04 August 2015
by Giles Parkinson

Tony Abbott’s war on clean energy – and business people who speak out

The most recent head of the National Australia Bank, one of the country’s most powerful financial institutions, has made extraordinary revelations about the back-lash from government to business that dared speak out in support of sensible climate change and renewable energy policies.

In an opinion piece for Fairfax Media, and later in interviews with Fairfax and ABC Radio, the now retired Cameron Clyne lamented the economically reckless policies of the current government and the “will-ful ignorance and blindness of political leaders and some business people in Australia.”

And he also spoke of retribution to those who did speak out.

“You put your head out there and it’s going to get smashed off,”

he told Fairfax Media. Later, he told ABC National; National program that he had suffered months of “emails and abuse” after supported a carbon price in 2011, and the political environment had worsened under the Abbott government.

Clyne’s comments confirm what has been obvious to most, but also reveals the extraordinary behind-the-scenes pressure imposed by a government installed to essentially to frustrate climate change action and to block the development of renewable energy.

The Abbott government has scrapped the carbon price and slashed the renewable energy target. Its policies have resulted in a surge in energy industry emissions and an investment drought in renewable energy.

It has also dismantled the Climate Commission, and cut funding for climate change research. It has tried, and failed, to scrap the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Behind the scenes, government bureaucrats are told that the words clean energy, clean-tech and climate change are not to be used, and there are myriad reports of the intense pressure that government ministers have put incredible pressure on business people who speak in favour of a carbon price or renewable energy, or who are seen to criticize government policy.

In recent weeks, the Abbott government has gone out of its way to try to scare off international investment in renewable energy, saying it does not like or want wind turbines, and responded to the Labor government’s announced target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030 by saying that 23.5 per cent renewable energy was more than enough. It has instructed the CEFC to stop investing in wind energy and in financing arrangements that would make rooftop solar more easily attainable for business, renters, communities and low income families.

Clyne finds this extraordinary, given the “staggering speed” of the move by the world towards renewables. He said it was economically reckless not to diversify the country’s energy mix, and rely on exports that may no longer be wanted.

“The quiet energy revolution has been gathering pace, with the average cost of solar and wind power (and battery technologies) plummeting as technologies develop and deploy,” Clyne wrote in his Fairfax piece.

“I mention “average” costs, because the marginal costs of solar and wind are, of course, zero, and I don’t think any of us have grasped quite how revolutionary that will prove to be for energy markets in the longer run.”

The Abbott government has relied heavily on advice from the likes of Maurice Newman and Dick Warburton and others, conservative business leaders who say they do not accept the science of climate change and reject renewable energy.

The Abbott government has repeatedly coal industry marketing points, such as that “coal is good for humanity” and the key to relieving energy poverty, despite this being rejected by the likes of World Bank and Oxfam, and the focus of the Indian and Chinese governments on renewables rather than imported coal.

“Turning away from the problem will not make the problem go away. It seems some in Australia are willfully blind to these problems and the problems this poses for our nation and its economic and social fabric,” Clyne wrote.

In an interview with Radio National, Clyne gave an indication of how business leaders in Australia are shouted down and intimidated when speaking out on climate change and renewable energy.

“They do fear, particularly from this government, a backlash,"

Clyne said.

Even in 2011, when Clyne openly supported a market based scheme, – Tony Abbott’s dreaded “great big tax”, Clyne said he had suffered months of backlash and emails and abuse.

Nothing he had said was particularly radical. But business people don’t think it is worth it. “The political environment has got more charged since then,” Clyne said.

He said Australia is missing extraordinary investment opportunities in renewables, and investors and business people overseas “scratching their heads about what is going on in Australia.”

“The world is moving, and moving quite rapidly towards renewables.”