September 9th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Our unsafe schools are putting students at risk

EDITORIAL Turnbull needs a circuit breaker or he's a goner

CANBERRA OBSERVED 'What's the question?' is the crucial question

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Beijing applauds jailing of Hong Kong activists

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The economic agenda Australia needs won't come from Mal or Bill

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY Child-support payments and parental alienation

MARRIAGE AND LAW NSW Law Society spruiks for same-sex marriage

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Germany's energy plan: a disaster in the making

MUSIC Monetising the muse: 'Frugal comfort' would be welcome

CINEMA Logan Lucky: Southern fried robbery

BOOK REVIEW Serious Bioethics salted with humour




CANBERRA OBSERVED Love may be love, but certainly consequences are consequences

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Turnbull needs a circuit breaker or he's a goner

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 9, 2017

Although the next federal election is over a year away, the omens for the Federal Government are looking distinctly bad. The latest Newspoll shows that the Coalition is trailing the ALP 46 per cent to 54 on a two-party preferred basis and, if an election were held today, the Government would lose around 20 seats.

The only area in which the Coalition leads Labor is in preferred prime minister, where Bill Shorten languishes. Yet even here, the polls show a steady decline in the standing of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: the gap is now 43 per cent to 33, far below the 60 per cent figure he had after taking over from Tony Abbott.

The problem for the Coalition is not merely the difficulty it faces in a hostile Senate, where Labor and the Greens outnumber the Government, forcing it to rely on a collection of fractious independents. The deeper problem is that the Coalition has no clear policy position on the key issues of the day.

The most immediate example is to be seen in the postal ballot on marriage. Although there are differences within the ALP, the party is publicly united behind Shorten’s support for transgender marriage.

By contrast, the Liberals are deeply divided, with senior ministers like Simon Birmingham and Christopher Pyne campaigning publicly to change the Marriage Act, with tacit support from Mr Turnbull, alienating a substantial section of the Liberals’ support base.

If the “Yes” vote wins, it will be seen by many of the Coalition’s supporters as a consequence of the divisions in the Liberal Party. If perchance the “No” vote gets up, where does that leave the Liberals?

To take another issue, the cost of energy.

Soaring energy prices for electricity and gas, in a country with almost inexhaustible reserves of coal and gas, should be a clear winner for a government committed to reliable, low-cost power.

Clear message

It is clear that the policy of closing base-load coal-fired power stations, coupled with reliance on wind and solar energy, will cause both soaring power bills and increased unreliability, as was seen in South Australia last year.

Bill Shorten has adopted an even more extreme policy than the South Australian Labor Government, promising that 50 per cent of Australia’s power will come from renewables by 2030.

Even taking into account the 10 per cent of Australia’s power generated by hydro-electricity, that means that the other 40 per cent will come from wind and solar. Currently, wind and solar generate less than 10 per cent, despite the $3 billion in annual subsidies they currently receive through the Renewable Energy Target, paid for by consumers in the form of higher electricity and gas prices.

The idea that Australia will be able to shift a third of its total electricity generating capacity, built up over the past century, to renewables over the next 13 years is a fantasy.

In the face of this situation, the Coalition’s response has been almost total confusion. At the moment, the Government is mulling over whether to accept the Finkel Review’s recommendation that it should adopt a 42 per cent Renewable Energy Target, when it should be looking at how to get more low-cost power into the grid.

The obvious starting point is to look at building new HELE (high-efficiency, low-emission) coal-fired power stations, like the 45 currently being built in Japan.

Second, the Government should look again at expanding Australia’s hydro-electricity output – and not just in the Snowy Mountains where it is urgently examining pumped storage.

There are certainly sites in both NSW and Tasmania where new hydro-electric power stations are possible. The last major hydro-electric power station in Tasmania was stopped by green protesters, backed by the then federal Labor government. The situation is now very different.

The NSW Department of Resources and Energy has also identified potential projects. Its website says: “NSW has generated hydro-electricity for more than 75 years. In addition to the existing large and small-scale power stations, our extensive river systems have good potential for the development of additional small-scale hydro-electric facilities.

“Mountain ranges in the eastern parts of the state provide regions of high water flow due to abundant rainfall and steep slopes for water to travel down. Many smaller river systems have excellent potential for small-scale run-of-river hydro-electric systems, particularly those with existing infrastructure such as small dams or weirs.

“Water or sewage treatment plants and water supply pipelines also have excellent potential for small-scale hydro systems.”

An additional option is to lift the level of existing dams, as has been done in other countries to increase output.

Unless the Turnbull Government is seen to stand by its principles and change the terms of the debate on issues of concern to ordinary Australians, such as energy and the future of Australian industry and agriculture, its future looks bleak.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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