It really can't be that hard, can it?
The week after Easter is rarely a big one for politics. The four day week means many people will have taken time off, and with parliament not sitting and still over a month to go till the Budget, everything can get a bit slow. But despite this seeming lack of action there was a fair bit going on this week, and much of it related to energy.
On Wednesday, the government released its Energy White Paper. The crux of the paper was that the free-market will sort out all problems.
Except it is an odd sort of free-market. The paper makes a big deal about increased competition, but the reality is as Guardian Australia’s Matt Grudnoff points out, the history of energy policy (and certainly the current government’s position) is more about protecting current energy players, and merely privatising state owned assets rather than introducing more competitors into the market.
The paper also seems to be of the view that climate change is not an issue that has much to do with energy. The 74 page document made mention of “climate change” only once and that was to assure people that the government’s Direct Action plan “will contribute to meeting longer-term climate change emissions targets”.
This position fell very much into line with the government’s view of not introducing greater competition, because the main growth areas into the energy market would come from the renewable energy sector.
The White Paper’s lack of concern for climate change and competition also fit well with the current negotiations over the Renewable Energy Target.
The government is seeking to lower the current target of 41,000 GWh of renewable energy by 2020. It first wanted to lower it to 27,000GWh. This level was absurdly low and would have pretty much signalled the end of any new renewable energy investment.
It has since raised its proposed target to 32,000GWh.
The Clean Energy Council proposed a compromise of 33,500GWh. This level was supported by pretty much everyone – unions, the Business Council of Australia and even the Australian Aluminium Association.
The ALP had consistently said it supported a compromise in the “high 30,000GWh”, but this position was effectively rendered moot once the CEC announced its proposed target. And that this week the ALP also come out in support of that target, but would look to increase it if it were to win the next election.
The position is a pretty big cave-in given even at that level investment in the renewable energy industry is going to be greatly below what it would have been had the original target remained.
As Tristan Edis noted, the industry has the capacity to easily to meet such a target with projects that have already been approved.
But weak compromises are what every government wants to see an opposition party do. So surely the Abbott government was all set to crack the champagne and declare victory? After all it meant the government can get the RET cut from its existing rate. They don’t need to bugger about trying to get cross-benchers to support it, and, crucially, they have business on side.
Lots of wins there (except for maybe the renewable energy sector – but at least it would have some sort of firm target to work with).
Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane told media the government was not prepared to shift above 32,000GWh. Both he and Tony Abbott suggested the proposed amount of 32,500GWH was just the ALP’s “first offer”, and that given the government had already compromised twice, it was up to the ALP to lower its proposal again.
Seriously, the children we have in government these days.
At some point I almost expect the Prime Minister to suggest of Bill Shorten, “I know you are, but what am I?”
Sometimes a government is so wrapped up in a partisan political mindset, it is too dumb to see a good thing when it is right in front of it.