian news, and some related international items

Scott Morrison transfers his love affair with coal, to gas

Our coal-fondling PM switches his prop to gas, but is anything really different?  Jacqueline Maley, Columnist and senior journalist, The Age, 20 Sept 290   In February 2017, Scott Morrison walked into Parliament to perform a piece of coal-centred theatre that became one of the defining moments of his political career. “Mr Speaker, this is coal,” he pronounced, brandishing a black lump. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared. It won’t hurt you!”

As was pointed out at the time, the coal must have been lacquered – touching raw coal covers you in black dust. Morrison didn’t want to get his hands dirty. He just wanted to score a political point.

His speech was not about the benefits of coal so much as it was a gleeful attempt to wedge Labor over the electability problem it had, and still has – the insoluble tension between its heavy industry-reliant, blue-collar voter base, and its urban voters, who want meaningful climate action.

No one feels this tension more than Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who is old-Labor in his sensibilities, but whose inner-Sydney electorate is under siege from the Greens…………

It was always the Coalition, of course, that had the ideological attachment to coal as an energy source. The Nationals, in particular, appear to be moving away from representing farmers to supporting what is buried in the earth beneath their crops.

Coal-fired power became a literal touchstone in the culture wars, an identity stance that Liberals and Nationals clung to even in the face of all market and scientific evidence of its limitations and harms.

It is Labor that has always had the political problem with coal. It needed to convince its blue-collar base it cared about jobs and electricity prices, while also being serious about emissions reduction. But Labor is also the only side of politics that has ever been effective on emissions reduction, instituting in 2012 the only sensible mechanism to bring emissions down – a carbon price and emissions trading scheme.

It worked, in the short time it was operational, before being abolished by Tony Abbott, elected in a 2013 landslide to do exactly that.

The energy prop has changed now, with Morrison this week announcing he wants a “gas-led recovery” for the post-COVID-19 future. He is backing slowly away from coal.

In a speech in the Hunter Valley – a carefully chosen location given its significance in Labor’s own climate wars – he said there was “no credible energy transition plan for an economy like Australia that does not involve the greater use of gas”.

Details of his plan were scant. It is a plan for a plan. Morrison issued an ultimatum to electricity companies, saying if the industry did not back “dispatchable” electricity generation by next year, taxpayer money would be used to build a gas-fired power plant in the Hunter Valley, replacing the near-defunct Liddell coal plant at Muswellbrook………

Most Australians are too stressed by contemporary events, and fatigued by the climate wars, to follow the detail, which is complex. But Morrison will be able to use his “gas-led recovery” rhetoric to hedge.

His government no longer has to fight a rearguard action in defence of coal, an energy source that markets have firmly turned away from, and which public opinion is swaying against. But his party can still keep its distance from the renewable energy sources to which it seems to nurse an ideological objection. It remains to be seen if the plan will work to reduce emissions, or ensure low electricity prices.

Meanwhile, business continues to move ahead faster than the government. On Friday, BlackRock, the world’s largest investor, with $US7.32 trillion in assets under management, released a report showing that more than 1000 global companies and other organisations had signed up to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure standards.

………Morrison’s plan for a plan will stand in for an energy policy, for now, from a government that has thoroughly betrayed the electorate on this issue for the seven years it has been in power. In that time, the earth has warmed further, and Australia has had a good taste of what is yet to come in terms of climate devastation.

September 21, 2020 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming, politics

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