05 October 2016
by David Tyler
The lights go out for the Turnbull government.
Greg Hunt begins the week in attack dog mode. Bill Shorten is “… a blinding hypocrite … a fraud, a charlatan … an absolute failure of leadership,” yaps the Industry and Innovation paragon. Killer Chihuahua Hunt, a former Environment Minister who famously puts coal above coral, is a climate guru, who simply made up the numbers for Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction pledge in Paris last year, a senate enquiry this week reveals. Why would a world’s best minister need to bother with modelling?
When PM Turnbull attacks states’ renewable energy targets in the wake of SA’s power failure he appears similarly unfettered by empiricism; equally keen to blame Labor states’ “aggressive” targets.
News that the nation has no modelling for emissions beyond 2020 or for when emissions might peak does not seem to take any of the shine off “My work is done” Hunt’s record, it seems. Instead, it gives him moral authority to savage Shorten, Monday on Sky for putting people before the politics of a plebiscite, a petard of its own devising which appears about to destroy the Turnbull government.
Hunt’s Bill overkill echoes the Liberals’ denunciation of Julia Gillard and their demonisation of both Labor leaders in the witch-hunting hysteria promoted under Abbott’s leadership. Beneath the suave leather jacket of the Turnbull experiment lurks a beast reared on the politics of the lynch mob, not responsible government.
Hunt’s timely derision of Shorten comes just as his government assures us that same sex marriage supporters will not be abused by well-funded nutters on the right but it must fight to make itself heard above the din which erupts when Marriage Alliance’s Sophie York calls marriage equality supporters the “Pagan Caliphate” a term some Islamic representatives attending her organisation’s one hundred strong meeting in Sydney, Monday oddly take exception to whatever they make of her assertion that polygamy will surely follow any move towards marriage equality.
While Hunt’s attack may be beyond all parody, however, it signals something’s up. Even a government accustomed to lurching from crisis to catastrophe can panic when it looks about to run itself off the road thanks to Abbott’s wretched plebiscite.
However scurrilous Hunt may paint him, Shorten will scuttle a dud plebiscite. Dead in the water is the Coalition’s non-binding, expensive and divisive plebiscite on marriage equality which, as The Age notes Sunday, violates the “general principle that the right of minorities should never be subjected to a popular vote”. Paul Bongiorno thinks that Turnbull’s rigidity over the plebiscite will ruin him just as Howard was undone by his refusal to say sorry to Indigenous peoples but ruin is only part of the disaster-prone, self-sabotaging government’s latest crop of misfortunes.
Hunt, whose $1.7 billion Direct Action, fairies at the bottom of the garden carbon abatement plan, pays polluters to plant trees but does nothing to curb emissions, accuses the Opposition leader of deception. He should know. His Monday mongrel routine, however, is to distract us from his party’s gift for turning government into crisis management. Not everyone is deceived, however.
“Neither Menzies, Howard nor Whitlam would have held a plebiscite” offers former High Court judge Michael Kirby, boosting growing concern over Turnbull’s poor judgement before warning. “Parliamentary democracy … is central to our version of democracy. We should be strengthening that formula, not undermining it.”
Kirby’s words fall on deaf ears. One day, dreams Eric Abetz, Hunt will be able to say what he really thinks of Bill’s feeble opposition to having a human right “decided” by plebiscite. And it’s not just Hunt who benefits. 18C of the Racial Vilification Act, Abetz believes, is holding back decent, ordinary, Australians from the all-in, no holds-barred, state-sponsored, cage-fight that we all need should a plebiscite be publicly canvassed. Propagandists opposing same sex marriage need help.
As in Ireland’s same-sex marriage plebiscite campaign, homophobia is dressed up as concern for children. Gays make unsafe parents. Same-sex marriage will increase sexual diseases. Drug use will rise. Jobs will go, warn pamphlets already circulating from opponents who include Chris Miles, former Howard government Liberal M. His speech ought to be liberated, according to Abetz’ nonsense, if he were not fettered by 18C. Tell us what he really thinks. Make us really afraid.
If the federal government lacks the fibre to change the law, moreover, Tasmania will lead the nation. On Monday, Abetz commends Premier Hodgman’s move to amend Section 18C to permit religious bigots to vilify whomever they please – even if he has failed to make any case. To those who warn that the new law will sanction hate speech, Eric generously offers his “confidence in my fellow Tasmanians to have free speech and to exercise it responsibly”.
Be fair. Abetz is making an heroic effort to deal with his AIS, (acquired irrelevance syndrome.) Doubtless it helps to keep yourself busy when you’re no longer wanted in cabinet. Long may he bleat into the island’s prevailing westerlies about how racial abuse is vital to freedom of speech. He can only gain insight into the nature of power and his own insignificance. Right now he’s not making sense. Next thing you know he will be on about a conspiracy.
“Free speech is a precious yet fundamental freedom which has been eroded under the guise of political correctness,” Abetz claims without a shred of evidence. It’s a baseless but persistent lie like the myth that the coalition is better at managing the economy. But it’s in good company. Attacking political correctness mirrors the lunatic logic of the coalition’s case against windfarms or its po-faced advocacy of Direct Action, both clear cases where ideology conspires with the bidding of its powerful backers in the mining industry to blind it to reality. Or adjust its perception.
In May The Climate Institute reported that Direct Action and its Emissions Reduction Fund had increased Australia’s emissions levels at a cost of $90/tonne while in February, Melbourne-based RepuTex revealed government figures show Australia’s emissions increased by 1.3 per cent in 2014-15, the first annual increase in emissions since 2005-06. Yet none of this is any concern to Turnbull’s government which seizes upon SA’s power failure to attack renewable energy in a political point-scoring exercise as remarkable for its invective as its cavalier denial of reality and responsibility.
Turnbull decrees that the SA blackout means we need to ease our “extremely unrealistic renewable” energy targets. He can offer no evidence whatsoever, of course. Six years ago he was in favour of 100% renewable energy by 2020. Now Malcolm Turnaround claims that half the target in twice the time is a recipe for disaster. An innovative PM is taking us back to the future. Tony Abbott wanted no targets at all. But Turnbull’s is no lone, lunatic, voice. Barnaby Joyce and other MPs including Nick Xenophon are a mine of misinformation and alarm. Anyone might think that there’s a well-resourced, industry-based propaganda campaign at work to prolong the use of fossil fuels.
The Climate Change Authority and The Climate Authority report that the only way to meet our Paris targets, in fact, is to keep existing state targets: Victoria’s 40% renewables by 2025, South Australia’s 50% by 2025, Queensland’s 50% by 2030 as Lenore Taylor writes in The Guardian Saturday.
Yet the week sees a concerted attack on our clean energy targets. The ABC takes first prize for its leadership of the case for scapegoating renewable energy and the dissemination of misinformation. Chris Uhlmann is a stand out when he claims “Forty percent of South Australia’s power is wind generated, and that has the problem of being intermittent — and what we understand at the moment is that those turbines aren’t turning because the wind is blowing too fast.” ( In Germany an increase in solar and wind power generation has led to a more stable grid and a halving of costs.)
Other complete nonsense follows. “Windmills produce asynchronous power” a challenge that was met years ago. There was no base load power – apart from the fully operational gas standby. The power went out because storms destroyed the grid. As SA Premier Jay Weatherill points out the blackout was caused by multiple failures of high voltage transmission infrastructure. It would not have mattered if the grid had been completely fossil fuel powered.
No-one listens. There is no retraction; no apology on ABC. Radio National’s Fran Kelly seems to accept Weatherill’s verdict but pursues a mayor in SA who confirms local people are blaming renewables. The Grattan Institute’s criticism of renewables gets much free air support from the National Broadcaster. As Lenore Taylor writes, ‘ one big storm and our climate and energy debate is surging back to peak stupid.
Never one to let a crisis go unexploited, Energy and Environment Minister Josh “Mr. Coal” Freydenberg calls for a COAG energy summit in yet another bid to reduce renewable targets and prolong further the use of coal fired electricity generation before Stuart Robert can explain why property developer Sunland writes his speeches for him.
So ends a week of finger-pointing and death-defying, reality-denying stunts featuring real linesmen and a state power supply as Barnaby and his baloney benders straddle a high wire between willful ignorance and stupidity while on the sawdust far below, a crew of Coalition clowns fall over each other to blame Labor for everything from robbing Gonski to acts of God in South Australia.
Best special effects award goes to Greg Hunt for his replay of Kill Bill. Hunt is just one of a number of Coalition throwbacks still stuck in the glorious past of Dyson Heydon QC’s Royal Commission into the working class. Special thanks must go to the ABC for their hard work in support of Greg and of the Prime Minister and his attack on renewable energy.
ABC Radio National Breakfast eagerly rehashes Hunt’s confected rage in its daily serve of coalition-flavoured commercial tidbits but, as always, there’s a great risk. Will listeners mistake The World’s Greatest Minister’s words for a confession of his own failure as Environment Minister? Or will Turnbull be seen as his target? Hunt’s words could be a cleverly nuanced assessment of his current Prime Minister whose government’s primary vote is now below 40% for the first time according to Newspoll. At 38% the coalition’s primary vote is lower than when Tony Abbott was deposed by Turnbull.
Plebiscite support is also plummeting – down to 39 from 70 per cent earlier this year according to Newspoll who report that 48 per cent of respondents favour a vote by MPs to resolve the issue, an outrageous suggestion.
The plebiscite, along with the war on William Shorten, is a legacy of the Lycra-larrikin, shirt-fronter in Tony Abbott’s sophisticated leadership repertoire akin to sprinkling tacks on the road ahead of his pursuers. At the time Abbott was desperate to stay ahead of the pack. Cutting Gonski funding hadn’t won him any advantage, a move Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, tells the nation is vital if we are to fix the great big mess Labor caused by following its ideological obsession with wasting money providing educational opportunity for the poor.
Federal Education department data published during the week indicates that as many as one in five private schools may be getting more government funding than they should but Birmingham appears to be keener to talk up a “corruption” he perceives at the heart of the Gonski model as a pretext for “rationalising” (always code for cutting) the patchwork of agreements left him by his predecessor Christopher Pyne who was happy to label the report a “conski” without even reading it.
Whatever claims he makes, Birmingham is unlikely to recover any public confidence in the government’s intentions in school funding after his predecessor’s performance and especially after the COAG meeting in March when Malcolm Turnbull threatened to withdraw from school funding altogether – public school funding that is, doubtless to the cheers of his right wing minders for whom public education is to be viewed as an encumbrance and a cost.
Abbott’s cynical plebiscite tactic was calculated to avoid a parliamentary vote on gay marriage and to keep himself nice as poster boy – pin up for the party’s conservative rump. Cory Bernardi comes out this week with a call for the Liberals to express a nuanced version of “go back to where you came from”, “Islam is not a religion” its climate denial and other planks from the One Nation platform. Someone needs to tell Cory that the project is already well in hand.