Politics with Michelle Grattan
Tony Wood on the unprecedented energy crisis

Tony Wood on the unprecedented energy crisis

June 17, 2022

As the energy crisis continues to grip Australia’s east coast with consumers told to limit their consumption and warnings of blackouts Tony Wood, director of the energy program at the Grattan Institute, speaks with Michelle Grattan about why this has happened and what can be done to fix the system.

The crisis is unprecedented, Wood says. “We’ve certainly seen situations where things have got very tight[…] But this sort of extended period when we’ve had major power outages and real stress on the entire system for such a long time has never been seen before.”

He says the crisis could have been minimised if past governments had worked to “address climate change” and “bring on more renewables” as well as all the technology to support a renewables industry.

That being said, Wood points out there are other factors also driving the crisis.

“We still would have had the weather patterns we had in the south, on the east coast of Australia, that caused all the rain and caused all the flooding of the coal mines that interrupted power supply. And of course, we wouldn’t have prevented the Ukraine war and we probably would have had real stress on the gas supply system.”

Wood argues that “things became very complicated very quickly”, as the crisis developed.

On whether the crisis is in part a result of power companies playing the system, he says: “I don’t honestly think the companies were trying to game the system, but I think the commercial arrangements were so complicated [that the Australian Energy Market Operator taking over the system] was the only solution.”

Some have suggested the crisis has been worsened because many assets have been privatised. Wood disagrees. “I don’t think this is a fundamental failure of privatisation […] I do think it’s a fundamental physical problem and government ownership wouldn’t have made much difference.”

“Transitions are always difficult things […] I think we can see where we’re going. It’s got to be a system which is overwhelmingly dominated by renewable energy.”

“In the short term, we are going to manage this transition carefully, which means as we adopt more and more renewables, we’re going to need some of these coal-fired power stations and gas-fired power stations to maintain the stability and the reliability of the system. They should only be there as necessary to support that transition.”

“I have no doubt we can move to net zero by 2050. But remember, it will be net zero. It won’t be absolute zero. And of course, the sooner we start really seriously creating momentum in that direction, the more likely we are to get there and the more likely it is we’ll get there without too much cost.”

Bowen says “bumpy” time ahead for power supply – but don’t turn the heater off

Bowen says “bumpy” time ahead for power supply – but don’t turn the heater off

June 14, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

This week Michelle and politics editor Amanda Dunn discuss the apparent early signs of a thaw in China’s attitude towards Australia. But Anthony Albanese has responded by saying China needs to do something tangible – removing trade restrictions it has imposed on Australia.

On the domestic front, Energy Minister Chris Bowen warns of a “bumpy” time ahead for power supplies but says you should keep the heater on (just switch off outside lights if they’re not needed).

Amanda and Michelle also canvass the people smugglers testing the new government on border protection, and Friday’s national cabinet meeting where premiers will be pressing the federal government for more funds for their struggling health systems.

Warm smiles in Indonesia, but chillier news

Warm smiles in Indonesia, but chillier news

June 7, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

While Anthony Albanese this week continued to receive a warm reception abroad, at home the new government faced more difficult news. In this podcast Michelle and politics + society editor Amanda Dunn canvass Tuesday’s 50 basis points rise in interest rates – the latest cost of living blow for many families – and Albanese’s trip to deepen Australia’s relationship with Indonesia. They also take a look at the new shadow ministry, announced by Peter Dutton and David Littleproud on Sunday.

Tony Burke advocates on wages and arts

Tony Burke advocates on wages and arts

June 2, 2022

Tony Burke is the minister for employment and workplace relations and minister for the arts, as well as the leader of the House of Representatives.  
One of his first tasks is the government's new submission for the minimum wage case, which will say these workers should not be left behind, as inflation has spiked. 

If the Fair Work Commission gives a 5.1% rise, in line with inflation, is there a case for it not flowing through to awards, or all awards? 

"I can't imagine a situation where there was no flow-through at all. The commission always has the capacity to work out how the flow-through might happen."  He notes one option floated has been a flat dollar increase so the flow-through happened differently. 

"The commission will work that through. But certainly there are many awards that are not far from the minimum wage. 

"And when we talk about the heroes of the pandemic  a lot of those people are on those awards. So while the focus  has been specifically  minimum wage, I tend to use the term low-paid workers." 

On reforming parliament, Burke says he is not trying to get rid of the anger. He doesn't want to turn parliament into "a quiet, polite dinner party". 

"The debate is fierce and passionate and real. I think that matters and I think it's good for democracy."

Nor is he in favour of scrapping "dorothy dixers", because the government needs the opportunity to tell the house what it is doing.  

But there will be more questions for the larger crossbench, and he flags the government won't so routinely shut down opposition moves for debates. 

"Standing Orders say there's one question from the crossbench. With a crossbench as large as what we're now facing, that's just not sustainable."

Without changing that, "you're effectively telling a very large number of Australians that because they didn't vote for a major party, their voice is going to be heard less."

 Burke says he has a passion for the arts – he was briefly arts minister at the end of the last Labor government –  and laments a lack of a cultural policy in recent years.
 
 "In cultural terms, what the arts, events, entertainment sector do matters to who we are as Australians. And that affects your education policy, your health policy, your trade policy, your foreign affairs policy. Nor has there been any guidance that these are serious industries and these are serious jobs."
 
The arts are really important in giving people a capacity to imagine and create, Burke says. They are "really important for us as a nation. I don't think we've had an arts minister see it as a priority in that sense for a long time, and I really want to bring that back". 

Word from The Hill: Albanese’s ministry mixes stability and surprise

Word from The Hill: Albanese’s ministry mixes stability and surprise

June 1, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

In this podcast Michelle and politics + society editor Amanda Dunn canvass Anthony Albanese’s ministry, with its record number of women in cabinet but one woman, Tanya Plibersek, having her portfolio unexpectedly switched.

Peter Dutton, on being elevated to Liberal leader, flagged he’d pitch to the suburbs and small business. Meanwhile the Nationals showed that holding all the party’s seats (and winning an extra one) doesn’t guarantee the leader keeps his job. Barnaby Joyce was dispatched, in favour of the rather less flamboyant David Littleproud, to the relief of many Liberals.

Meanwhile, Anthony Albanese will be off to Indonesia next week, in his second overseas trip since winning office.

Historian Frank Bongiorno reflects on elections present and past

Historian Frank Bongiorno reflects on elections present and past

May 19, 2022

Every election is unique, but each also presents comparisons and contrasts with elections past.

In this podcast, Australian National University history professor Frank Bongiorno gives his insights into the current battle but also takes the long views of campaigns.

Bongiorno talks about the role of leaders in what’s often dubbed the “presidential” election age (“a kind of proxy for judgements about policy”) and how Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese are presenting themselves.

The debate on wages and inflation has overtones of the arguments in the 1970s and 1980s, but “sort of minus the policy”.

This was supposed to be a “khaki” election, but the khaki has faded during the campaign, perhaps unsurprisingly. Most often, Australians are solidly focused on domestic issues when they vote.

The “teals” have been a special feature of this campaign. But are they a new version of other breakaways, like the Australian Democrats of old?

The rise of voter disillusionment is a feature of recent elections, as is the detachment of voters from the major parties. Not so long ago, about seven in ten voters voted at each election the same way as they had voted throughout their lives, Bongiorno says, based on the ANU’s Australian Election Study. But now it is just under four in ten. “That means there’s a growing number of voters whose support is biddable, and the independents and minor parties are benefiting from that kind of loosening of the hold of the major parties over the voters.”

Five seats to watch on Saturday night, and getting the hang of a hung parliament

Five seats to watch on Saturday night, and getting the hang of a hung parliament

May 17, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

In this podcast Michelle and politics + society editor Amanda Dunn canvass the Coalition’s “super” housing pitch, five seats to eyeball on Saturday night, and what would happen if the parliamentary numbers were “hung”.

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Grattan Institute’s Danielle Wood on election’s thin policy debate

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Grattan Institute’s Danielle Wood on election’s thin policy debate

May 11, 2022

Danielle Wood is the CEO of the Grattan Institute, an independent think tank, Its purpose is to research and advocate policies to improve Australians’ lives.

Wood laments the dearth of policy debate in this election.

“There was a lot of optimism when we were coming out of COVID that this might be a period of genuine policy reform. It certainly was a period that laid bare a lot of challenges. We saw trust in government go up and there was a lot of talk of building back better in the sense that government might do some of those big things. But clearly, that’s not the election we’re in right now,” she says.

“We are now in a world where we’ve come out of COVID with government much bigger than what we went in. So we’ve baked in this higher spending on aged care, higher spending on defence, a higher spending on the NDIS.

 

"In fact, size of governments increase about 2% of GDP, which is pretty extraordinary. Yet we’ve had no conversation about how we pay for that.”

Climate change is to the fore in the minds of many economists as well as voters, and a central feature of “teal” candidates’ campaigns. But the government and Labor are not talking about it a great deal in the campaign.

“I think it’s really interesting to see economists so galvanised by that. We need to get on the path to net zero by 2050. Both major parties have signed on to that as a target. That is a massive economic transition. And frankly, if we don’t start making serious headway over the next decade, we’re going to leave ourselves with a very large and very disruptive task through the 2030s and forties.”

Anthony Albanese this week found himself under attack after advocating a 5.1% rise (reflecting the latest inflation figure) in the minimum wage. Wood says: “Locking in very high wage rises right now is not the right answer. But that’s not to say that wages growing at 2% is a good answer either. So it’s somewhere in between.”

Australia needs to increase productivity, but where should the focus be? “I would like to see a focus on education. There are things we can do in health as well, such as primary care reform, which could make a big difference […] And remember, that’s a big area in the economy and spending.”

Should we be more worried than we are about Australia’s debt level? “I’m not worried about the current levels of debt in terms of sustainability. Obviously we’ve come out of COVID with much higher debt levels than we went in with. But based on at least the current interest profile, it’s very serviceable and sustainable.”

Scott Morrison defends Katherine Deves (again), but slips up on surgery detail

Scott Morrison defends Katherine Deves (again), but slips up on surgery detail

May 11, 2022

As well as her interviews with politicians and experts, Politics with Michelle Grattan includes “Word from The Hill”, where she discusses the news with members of The Conversation politics team.

In this podcast Michelle and politics + society editor Amanda Dunn canvass how the interest rate rise has played against the government, Scott Morrison defending Katherine Deves (again), the major parties’ keeping the climate change issue low key, “gotcha” questions, and the coming Liberal launch.

Dave Sharma, Allegra Spender, and Kerryn Phelps on the contest for Wentworth

Dave Sharma, Allegra Spender, and Kerryn Phelps on the contest for Wentworth

May 5, 2022

In the Wentworth Project, sponsored by the University of Canberra’s Centre for Change Governance and The Conversation, we are tapping into voters’ opinions in this seat, which appears to be on a knife edge.

In this podcast we talk with the two main candidates, Liberal incumbent Dave Sharma and “teal” independent Allegra Spender, as well as with Kerryn Phelps, the former independent member in the seat, who has mentored Spender and is on the advisory council of Climate 200, which is donating to her campaign.

Sharma says “Kerryn Phelps was a genuine independent candidate or a more traditional independent candidate. […] This independent candidate is really sort of a franchise or party operation.”

Sharma casts the teals, who are challenging Liberals in a range of city seats, as reflecting “populism as a political force”.

“People think populism only belongs to the right because of Donald Trump. I think the independents are basically harnessing a populist mood, which is similar to what Donald Trump did, which is ‘a curse on all your houses.’”

Morrison is not campaigning in the teal seats (though he goes to Wentworth to visit his mother). Asked how much the Prime Minister is a drag on the vote, Sharma stresses the team. “Scott Morrison is the leader of our team and the spokesperson for the team. But it’s also got a range of ministers in there who control different portfolios and we’re putting ourselves forward, and I certainly am here, as a team.”

Spender says “there’s a feeling amongst the community that I hear, that they feel that the parties are looking after themselves first and the community after”.

On a possible hung parliament, she says, “I would be willing to work with either party, or major party on supply and confidence, because I want stable government”. She would talk first to whichever side had the greatest number of seats.

Wentworth is seeing enormous spending. Spender says her campaign will probably spend between $1.3 and $1.5 million (with something under 30% expected to come from Climate 200).

She favours caps on spending and donations. “I’d like to see a cap in what individuals or companies can give. I’d like to see real time information in terms of what has been given. And then I think at the same time, you need to look at political advertising and how that is used because the government just spent $30 million spruiking their clean energy credentials […] immediately before the election being called.”

Kerryn Phelps says of Wentworth: “I’ve had a medical practise in Double Bay for around two decades, and so I know the community well. It’s generally seen as an affluent community, but it’s actually quite diverse. There are clearly strong beliefs about the economy and business. And so a candidate would need to have business experience. But the people also have a very strong social conscience. They’re very environmentally aware. And I think that’s particularly highlighted by the fact that it’s bounded by the harbour and the ocean.”

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