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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Anna Krien on the climate wars

July 3, 2017

Melbourne-born author Anna Krien’s latest Quarterly Essay explores the debates on climate change policy in Australia and the ecological effects of not acting.

She interviewed farmers, scientists, Indigenous groups, and activists from Bowen to Port Augusta. She says climate change denialism has transformed into “climate change nihilism”.

Krien says the Finkel review provides another opportunity in a long line of proposals to take up the challenge of legislating clean energy. “We just need to get that foot in the door. The door has been flapping in the wind for the past decade.”

On a current frontline battle – the planned Adani Carmichael coalmine – she found the people who would be affected were being ignored and blindsided.

Meanwhile, the potential for exploitation of local Indigenous peoples through “opaque” native title legislation was high. “Outsiders are not meant to understand it and to tell you the truth you get the sense that insiders aren’t meant to understand it either.”

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Alan Finkel on the future of Australia’s energy market

June 23, 2017

Despite the government still considering his proposal for a clean energy target (CET) – after endorsing his other 49 recommendations – Chief Scientist Alan Finkel is optimistic the CET remains firmly on the agenda.

Finkel’s challenging task has been to put forward a scheme to bring Australia’s energy market into the future, providing certainty for investment and supply. His plan has required a balance between appeasing consumers on prices and meeting Australia’s commitments on climate change.

This is made harder by the desire of many in the government to push on with developing new “clean-coal-fired” power stations, a term Finkel describes as “a murky concept”. “There is no prohibitions in any of our recommendations. The government has to decide whether to license new technologies,” he says.

Asked about the concept of “reverse auctions” – better called competitive tenders – he says this is “widely recognised to be the most cost-effective means of bringing the lowest cost solution into the market”. But that’s dependent on the wisdom of the entity running the auction rather than the wisdom of investors.

Overall, Finkel acknowledges there’s a hard road ahead for policymaking on energy. “Transitions are always painful,” he says.

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