Thursday, 21 September 2017

Is Tony Abbott the Joker of Australian politics?

Tony Abbott and trust

Abbott's disruption is raising the question: where will it end?

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Tony Abbott has reportedly threatened to cross the floor if there is any attempt to legislate a clean energy target.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Even in today’s often bizarre political environment, Tuesday night’s encounter between Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin and Alan Jones on Sky News was surreal.

Credlin, Abbott’s former chief-of-staff, now works for Sky, where she more often than not is a sharp critic of the Turnbull government. Jones, a highly opinionated voice on 2GB who has a weekly Sky program, spruiks for the former prime minister’s return to the leadership. Abbott is running a jihad against renewables, increasing the pressure on Malcolm Turnbull as the government struggles to bring together an energy policy.

It was a cosy threesome, and the off-air chit-chat would have been gold.

Among the on-air gems was Credlin asking Abbott whether he trusted Turnbull, because “you know and I know what happened in 2009”. What they both knew, according to Credlin, was that Turnbull ordered one line to be taken in negotiations over an emissions trading scheme while “telling the partyroom something completely different”.

Credlin wondered: “Do you trust the prime minister is going to do the right thing or is he going to sign you up to a clean energy target without proper debate?”

Abbott said the important thing was that the decision would have to go through the partyroom where there are “extremely serious reservations about this clean energy target”.

Abbott has poked and prodded at Turnbull on a range of fronts for two years, steadily raising the heat in recent months.

Now his disruption has reached a new level – so much so that one wonders how it can go on without coming to a blow up.

Constantly out in the public arena, Abbott currently is upping the ante over energy policy, and campaigning hard for a No vote in the same-sex marriage postal ballot.

On the latter Turnbull, a strong Yes advocate but leading a government split on the question, is in the hands of those who chose to vote in the voluntary “survey”. On the former, he’s ultimately in the partyroom’s hands. On both issues, these are uncomfortable and risky places to be.

Abbott’s onslaught against renewables is more than just disgruntlement from a man deposed. It’s a well-honed attack. Just like the one he and others mounted against Turnbull in 2009 over carbon pricing, which triggered Turnbull’s fall as leader and Abbott’s (unexpected) ascension.

Liberals still don’t think Abbott could recapture the prime ministership. But his power to harm an embattled Turnbull is enormous.

He is working on fertile ground in the energy area. A sizeable section of the Coalition is deeply antipathetic to renewables.

The Nationals’ federal conference recently called for the renewables’ subsidies to be phased out.

Turnbull initially seemed enthusiastic about Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s clean energy target, although he always made it clear a policy based on it must include clean coal.

But he has stepped further and further towards playing up the role of coal, to the point of his face-off with AGL over its determination to close its Liddell power station.

In his comments, Abbott notes Turnbull’s greater emphasis on coal, saying – with a touch of condescension – that he thinks Turnbull has “got the message” which is to his “credit”.

But Abbott has put the bar as high as possible. It’s not just a matter of allowing coal into the clean energy target – a target mustn’t be countenanced. “It would be unconscionable – I underline that word – unconscionable for a government that was originally elected promising to abolish the carbon tax and to end Labor’s climate obsessions to go further down this renewable path.”

In that one sentence Abbott seeks to own energy policy, both past and future.

The Australian on Wednesday reported that Abbott has threatened to cross the floor if there is any attempt to legislate a clean energy target, and would likely be followed by others. He wrote in an opinion piece for the paper that “the Liberal and National backbench might need to save the government from itself”.

He is inciting the followers to constrain their leader before or, at the extreme, after the decisions on energy policy are made. Usually, the decision-making flows downward, from the prime minister and the cabinet to a backbench that is consulted but basically told what will be done.

It’s nearly impossible for Turnbull and ministers to handle the rampaging backbencher. They try to dodge and weave. “I don’t think a former prime minister is going to move to put a Labor government into power,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said on Wednesday.

It’s counterproductive for them to get into a slanging match with Abbott, not least because the policy formulation still seems to be in shifting sands and also because they don’t want to agitate an already touchy backbench.

If Turnbull and the government embrace a clen energy target the danger is that Abbott might indeed be able to foment a revolt which, depending on the outcome, could be humiliating, or a lot worse, for Turnbull.

To the extent that Turnbull is forced to gesture to the Abbott line in the decisions made, Abbott will claim the credit.

The ConversationBut the more Abbott’s anti-renewables position can get traction, the worse the policy problem for the government. Turnbull may ensure coal has some prominence in the long-term policy mix but if the government were perceived to be turning against renewables, a growing industry would be set back, causing further investment chaos.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

A few words from Barrie Cassidy on the wisdom of attacking AGL

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The old boy is back and he's cross - a little song as Howard slams Turnbull

The politically correct with no sense of humour and some political news and views

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Are Sir Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor to blame? And some other suggested political reads for the day

  • In London's Financial Times Senior Tories play blame game over general election disaster has the Australian duo of Sir Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor on centre stage.  
  • As there are increasing calls for Australia to take in Rohingya refugees there s a cautionary snippet, again in the FT, saying that the Indian government believes Rohingya Muslims are "a potential security threat" after the emergence last year of a trained and well funded group of Rohingya militants led by Saudi-based émigrés.
  • And an election update from Russia provided by Reuters, At a Russian polling station, phantom voters cast ballots for the 'Tsar'. "At polling station no. 333 in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, Reuters reporters only counted 256 voters casting their ballots in a regional election on Sunday. People were voting across Russia in what is seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential vote. Kremlin candidates for regional parliaments and governorships performed strongly nationwide.When the official results for polling station no. 333 were declared, the turnout was first given as 1,331 before being revised up to 1,867 on Tuesday.... - with 73 percent of the votes going to United Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin."
  • Carmakers face electric reality as combustion engine outlook dims FRANKFURT (Reuters) - European car bosses are beginning to address the realities of mass vehicle electrification, and its consequences for jobs and profit, their minds focused by government pledges to outlaw the combustion engine.
  • A note on the ethics of the pharmaceutical industry - Drug maker ducks patent law by pretending its drugs belong to Mohawk tribe
  • Trump review leans toward proposing mini-nuke - Politico reports that the Trump administration is considering proposing smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons that would cause less damage than traditional thermonuclear bombs — a move that would give military commanders more options but could also make the use of atomic arms more likely.
  • China-born New Zealand MP probed by spy agency

Michelle Grattan on the Government and AGL

Treating AGL with public contempt seems hardly the way to get the best outcome

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Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg accused AGL of wanting to have its cake and eat it too.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If anyone thinks the government isn’t behaving in a extraordinary manner in its onslaught against AGL over the future of the Liddell power station, just consider what the Coalition would say if a Labor government acted like this.

It would go beserk.

After hauling in AGL chief executive Andy Vesey on Monday, the government took its roughing up of the company to new levels on Tuesday.

Malcolm Turnbull accused AGL of not knowing what alternative it has to closing Liddell, despite the company previously flagging a plan.

Barnaby Joyce suggested its reluctance to sell Liddell was a case of “shorting the market”.

Following the report from the Australian Energy Market Operator of an expected electricity shortfall over coming years, the government is pressing AGL to keep the coal-fired Liddell station going for at least five years beyond its scheduled 2022 closure, or to sell it.

At Monday’s meeting with Turnbull and ministers, Vesey said the company would come back within 90 days with an alternative plan.

Vesey did agree, obviously reluctantly, to take the government’s options to its board. But that night he told the ABC’s Lateline: “I think that we are committed to finding the best solution for the market. We believe that we can deliver that without having to consider the extension or sell the plant. And that is what we are going to work on.”

Turnbull on Tuesday said the company had not articulated an alternative so the government did not know what it was. “And frankly, I don’t think they do either, by the way. If they had a plan, they’d be able to put it on the table now.”

Yet Vesey’s post-meeting statement had noted AGL had “previously advised the market that replacement of capacity will likely be provided by a mix of load shaping and firming from gas peaking plant, demand response, pumped hydro and batteries”. The company had canvassed the plan in its August report to the ASX.

Joyce didn’t mince words when he addressed Tuesday’s Coalition partyroom meeting. “AGL’s refusal to sell Liddell shows they are shorting the market. They will probably make more money out of having one operating coal-fired power station than two,” he said. AGL also has the Bayswater power station in New South Wales, which is near Liddell (as well as Loy Yang in Victoria).

Asked later on Sky about his comment, Joyce was reluctant to be so explicit. “I could never affirm to that otherwise I’d be off to court,” he said. “What I can say is this question has not been reasonably answered: why? Why pull a power plant to pieces if there are people out there who want to buy it?” He said he knew of two entities interested in buying Liddell.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg accused the company of wanting to have its cake and eat it too – promote its exit from coal while staying in coal for decades to come. He and Joel Fitzgibbon, in whose Hunter electorate Liddell is situated, had a very public face-off in the press gallery corridor.

In Question Time, Turnbull accused Fitzgibbon and another Labor MP of being collaborators with and apologists for Vesey and AGL.

The bashing of AGL – accompanied of course by a blame game against past Labor policies for high energy prices – sounded desperate.

If the government were serious about trying to persuade AGL to sell Liddell, wouldn’t some lower-key negotiation be the better way to go?

And if AGL, which has given years of notice of the close of Liddell, believes the shortfall can effectively be dealt with by other ways, surely it is premature to be so dismissive of what it is saying?

Treating the company and its chief executive with public contempt seems hardly the way to get the best outcome.

But the government is heavily driven by a combination of policy paralysis, electoral fear, and perception of a political opportunity.

An Essential poll published on Tuesday shows it has an uphill battle in front of it to persuade voters it is on top of the energy challenge. When people were asked which party they thought would be more likely to deliver lower energy prices, 28% said a Labor government, compared with 19% who said a Coalition government, while 35% believed there would be no difference.

The government is riven by division over the path ahead for its long-term policy, with those who give coal a high priority recently gaining increasing sway, and hauling Turnbull in their direction.

Meanwhile the government is trying to escape the odium of soaring power prices. Apart from hanging them on Labor, one way is to exploit the fact that, like the banks, power companies are villains in the public mind. So the government is painting the one in its immediate sights as grasping and gouging for profits.

But there is no guarantee the approach will succeed and it could backfire. What if, as appears most likely at the moment, AGL decides to resist the thuggery and persist with its plan? The government can’t force the company to bend to its wishes. In those circumstances, it would have to hope the AGL plan was sound or find other sources of supply.

Meanwhile the messages the government is sending are likely to raise concerns in business generally. Its conduct is going beyond its demonstrated willingness, on a range of fronts, to intervene in a very active way on energy.

The ConversationIt is unedifying bullying, in which some might even see echoes of Malcolm Turnbull’s former corporate days.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.