25 July 2015
by Giles Parkinson

Shorten slams Coalition ‘flat earthers’ as incumbents bite back

Labor leader Bill Shorten appears to have rediscovered his and the party’s climate change mojo – promising an emissions trading scheme, a 50 per cent renewable energy target, and slamming Tony Abbott’s society of “flat Earthers”.

Shorten, in his speech to the Labor national conference in Melbourne, described the attacks on wind energy by Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey as “grotesque”.

He said he wanted more solar panels on Australian rooftops – homes, schools, shops and businesses. He said these would help cut power bills for consumers and put electricity back into the grid. But he also wanted to help accelerate the deployment of battery storage.

“2014 was the warmest year in recorded history,” Shorten said. “The evidence is in, the science is settled. Climate change is not ‘absolute crap’, it is an inescapable fact. And if we take a do-nothing approach, there will be more extreme weather.”

To which he added later: “Climate change is an economic and environmental cancer – and it demands early intervention. Mark Butler is right, this is no longer a question of Australia leading the world – it is a matter of keeping up.

“If the world’s biggest capitalist nation, and the world’s biggest planned economy can agree climate change is a priority – it’s time Australia did so too.

“Mr Abbott’s society of flat-earthers talk a lot of nonsense about Labor policies – but they’re right about one thing. There is, absolutely, a clear-cut choice between Labor and the Liberals on renewable energy.

“Mr Abbott is a throwback to a world that never existed … Out of his depth, and out of touch. Australians deserve better than a prime minister who wants to make them afraid of the future.”

Shorten appears to have polling on his side – numerous polls suggest that the Australian population is warming to the idea of more ambitious renewable energy policies, and although there is suggestion that an electricity price scare campaign could get traction, there is now the prospect that the two major parties will go to a poll with distinctive climate change and renewable energy policies; for the first time since 2007 when John Howard was forced to rapidly adopt similar policies in a failed attempt to stop the Kevin Rudd juggernaut.

Right now, it seems, the Abbott government is seeking to entrench its rearguard position – no carbon price, no increase in renewables, and a big scare campaign. Indeed, environment minister Greg Hunt, who is leading the price campaign, has said the Coalition’s renewables support will cease in 2020.

The scale of the resistance from vested interests has been highlighted by the response to Shorten’s 50 per cent renewable energy plans from the energy industry, big business, and the Murdoch Media.

All are fighting against the idea that coal-fired power stations should close early – at least without major handouts – or that networks should be written down to recognise the fact that ageing assets are being rapidly overtaken by newer, smarter, cheaper technologies.

The Energy Users Association, which represents manufacturers and retailers, said it doubted that Australia could effect such a change, and the policy “ignored the operations of our unique electricity market” which was built on “the back of inexpensive and available energy sources.”

It refused to entertain a write-down of network values, and said houses installing solar and battery storage were simply adding costs to other users.

“These assets cannot be junked, cannot be quickly written off and are paid for by consumers and users still in the system,” said EUA CEO Phil Barresi, who was a Federal Liberal Party MP for 11 years.

The Energy Supply Association of Australia, which represents networks and power generators, has also reacted fiercely against the proposed Labor platform, particularly the idea of encouraging more renewable energy.

The Murdoch media continued its assault on the policy, with some commentators again dismissing the science of climate change as a hoax, and The Australian‘s economics writer, Adam Creighton, suggesting that the current coal-heavy energy mix was entirely “satisfactory”.

In an extraordinary column, Creighton borrowed a glad-bag full of the Coalition’s talking points about the supposed costs and impacts of renewable energy, dismissed wind turbine manufacturers as “rent seekers” and described renewable energy as a “religion”. His proposal is to “spend nothing” on the energy market and leave coal generators untouched.

The question none of them answer is how Australia proposes to maintain its fleet of ageing coal-fired generation and keep a lid on costs of doing that, and address carbon emissions.

Shorten, however, said that Labor would not be sidelined by such campaigns – as it clearly had been in 2010 when it dumped the carbon price and began a bitter and protracted leadership battle that saw two leaders fall.

“And if Mr Abbott wants to make the next election a contest about who has the best policy solution for climate change… I’ve got a three-word-slogan for him: Bring.It.On"