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Australia’s tortured energy debate: what is the state of play?

Katharine Murphy comments in The Guardian (13.10.19) on the current state of energy policy debate in Australia, looking at how we got from a national energy guarantee to the Morrison government’s ‘big stick’ approach to the energy sector.

‘There are a lot of moving parts in Australia’s tortured energy debate – and many of the parts are moving in the wrong direction. With parliament set to resume next week, and with energy back on the agenda, it is timely to recap the state of play.

‘Energy policy in Australia has been in a state of flux since the Coalition dumped the national energy guarantee (Neg) when it ditched Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister. At the time conservatives moved against Turnbull, the Neg was derided by internal critics as bad policy and “merchant bankers’ gobbledigook”. But now, a year after the turmoil, the energy minister, Angus Taylor, says we don’t need to worry about, or mourn, the abandoned Neg mechanism because all the (unobjectionable) core objectives will be achieved even though it was never legislated (because it was terrible). This opening summary of the state of play sets the tone for the whole debate. You’d laugh if it wasn’t so serious.

‘Instead of the Neg, which was a mechanism to ensure reliability of supply and emissions reduction in the electricity sector, Taylor has proposed government underwriting of new power generation to boost supply. This more ad hoc proposal has been criticised by a number of stakeholders – the Energy Security Board chair, Kerry Schott, said very politely this week it would not encourage “the considerable new investment and innovation that is needed”. The program also seems to be moving slowly – although Taylor insist he’s in “advanced negotiations” with some of the favoured projects.’

Tides of opinion

TJ Ryan Foundation Research Associate, John Quiggin, writes in Inside Story (16.12.19) that, while generational divides don’t explain much generally, attitudes to climate change and culture seem to be exceptions.

‘Every year earlier a person was born is another year in which they were, at most, only partially aware of the threat of climate change. The result is a sharp decline in concern about climate change with rising age.

‘Similar trends can be found on other “cultural” issues, including LGBTQ rights. Anyone over fifty grew up at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence in much of Australia. Anyone under thirty can’t remember a time when such a law would have seemed other than absurd.

‘Of course, attitudes don’t break along the sharp generational lines popularised by memes like OK Boomer. People born in 1963, at the end of the baby boom, have had life experiences very similar to the earliest members of generation X, born the following year. Both have had radically different experiences from those born in the immediate aftermath of the second world war or, like the last of generation X, born around 1980. The lack of a sharp break is reflected in the recent polling data on cultural issues like climate change and marriage equality.

‘The rise of culture war politics on the political right, based on appeals to nostalgia for an idealised past, has made issues of this kind far more salient. As a result, differences in cultural attitudes are now closely linked to political views. Young people in Britain, the United States, Australia and other English-speaking countries are now much more likely than older people to support parties of the left. This gradient is much steeper than at any time in the past.’

The TJRyan Foundation does not guarantee the accuracy, currency or completeness of any information or material available on this website. The TJRyan Foundation reserves the right to change information or material on this website at any time without notice. Links from this site to external, non-TJRyan Foundation websites should not be construed as implying any relationship with and/or endorsement of the external site or its content by the TJR Foundation, nor any commercial relationship with the owners of any external site. Should any TJRyan research project be funded by an individual or organisation the source of funding will be stated beside the research report. In all other cases contributions are provided on a pro bono basis.
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