Australian Election 2013: Abbott government could be worse than we feared  

Posted by Big Gav in

Judging by the polls it seems that tomorrow's election is going to result in us having a turnip for Prime Minister for the next 3 years (barring some sort of miracle that results in Malcolm Turnbull replacing Abbott during that period). The Murdoch media and the sorry remnants of the Fairfax press have been fervently supporting this result for the entire campaign (with the lone exception of The Age) which I tend to think has tipped the outcome from closely fought to a comfortable win to the LNP coalition.

The result of the last election was pretty much perfect from my point of view, with Greens and principled independents like Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie (along with occasionally entertaining mavericks like Bob Katter and Nick Xenophon) holding the balance of power in both the lower and upper houses of parliament, preventing the Liberals from governing and ensuring that Labor couldn't give in to it's own worst instincts too often (though they did manage to backstab Wilkie along the way).

Things are still looking relatively hopeful in the Senate, with a reasonable chance of the balance of power still being held by the Greens and Independents which means the election will still be of some interest (and Abbott may yet be hobbled when he gets into power - I wonder if he'll be parroting Paul Keating's "unrepresentative swill" comments this time next week) - and if that doesn't work out you can always play a drinking game.

The Economist and The Guardian are the only other periodicals I could find recommending the current government be re-elected (which is unsurprising given their basically flawless economic track record over the past 6 years), though I don't imagine they'll be swaying too many voters tomorrow.

The Guardian has a last minute poll showing the gap is closing (hopefully its accurate) after the coalition released their policy costings a day before the election, trying as hard as possible to avoid any policy scrutiny beyond their endless "stop the boats" nonsense.

Its been a recurring dream of mine that someone would put billboards up along every freeway showing how many legal immigrants were allowed in under the Howard government compared to the number of refugees who arrived by boat - perhaps the 1 million+ legals to a few thousand illegals disparity might make the gullible closet racists of the outer suburbs realise they are being hoodwinked by this tripe.

The opposition leader, Tony Abbott, and the Coalition have chosen to treat the democratic process with contempt, presumably because the polls, clearly pointing to their victory, make them believe they can. They have comprehensively evaded scrutiny, with no policy costings until 48 hours before the ballot. For months, there has been a blank space where their policies should be; candidates have been discouraged from speaking to the media and even from attending forums in their own communities; access has been denied to journalists who don’t toe the party line.

The Coalition has been steadied by a new Tony Abbott whose ruthless focus is in contrast to his past reputation for ill-discipline. His paid parental leave scheme, which rewards the wealthiest most, is at least an attempt to rectify his poor record when it comes to women. But really the Coalition has been relying on the exhausted electorate’s distrust of Labor after their self-obsessed infighting, and the view that it’s time someone else had a go. But do those voting for Tony Abbott really prefer Christopher Pyne to Bill Shorten, Andrew Robb to Penny Wong, Peter Dutton to Tanya Plibersek? Are they really happy to lay waste to Australia’s unique environment, just because it feels like someone else’s turn? Are they not alarmed by hints at spending cuts that go as far as austerity, which has wreaked such devastation in Europe?

ReNew Economy thinks that Abbott will eviscerate clean energy programs if he gets the chance - Election13: Abbott government could be worse than we feared.
Oh dear. This could be worse than we thought.

Over the past year, RenewEconomy has been highly skeptical about the Coalition’s approach to clean energy and climate change policies. In July last year we wrote of “the scary vision of the right” regarding future energy policies. Two months ago, we caught Opposition leader Tony Abbott dog-whistling to climate change deniers. In August we warned people not to be fooled by bipartisan targets.

That was just a small sample of our reservations. This week came the proof in the pudding: The Direct Action policy is not designed to meet any emission reduction at all, and Abbott confirmed he still thought the science was crap, despite the various leaks coming from the IPCC. Renewables do not even get a single positive mention in the Coalition’s newly released energy policy.

Were we being too pessimistic, as many people suggested? Depressingly, we don’t think so.

The bitter frustration is that – with a very few exceptions – none of this was investigated or probed by the mainstream media, which has retained a myopic obsession over forward estimates, the outlying budget forecasts that surely must rank as the most irrelevant and unreliable metric that has ever been centre stage of an election campaign.

In the end, some of the main policies were indistinguishable between the major parties, to the point where Tony Abbott is now longer promising to stop the boats, just to slow them down (and to keep them off Sydney’s freeways). The budget savings outlined by Joe Hockey are so insignificant it makes a mockery of the budget scare campaign that obsessed the media, and provided cover for Abbott’s empty rhetoric. The only real difference came in climate and clean energy, and Labor was so terrified of playing that card that nobody noticed.

This myopia was reflected in the editorial endorsements published today. Extraordinarily, the Australian Financial Review, the Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian (along with every other Murdoch tabloid) endorsed Abbott without making a single mention of climate change or clean energy policies. So much for it being a referendum on the carbon price. Only The Age made mention of it, noting the Coalition’s disgraceful “back-tracking” on climate. It endorsed Labor.

Are we obsessed with niche interests? Maybe. But the cost of carbon and electricity were central to the cost-of-living scare campaign that will contribute to the Coalition’s victory. Climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy will be central to Australia’s future economic performance. ...

So now we find ourselves at the eve of an election victory and the introduction of a policy that remains a mystery. Does anyone know what Direct Action is? No. Has it been costed? No. Will it be able to meet more ambitious climate policies? Of course not. Was it ever designed to? Don’t be silly.

Of more immediate concern is the future of the large scale renewables industry, which could be worth more than $20 billion in the next few years, but which is now surely in limbo.

In July, we itemised five ways that Abbott could kill renewables in Australia. And he’s just about there. Repeal the carbon price? Tick. Review the renewable energy target with a view to diluting it or delaying it? Tick. Dissolve the Climate Change Authority? Tick. Dissolve the Clean Energy Finance Corporation? Tick. Slash funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency? Tick.

Abbott may not get to be able to achieve all those things immediately, but his intentions are clear. The energy document produced this week made no mention of renewables apart from a desire to do something about wind energy. Its focus was entirely on extractive fossil fuels – coal, gas, oil, LNG, and thorium. Dig, baby, dig. Burn, baby burn. And it wanted to make the coal-fired generators profitable again.

The energy policy document makes no mention at all of the major themes that are and will impact most on the energy industry (particularly the coal generators). They are: reduced demand, the push for efficiency, and the proliferation of rooftop solar and other forms of distributed generation. These will, as surely as night follows day, challenge the centralized business model so treasured by the incumbents and their conservative mouthpieces.

The entire power base of the Coalition seems wedded to a utopian dream from the 1960s. It seems the only thing that can deny them is their access to capital that the centralized generation and vast networks require. Residential-scale solar and distributed energy happens in increments that are, at most, a couple of tens of thousands of dollars. Australian households have already put $8 billion, and are prepared to invest billions more.

These bets are 100,000 times smaller, and it brings millions of competitors into the electricity game. This is where the issue of costs and equity will be fought in coming years. The fact that the Coalition does not even mention this in its flagship energy document suggests it is completely ill prepared. Or it will simply defend the conservative state owned governments that are trying to sell their impaired assets.


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