Leading article Australia

Climate warriors

7 February 2020

10:00 PM

7 February 2020

10:00 PM

It’s been an endless summer but not in the style of the 1966 classic film of sun and surf. Our beloved country, its forests choked with volatile fuel, felt and looked like a war zone. Australians have had to endure not just drought and dust, heat and hail, suffocating smoke and ferocious fires but the cacophony of climate warriors using the megaphone of the media to recontest the last election.

Yet despite the hysterical headlines about the unpopularity and incompetence of the prime minister that have ricocheted around the world, not much has changed. Sure, polls are once again predicting a Labor victory, just as they did for the last six years, undaunted by their dismal track record but the voters haven’t shifted. As one commentator put it, ‘those who did not like Morrison at the last election like him even less today. Those who backed him at the election know he has stumbled, but they are yet to desert him.’  Most importantly, despite the endless haranguing in the media about climate change, voters told pollsters they wanted action, but they don’t want to pay more for electricity or petrol.

That’s good news for the Coalition. It was their policy to bring down energy costs and to reduce emissions that won the election. That policy was crafted by one of the brightest sparks in the Coalition, Angus Taylor, the minister for energy and emissions reduction and PM Morrison is quite right to say he won’t be bullied into changing it.

Indeed, last week, he announced a landmark agreement with the NSW government which guarantees an additional 70 petajoules of gas will be brought to market. This will increase supply in NSW by more than 50 per cent, either through the development of shale gas or the construction of import terminals which will make cheap international gas available, putting enormous downward pressure on prices.

The high cost of gas in Australia – despite our abundant reserves — is a disgrace. In the US, fracking has unleashed a shale gas revolution which has delivered the energy trifecta —cheap, clean, low emission energy. Yet the NSW and Victorian premiers have been too frightened to take on misguided environmentalists despite the fact that Australia’s chief scientists have said gas is safe. Not only are gas-fired plants cheaper to build and cleaner to operate than coal-fired plants and emit 50 per cent less CO2, they can be turned on and off to provide peaking power when required, the necessary back-up to the flood of unreliable renewables that have already been built.

The plan will fund carbon capture and storage and methane reduction from landfill, guarantee the supply of coal for the Mt Piper power station, underwrite the interconnector linking the expanded Snowy-Hydro scheme to the national energy grid and the NSW-Queensland interconnector and support a pilot, large-scale renewable zone to pump as much energy as possible into the grid.

Yes, it all costs money, but given how distorted and dysfunctional the national electricity market has become, this is probably the quickest way to break the impasse, guarantee reliability and significantly reduce electricity prices and emissions. Yet, despite this major achievement, which Mr Taylor has been working on since before the last election, the climate wars resumed in the Coalition. It was triggered by Barnaby Joyce, who has perhaps forgotten that he was the author of his downfall from deputy prime minister and felt the need to challenge for the leadership of the Nationals. There will be no re-Joycing among his followers particularly former Minister for Resources Matt Canavan, who moved to the backbench to support Mr Joyce. Yet Mr Canavan is too talented to remain there for long. He should be reinstated to the front benches as soon as is seemly and possible.

Mr Joyce and Mr Canavan both called for a greater commitment to coal which prompted the self-described ‘modern Liberals’ who seem to think the name Menzies chose for the party isn’t good enough for them and prefer a more exclusive moniker, to call for a deeper embrace of renewables. They forget that the Coalition’s policy, which entails cumulative GNP losses estimated at almost A$300 billion, is already very ambitious and that Australia has been installing solar and wind four times faster per capita than the EU, US, Japan and China.

Both sides overlook that Mr Taylor’s policy commits to coal, gas and renewables in a way that should make energy cheaper and cleaner than any one source could achieve alone. That’s quite an accomplishment and instead of sniping at each other they should start explaining the plan to their electorates because one thing is certain; the climate warriors in the press gallery won’t.

For them, this is war and truth is the first casualty.

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