AGL chief economist Tim Nelson on what to do with Liddell

September 21, 2017

In the eye of the storm over energy policy is Liddell, an ageing coal-fired power station owned by energy giant AGL.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has twisted the arm of AGL chief executive Andy Vesey to take to the company’s board the proposition that it should extend the plant’s life beyond its scheduled 2022 closure, or alternatively sell it to an operator that would carry it on.

AGL chief economist Tim Nelson says the company is running the rule over both options but he argues preserving the power station may not be the best solution. “The decision is not just economic, it is also also a commitment on carbon risk.”

Nelson says the emissions profile of extending the life of coal-fired power stations is inconsistent with current commitments in AGL’s greenhouse gas policy and the government’s undertakings under the Paris climate accord. Add to that the hefty rehabilitation costs for 50-year-old Liddell and it seems “the numbers don’t add up”.

While AGL is reviewing government options, it is so far sticking to its alternatives for the site – repurposing it, or repowering it with zero-emissions technology.

But without a coherent policy framework it is hard to see an orderly transition in the energy market. Nelson says a clean energy target could fix the uncertainty, encouraging the replacement of old technology with a combination of renewables and “complementary capacity from flexible sources”.

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Judith Brett on The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

September 18, 2017

It is popular to look at today’s political challenges through the prism of prime ministers past, but when it comes to former liberal leaders it’s usually Robert Menzies, not Alfred Deakin, who comes to mind.

However Judith Brett, emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University and author, says we have much to learn from Australia’s second prime minister. Her new biography, The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, reveals the intense inner world of one of the most important fathers of Australian federation, who led the fledgling nation for three separate stints.

Brett says Deakin was something of a puzzle - even to himself. As PM he had an unusual double life, anonymously penning political columns for The Morning Post in London - a well kept secret at the time.

He was a gifted orator, but above all he harnessed his optimism to operate a government of compromise at a challenging time. “He saw himself as between the ultras - the ultra tory obstructionists and the part of the Labor party that was firming up as more ideological in his terms.”

Brett argues that despite Deakin’s undeniable charisma and skills in persuasion, his tendency towards great introspection and solitude means he would find the intensity of contemporary politics and media overwhelming.

For today’s two major parties “brand differentiation has become more important than actually solving problems”, Brett says, while Deakin advocated “policy before the needs of the party.”

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Mark Butler on energy uncertainty

September 12, 2017

Pressure is mounting on the government to put an end to energy uncertainty as an Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) report warns of looming power shortages over the next few years.

Opposition climate change and energy spokesman Mark Butler has written about the toxic divisions on energy policy in his recent book, Climate Wars. He recognises there are challenges in the Coalition party room over the Finkel report, but says Labor will negotiate with the government on an energy framework. It wants to avoid an ALP government inheriting the policy chaos.

Responding to the government’s push to extend the life of the Liddell power station, he says Malcolm Turnbull has unfairly concluded there is only one option. “With a proper investment framework in place, new investment that will last decades, not just a few more years … could take place. At the moment we have an investment strike and if we can’t end the investment strike then yes in five years time in NSW we will be in a position of supply shortage.”

On the future of coal, Butler says it’s still “a massive part of our system”, and while usage will go down over time, it will be a part of the system for “as far as we politically can see”.

“The problem is not old coal power plants closing, it’s that nothing is being put in to replace them.”

On alternative sources like battery power he is optimistic about their potential, while sceptical of expanding hydro power until the results of a feasibility study are produced.

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Nick Xenophon on media reform

September 4, 2017

As leader of a senate crossbench party, Nick Xenophon’s position on contentious legislation, currently media reform, is crucial for the government.

He says it’s “not for lack of trying” that the Nick Xenophon Team has not yet reached an agreement with the government on media ownership rules. He is pushing for tax breaks for smaller organisations to promote media diversity. He also opposes concessions that the government has made to Pauline Hanson that would clip the wings of the ABC, saying the NXT would vote against them.

Meanwhile discovery of his dual citizenship means that he is among the politicians now before the high court over their eligibility to be in parliament. He’s been advised he has “the best case of the high court seven”.

He holds serious concerns about another sort of citizenship issue - the government’s proposed tightening of laws for people to become Australians. “I think parts of this legislation simply go too far”.

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Mathias Cormann on the same-sex marriage postal survey

August 20, 2017

When the government didn’t get the numbers to pass legislation for a same-sex marriage plebiscite they put the wheels in motion for their second best plan: a postal survey.

Since announcing that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) would be responsible for carrying out the same-sex marriage postal survey, acting special minister of state Mathias Cormann has had no shortage of questions from journalists and on social media.

In the absence of normal protections offered by the Australian Electoral Commission, Cormann says the government is developing legislation to ensure the respective ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns are respectful.

Similarly, issues around accessibility to the postal vote are being worked out by the ABS, with a paperless option being created for certain circumstances.

On the High Court challenges tabled for August 24 he says that while no forms will be sent out until September 12 - after the issue is resolved - any money spent preparing the postal survey will have been spent. “We believe the course of action we have chosen is constitutional and legal but this is now a matter for the High Court”.

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Derryn Hinch on surviving the Senate

August 10, 2017

After spending a year immersed in the parliamentary machine, broadcaster-turned-senator Derryn Hinch is keen to see a more efficient Senate.

His suggestions include shortening the length of speeches – and thus the opportunity for filibusters – and trimming supplementary questions. He’s frustrated by the government’s “Dorothy Dixers”. “It’s a waste of time,” he says.

As the debate around same-sex marriage continues to affect the government, Hinch has made clear his support for reform.

But he found himself receiving some flak when he voted with the government in a division – which was defeated – to allow debate on its plebiscite bill. He had every intention of voting against the bill, but thought discussion should have been permitted.

On the dual citizenship imbroglio, the former New Zealand citizen made sure he put his affairs in order before the election. He got a backhanded compliment: “If the Human Headline can check it out and fix it, it can’t be that hard”.

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Tiernan Brady on same-sex marriage showdown

August 3, 2017

The issue of same-sex marriage is derailing the government’s attempts to promote its agenda as tension mounts ahead of a special Liberal party meeting on Monday and parliament’s resumption on Tuesday.

The executive director of The Equality Campaign, Tiernan Brady, a leader of the successful ‘yes’ referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland, has been working with activists in Australia to get marriage equality over the line.

He says the majority of MPs and the opposition just “want to find a solution” and that the five Liberal “rebels” trying to get an early parliamentary vote have been “really brave and shown real leadership.”

Brady says the best outcome would be for the government to facilitate a free vote in parliament; a popular vote would be “politically unnecessary, legally unnecessary and legally unbinding”. “The day this happens nobody is going to be less married, and nobody is going to be more gay and the world rolls on, the sky doesn’t fall in.”

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Michael Cooney on an Australian republic

July 28, 2017

Malcolm Turnbull, perhaps Australia’s best-known republican, declared himself “an Elizabethan” during his recent visit to London. Turnbull insists the quest for an Australian republic is on the backburner until Queen Elizabeth’s reign ends.

But Bill Shorten is pushing for an earlier timetable, as is the Australian Republic Movement (ARM). The ARM’s national director, Michael Cooney, argues that becoming a republic would give Australians, who are facing a political system that is breaking if not broken, important new symbols of national unity.

The road to a possible Australian republic has steep obstacles. One is getting an appropriate model. Cooney admits that even within the ARM there are differences over whether the president of an Australian republic should be directly elected or chosen by parliament.

Another challenge is that the younger royals have given the Crown a rather more modern image. But Cooney is confident that when it comes to making decisions about Australia’s head of state, the public will make judgements on the substance. “Australians know the difference between celebrities and the Constitution,” he says.

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Peter Jennings on the home affairs department

July 19, 2017

The new home affairs super ministry announced by Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday is considered by some experts to be unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Peter Jennings, says that while the department would present an array of bureaucratic challenges it is largely a “sensible step”.

Likely benefits include the potential for a much needed improvement to Australia’s ability to address cybersecurity issues and foreign interference. But he says success will depend on how effectively the ministers can work together.

Jennings notes that the “absence of obvious process” behind the announcement of the home affairs department - unlike the “carefully worded, well-researched” Intelligence review - means that the details of the roll-out are unclear.

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Graeme Samuel on data governance

July 13, 2017

Many Australians are worried about the proliferation of data businesses and the government knowing too much about them.

Data Governance Australia chairman Graeme Samuel hopes that a self-regulatory code of conduct will raise the standards among data-driven organisations. Despite the pervasiveness of data in our daily lives, he argues most people don’t understand the extent to which organisations use it.

As a former regulator, Samuel regards government regulation of data as “second-best” and is “there to step in when there is market failure”. In drafting the code, he has consulted closely with businesses and the public to try to “anticipate community concerns into the foreseeable future”.

On the government’s My Health Record – which has been rolled out very slowly – he argues the benefits of a centralised system outweigh privacy concerns, although every effort needs to be made to protect the privacy of health records.

While data offers an opportunity for improved safety, trust in processes is paramount. “We need to be careful, of course, that the issue of security in terms of international terrorism and the like is not used as a superficial excuse for the collection of data to be used for other purposes.”

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