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The Coalition is falling even deeper into denial

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Liberal member for Mackellar, Jason Falinski, lied his way through an appearance on Q&A (Screenshot via YouTube)

An appearance by Liberal member Jason Falinski on Q&A has revealed the Coalition's denial over the climate and energy issue, writes Giles Parkinson.

THE DEPTH OF DENIAL within Australia’s Coalition Government now runs so deep they are in a state of denial about the act of denying. Apparently, there is not a climate denier amongst them if you believe Jason Falinski, the Liberal member for Mackellar on Sydney’s northern beaches.

But this most brazen of lies, delivered by Falinski on Monday night's Q&A program, shouldn’t disguise the fact that he delivered false claims repeatedly during the program about climate and energy.

And it highlights just how deep the denial of science and technology runs in the Federal Coalition Government.

Q&A usually invites viewers to let them know if they have heard some dubious claims. This is too long for an email or text message, so here goes.

The most brazen lie, of course, was to claim that ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the former MP for Falinski’s neighbouring electorate of Warringah, had not denied climate change:

JASON FALINSKI: Okay. So, Tony Abbott didn’t deny climate change, and the Federal Government does not…

TONY JONES: Well, he did say the science was crap. Whether that’s a denial or not, technically speaking…

That was quickly put into place by Q&A host Tony Jones, but then Falinski went further to claim that there was no one in the Coalition Government who does not accept the science that climate change is a contributing factor to weather events and natural disasters.

JASON FALINSKI: This government accepts and endorses the science of climate change. We understand that the climate change is a contributing factor to the weather events that we are having, including natural disasters at the moment. There is no one in the Government who doesn’t accept that.

MARK BUTLER: Oh, really?

JASON FALINSKI: Yes, really.

This is laughable. The science of climate change includes the role of humans and their emissions. Mark Butler, the Labor spokesman on climate change, pointed to the Sky News interview that afternoon where newly appointed Senator Gerard Rennick was talking about the “hoax” and the “manipulation” of data perpetrated by the Bureau of Meteorology.

JASON FALINSKI: I don’t think that’s true.

MARK BUTLER: It is!

JASON FALINSKI: If you’re referring to Senator Rennick, that’s not what he said. That’s not what he said, Mark! And, I mean, this is what the Labor Party constantly tries to do — it constantly tries to say, “Oh, those in the Liberal Party are climate deniers,” because it suits your political purposes. And I thought you didn’t want to play politics in the middle of a natural disaster.

Just for the record, Senator Rennick has been rabbiting on about the BOM “fudging” climate data and promoting the “global warming hysteria” since before he was elected to the Senate in May.

And here Rennick is on Sky News, saying exactly what Falinski claims Rennick didn’t say. You can listen for yourself.

And Falinski wouldn’t have to go far to find a legion of other climate deniers in the Coalition party room. Craig Kelly’s Facebook page, for instance, where he regularly rants against “climate scamsters” and “climate fraudsters” and labelled the most recent science report as a “complete con job.”

Or he could look at the words of Barnaby Joyce, or even the current agriculture minister David Littleproud, who said he didn’t know “if climate change is man made,” before deciding to change his mind.

Or Falinski can look to any number of Coalition MPs, particularly in Queensland and the LNP and also including those who have jumped into Coalition sinecures from the Gina Rinehart-funded Institute of Public Affairs, where climate denial is gospel and where Rennick admits he gets his information.

Having denied the denial in the most Trumpian of fashion, Falinski – who, we should remind ourselves, is regarded as a “moderate” in this Right-wing government – moved on to energy, where he quickly ran off so many mistruths the people in the audience could have been thankful he wasn’t Pinocchio.

U.S. President Donald Trump, according to the Washington Post, lies or makes misleading claims on average about 13 times a day. Falinski could probably beat that because he reached five in less than a minute with these four sentences.

JASON FALINSKI: I don’t think Europe is actually some sort of Utopia of energy policy in the world. Its emissions are going up. They’re unlikely to meet their Paris Agreement targets, and their prices are higher. In Australia, we have managed, through good luck, good management, to actually reduce our emissions. Our trend line is down. Our energy prices are coming down and we do… You know, we have actually made progress in this area.

Falinski didn’t mention a time period, but let’s look at the record under the Coalition: Australia’s emissions are going up, not down. The energy prices, as Butler pointed out, have gone up 20% since Abbott scrapped the carbon price.

His claims on Europe are also false, even if ill-defined. But let’s assume he meant the EU’s “NDCs” (nationally determined contributions under the Paris agreement) for 2030, in which it aims for a 40% reduction.

Here is a recent assessment from Climate Action Tracker:

‘The EU is on track to meeting this NDC and, if it implements current targets in place, may achieve 48% by 2030.’ 

EU member states have already called for increasing the 2030 target to a 55% reduction. In other words, they are doing fine, will likely do better and are really keen on setting higher targets.

This is despite the fact that EU’s emissions did flatline for three years, rose 1.7% in 2018 and are now down around 2.5% in 2019.

Australia’s emissions have risen consistently over the last five years, since the Coalition gleefully scrapped the carbon price, are now the highest on record (excluding land use) and are forecast by the Government’s own department to continue rising till 2030.

Australia’s target is for a 26-28% cut by 2030, reduced to around 12-15% if it tries to claim “excess credits” from its Kyoto Protocol efforts, under which it was allowed to actually increase emissions rather than cut them.

EU power prices are also lower than Australia, despite the cost of their emissions allowances and particularly in renewables-rich countries like Germany which has sourced more than 40% of its electricity from renewables so far this year.

Then it came to coal-fired power.

TONY JONES: So, I mean, are you going to subsidise a coal-fired power station? Because that’s certainly on the cards, isn’t it?

JASON FALINSKI: No. That’s not an option we’re considering. I mean…

So if it’s not being considered, then why has the Coalition given $10 million to a feasibility study into a new coal-fired generator in north Queensland that Resources Minister Matt Canavan and other Queensland LNP members are clamouring for?

In a bid to jump out of the fire, Falinski leapt into the frying pan, trying to distract the coal issue and capping his performance with this gloriously incoherent and contradictory paragraph, a classic example of the rubbish that comes out of government MPs and ministers on regular occasions.

Asked further about the coal plan, he said:

JASON FALINSKI: No, no. It is, without doubt, the reason that Whyalla is currently happening is because the South Australian Government just opened a gas peaker. Renewable energy is a fantastic form of energy, but unless you have reliability in either the form of batteries, for which the technology does not currently exist, or pumped hydro, or hydro generally, that can come into the market, or gas peakers, you are not… you are simply not going to get people bringing more renewable energy into the market. We have had a 40% increase in renewable energy in the last two years. It had nothing to do with the RET. It’s because we have had high subsidies…

Honestly, where do you start with this?

Let’s try the end, where Falinski claims the recent huge boom in renewables was not due to the RET, because we have had high subsidies.

It was almost entirely due to the RET, that was the mechanism that required big retailers to source a certain amount of wind and solar power and the subsidies were not big, despite what Falinski might read in the Murdoch press.

Traded certificate prices hit the peak at one stage because the Coalition tried to kill the RET, retailers decided they didn’t need to invest and nothing was built for three years. When they were,  it turned out the cost of wind and solar plants was so cheap that most developers signed long-term contracts that included a price for those certificates (the so-called subsidies) that were negligible or even non-existent.

Whyalla? It’s not clear what Falinski is referring to here. Perhaps Tony Abbott’s prediction that it would become a ghost town as a result of the carbon price.

Saved by a peaking gas generator? Whyalla’s future was secured by billionaire “green steel” investor Sanjeev Gupta, who has a vision of building 1GW of large scale solar and storage to ensure a cheap supply of energy, something he couldn’t get from fossil fuels.

The gas peaker Falinski is referring to is replacing the ageing Torrens B gas generator which is no longer fit for use, particularly in a high renewables grid where prices have been the lowest in the country over the last few months.

And, as for batteries, well Falinski must be following the talking points of his boss, Scott Morrison, who compares them to Big Bananas and Big Prawns and Canavan, who compares them to the Kardashians. But at least Falinski confirms that the Coalition’s grasp of technology is as consistent as it is ignorant.

Batteries are working really well, lowering prices and keeping the lights on, says the market operator, which is delighted with their speed, versatility and accuracy — things it can no longer depend on with the thermal fleet. Another five batteries have joined the grid since the Tesla big battery and dozens more are planned. But the Coalition can’t, or won’t, admit that.

It was all too much for some viewers, including billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, who tweeted this, with the conclusion, ‘All are lies.’

It generated quite a response from viewers who also noted: ‘It was astonishing to hear how he could just rattle them off, one lie after another and rarely got challenged,’ and also: ‘We were in the studio last night. Audience was incredulous at bald-faced lies.’

Another added: ‘It’s almost as if you can’t become an LNP member unless you’re an unadulterated dolt. Letting Falinski go on Q&A instead of the even more deranged Craig Kelly shows the utter contempt they have for the governing process. It’s like we have a mini Trump government.’

All lamented that this was now par for the course for the current government, which takes us to the end of the program, where Falinski was praising the persistence of entrepreneurs and inventors in Silicon Valley:

“Silicon Valley celebrates your successes, as well as your failures, because there’s that great Thomas Edison quote about… It took him 10,000 experiments to get the light bulb to work.”

We’ll just have to accept Falinski’s figures on that claim. But it does make you wonder: how many attempts would it take Edison to switch the Coalition’s light bulb on?

Considerably more than 10,000. Falinski is probably the most moderate person that the Coalition could find in its ranks to discuss climate and energy on Q&A and was described by Samantha Maiden as the “nearest thing to a communist” in the Liberal Party. And he is reportedly reviled by the far Right.

Yet this is what he served up on Monday, just following orders and toeing the party line. But that’s what stinks.

Update: Well, it turns out that Falinski got the Edison quote wrong, too and it was a bit of a myth. It was about batteries, not light bulbs.

‘The thousands of experiments with different materials relates to Edison’s later work on storage batteries. Eventually, Edison’s battery experiments involved over 10,000 experiments with different chemicals and materials to develop his alkaline storage battery.’

You can follow Giles Parkinson on Twitter @GilesParkinson. This article was originally published in RenewEconomy and has been republished with permission.

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