FOI documents reveal Turnbull and Frydenberg ignored the AEMO's advice that renewables were not to blame for SA blackout. David Tyler reports.
"He [Shorten] has no respect for the taxpayer any more than he has respect for the members of the Australian Workers Union, he betrayed again and again. He sold them out. He sold them out."
~ PM Malcolm Turnbull
A VOLLEY of cheap shots rings out across the chamber this week, as a beleaguered Malcolm Turnbull begins the new parliamentary year in a flat spin.
He's under attack on all sides: travel rorts, Trump's dumping on him, followed Monday by the explosive revelation that the Government knowingly made a false claim that renewables caused the SA blackout, a claim which has been taken up so keenly by the ABC and other mainstream media that it has become widely accepted as true.
It is, in fact, a complete lie.
What's worse, The Australia Institute has released emails obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) which show its own public service advised the government on 29 September 29 2016 – the day after the whole of SA went black following a devastating storm – that the problem had not been the State's high reliance on wind generation but, rather, because key parts of its electricity distribution network were wrecked during a severe weather event.
In other nations, prime ministers have resigned for such wilful misleading of parliament and the nation. Turnbull's credibility is utterly and fatally compromised.
Peta Credlin, Abbott's all-powerful, all-seeing former chief of staff helpfully puts the skids under the PM she dubbed, "Mr Harbourside Mansion", when she tells Sky viewers the Coalition is broken by "an unbridgeable ideological divide".
Add in to the mix electricity blackouts, a failure to curb power sector emissions and an energy market crisis which has been simmering unattended for years. Luckily energy is all Labor's fault. It's their ideological belief in the future of the planet instead of doing whatever it takes to protect the wealth of the coal industry and its many rent-seekers.
The power crisis is caused by Labor because Labor is led by Bill Shorten — a Labor leader who has dinner with rich people!
Desperately, the PM who sold out to his right wing, aims to divert his critics and snatch back credibility by assassinating "hypocrite" Bill's character. Yet Turnbull aims so low he destroys any vestige of credibility and shoots himself in the foot.
The other foot is in his mouth. With nothing left to lose, gung-ho-meets-gonzo PM Trumps up his invective and indulges his inner bully in an assault on the man – not his policies – complete with gratuitous, archly homophobic insults.
"This sycophant – blowing hard in the House of Representatives, sucking hard in the living rooms of Melbourne – what a hypocrite,"
Turnbull sneers. The "simpering ... sycophant ... sucking up to Dick [Pratt] ... tucked his knees under ... tables", jeers the PM. The dig is unlikely to boost his stocks in his inner-Sydney electorate of Wentworth, however many sniggers it gets from his party. Nor will his prejudice play well with his broader constituency.
But why be resolute or decisive when you can be abusive and impulsive? It works for Trump.
Desperate, the orator with an ear of tin leaps, misses his footing and plunges to dangerous depths. He unleashes a raging, ranting, ten-minute volley of personal abuse and defamatory accusation on the Labor leader, lowering himself to ape Tony Abbott — the leader he deposed because he was incapable of anything but junkyard. Doubtless, he plans to hide in the fray how deep in crises he has mired his government. Instead, Turnbull highlights his own bad judgement.
Bellowing, braying, belittling, the PM calls Shorten names in a spray of spittle. He contorts his face fit to out-butch a bull seal bugling. Shorten is a "a climber", "a social-climbing sycophant", a "parasite and a hypocrite" — terms of abuse the PM finds on a prompt helpfully handed up to him by his batman, Christopher "lickspittle" Pyne, obsequious to a fault.
Sadly, all Turnbull achieves is a grotesque Abbott travesty — an homage to another self-made loser, who often parodied himself in his puerile taunting, name-calling, monstrous lies, absurd assertions and bullshit braggadocio until it cost him his job.
Turnbull is wasting his time trying to impress his party's puritan choir — the Nationals and the Liberal right. They hate him with a passion. He may as well be Labor. No concession will ever be enough to buy their approval. Nor win their trust. For most other observers, the PM's ill-advised and hammy performance is a shocking demonstration of just how far he will stoop to conquer. Pollster Hugh McKay believes Turnbull has sealed his fate. Disintegration and ruin can only follow.
Turnbull's big problem is the plank in his own eye. "No consistency, no integrity. This sycophant, this simpering sycophant," sneers the PM. A PM who hosts Rupert Murdoch; a PM whose merchant banking venture was funded by sucking up to Kerry Packer, whom Turnbull had saved a fortune on tax; a PM whose sell-out to his party's right wing cost him all credibility.
Almost as big for the toff is the vexed politics of class. As Van Badham notes, Turnbull's attack is a slap-down for Shorten getting above himself. Essentially, Turnbull's case is that he's prime minister because, unlike the Opposition leader, he's a better class of person.
Yet it's a no-win situation. Keane also notes that after decades of berating union leaders for being anti-business and being unwilling to work cooperatively with bosses, suddenly Shorten is fair game for being too close to corporate leaders. Yet none of this matters to the parliamentary party whose blood-lust is up.
Excited by his show of aggression, his colleagues cheer on Turnbull's Shorten-bashing with schoolboy jeers, grins and much thumping of desks. It is an unedifying display of arousal which can only cost the party popular support.
Equally disturbing are those many Press Gallery hacks who applaud Turnbull's lapse, gushing approval over his "flash of steel", his "withering putdown". One scribe sees the theatrics as an "aggressive new course". Another sees it, somehow, as Turnbull's version of Gillard's misogyny speech. Is politics merely blood sport entertainment for a jaded Canberra Press Gallery? Certainly, their praise encourages the PM to further excesses.
By Friday, Turnbull is on 3AW denouncing Shorten as a hypocrite who pretends to be a “horny handed son of toil”.
Horny or corny, it's all part of a bizarre, ill-judged attempt by a desperate prime minister beset by more problems than a junkyard dog has fleas. His Government is dead in the water say pollsters. Newspoll has Labor 54 per cent to Liberals 46 per cent on the two-party vote and the Coalition’s primary vote falling four points to 35 per cent — its seventh-straight loss and worst result so far under Turnbull's leadership. Essential Poll is 53-47 in Labor's favour. It would take a miracle to come back from here. Instead, the Coalition declares it is truly, madly, deeply in love with coal all along, despite making sheep's eyes at renewables.
True, not all are on the same page with their passion. There's a lot of codswallop about being technology neutral, the official Peabody Energy talking point subterfuge and some daggy hamming from Energy Pretender Josh Freydenberg, who even promises a new cabinet subcommittee to "oversee the progress".
Partly, Turnbull's tanty is to cover Coalition hypocrisy in two-timing its 2030 carbon emissions targets with its affair with coal. Federal Treasurer Mad-Dog Morrison, a natural buffoon, follows his PM's lead in the race to the bottom, Thursday, by bringing a lump of coal into the chamber. It suits him to clown while people die of black lung and other respiratory illnesses. It worries him not a jot that an army of scientists could tell him that burning coal to generate electricity will destroy the planet. Instead, he and his party proclaim the sick fantasy that coal is a cheap and clean source of energy.
Ultra super-critical coal-fired plants would cost double renewables, reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The Melbourne Energy Institute agrees. And who could cost their emissions? New analysis from the Government’s own research institutions reveal emissions from USC would exceed the current Australian average of 820g/kWh.
Of course, we don't have to burn coal ourselves to contribute to global warming. Currently, we export enough coal each day for others to burn and create emissions equivalent to a 500-megawatt coal-fired power station, or 570,000 cars, in a year. Yet we don't factor CO2 exports into our climate policy. It's been our dirty little secret for 30 years.
Not a single company has any plans to build new coal power plants. No bank will lend any money. The Turnbull Government may wave its shotgun as much as it likes but it may never get coal and banks up the aisle again.
Of course, it has a patent remedy which climate change sceptic and front bench coal-tosser Barnaby Joyce has already forecast. the Clean Energy Council, established to fund innovative approaches to power generation, will be raided to pay for energy which is neither clean nor a good investment in the future. Who could possibly find fault with that?
At least, finally, some of the Coalition has stopped pretending it is only a litlle bit pregnant to Peabody Energy. Indeed, the Turnbull Government's recent embrace of coal-fired power shows it has 'abandoned all pretense of taking global warming seriously', explains Climate Change Authority member Clive Hamilton as he resigns from the agency. Professor Hamilton, who teaches ethics at Charles Sturt University, fires a parting shot. He says it is perverse to be advocating coal when 2016 was the hottest year in history.
Bernie Fraser resigned before Hamilton in disgust at the feeble emissions-reduction targets the Government was prepared to set. Fraser, a man of principle, pointed out that the Government's post-2020 carbon reduction efforts – a pledge to cut 2005 level carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030 – has put Australia 'at or near the bottom' of comparable countries.
The Climate Change Authority itself soon got five new you beaut members in October 2015 — one of the first reforms of young turk Turnbull, who is always quick off the blocks when it comes to doing the bidding of his minders, be it his National Party minders or – as in this case – a toady to the coal lobby. The five new members had been appointed by "coal is good for humanity" Tony Abbott and remained to be approved by Macolm Turnbull.
Described at the time as being "more sceptical of climate change", the five Coalition appointments stacked the committee in favour of government policy and removed the vexed Left-Greens ideological commitment to the continuation of humanity and the troublesome notion of taking responsibility to reduce emissions and redress some of the damage already caused to the environment through global warming, noxious emissions and other pollution.
It is timely to review the Government team players. Assisted by former National Farmers' Federation's head Wendy Craik, the committee gained Kate Carnell, former CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and former ACT Liberal chief minister; Danny Price, economist and managing director of Frontier Economics, who advised the government on its Direct Action policies; John Sharp, a former Nationals politician and Federal transport minister in John Howard's government, before stepping down after questions raised over his use of ministerial travel expenses; and Stuart Allinson, the chief executive of Bid Energy.
No-one can pretend these worthy figures, however deserving they may be as representatives of their constituents, have been chosen for their halcyon impartiality. To use Turnbull's term du jour, Australia has been sold out.
Those who were shocked by gonzo Scott Morrison's pet rock in Parliament on Thursday – and it's impossible not to be shocked by the graphic abdication of responsibility to future generations, not to mention a contempt for science and a cavalier disregard for all of the economic and environmental benefits of investment in renewables – should thank him for so dramatically revealing the government's hand. A hand which has been prepared ever since Turnbull took office, despite all sentiment and nostalgia for the old leather jacket. Get real. This Government has always been pro-coal.
But it's not all plain sailing or committee stacking. Coal is a big blow to the prime minister's new self-appointed role as Parliament's "grand inquisitor", determined to root out hypocrisy and energy heresy in the Opposition. Why, only seven years ago he, himself, was urging Australia to move to a "a situation where all or almost all of our energy comes from zero or very near zero-emission sources" to avoid the risks, laid out in the science, of catastrophic climate change.
Along with Groucho, Turnbull has principles and if you don't like those, well … he has others.
Sam Dastyari tells Cory Bernardi:
"You don't quit a party you already run."
Cory Bernardi, the man who single-handedly caused Malcolm Turnbull to drop all mention of any form of ETS in 24 hours flat, leaves the Liberals this week over principle, he says. Principle. Yet he is unable to say what the principles are beyond a bit of mangled metaphor about broad tents and churches and pegs. Fearlessly exercising his new role as moral guardian, Turnbull tells him the honourable thing to do would be to resign. The PM gets one thing right. Hasn't Cory already caused enough trouble?
Cory Bernardi helped Tony Abbott change from an energy trading scheme wuss to an axe the tax crusader in 2009. If there were one man we could thank for Tony Abbott becoming the worst prime minister Australia has seen, Cory would be right up there. And weathervane Abbott is quick to take any opportunity now to put the boot into Turnbull.
“While Cory and I have sometimes disagreed, I’m disappointed that more effort has not been made to keep our party united.”
Now a man of principles he can't articulate, Bernardi will continue his vanity politics while his quest for relevance becomes even harder, however many anti-halal meetings he attends. The harsh truth is that Cory Bernardi represents Cory Bernardi and, while he may indeed enjoy the support of Gina Rinehart, it will take more than the backing of the coal lobby to make him a real political force now he's out on his own and competing with quite a range of other right wing nut jobs for the reactionary and protest votes against that of the two major parties'.
The South Australian senator is, however, a powerful emblem of the disunity and lack of discipline in Turnbull's Government and his weak leadership. It is also a reminder of the parlous state of the Liberal Party when it comes to principles. As poor Cory comes to leave and make his stand on principle, he can't clearly articulate a single principle.
Looking at the government's disastrous week, its hypocritical bashing of Bill Shorten and its theatrical flourishing of a lump of coal in Parliament, most Australians would also have trouble identifying a single principle – apart from its steadfast loyalty to the mining lobby – in the Turnbull Government's shameful behaviour this week.
You can read more from David Tyler on his blog Urban Wronski Writes, or follow him on Twitter @urbanwronski.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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