When green fantasies come true

The fact that French electricity multinational Engie would rather close its doors than continue to operate in Victoria tells you all you need to know about the impact of Green renewable energy policies.

Engie today confirmed that it would close Victoria’s Hazelwood power station in March 2017 and in a surprise move said it would also try to sell its Loy Yang B power station, also in the State’s Gippsland region. Together these power stations are responsible for around 35% of Victoria’s electricity.

Hazelwood alone is equal to over 2,000 wind turbines in terms of reliable electricity output. It is nonsense that it can be replaced by renewables any time soon, if at all, and the move will have serious consequences for Australian electricity prices and security.

Victoria is the low price anchor of the National Electricity Market, with its surplus electricity also patching the holes in renewables-rich South Australia and Tasmania. These three states will now be competing for the same, reduced power output. In any market, if you reduce suppliers, prices will rise, and electricity is no different. After South Australia’s last brown coal power station closed in May, two major electricity companies almost immediately announced retail price rises of up to seven times the rate of inflation.

Unfortunately this is the inevitable outcome of federal and state government policies that are destroying the investment environment for fossil fuel companies. In the case of Victoria, in just the last 6 months the Andrews government has tripled the tax on brown coal, announced a new 40% renewable energy target, and extended the current ban on exploration for new gas supplies. What company in their right mind would want to invest?

While predictably, the Federal and State Governments have announced assistance packages, in reality no temporary state or federal government employment schemes or taskforces can possibly replace viable private sector jobs delivering an important commercial product. Nor should they.

Sympathetic comments by environmentalists about the impact on local workers and communities are just crocodile tears, given that renewable energy policies are specifically designed to push coal and gas producers out of the market. They did the same thing in Port Augusta last year.

Meanwhile the CFMEU is pursuing industrial action at a third Victorian brown coal power plant, proving that the union movement has learned nothing after taking Toyota to court in 2013 to prevent it from restructuring to avoid going out of business.

In the last year, South Australia and Tasmania have shown the world what happens when you have an ideological obsession with renewable electricity. Germany also spent €1 billion in 2015 on electricity grid stabilisation alone because of too much wind power and a think tank recently estimating the total cost of its so-called Energy Transformation at 525 billion Euros by 2025.

Given that the Greens have made it clear that they want to close all Australian coal-fired power stations, starting with all four of Victoria’s, the question for the Green movement and its sympathisers in the major parties has to be “Where will our future electricity and gas supplies come from?”

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I’m sure they’ll get it right next time

James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal compiled this list of headlines from the past decade, which really speak for themselves:

  • “2006: Expect Another Big Hurricane Year Says NOAA”—headline, MongaBay.com, May 22, 2006
  • “NOAA Predicts Above Normal 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration press release, May 23, 2007
  • “NOAA Increases Expectancy for Above-Normal 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, gCaptain.com, Aug. 7, 2008
  • “Forecasters: 2009 to Bring ‘Above Average’ Hurricane Season”—headline, CNN.com, Dec. 10, 2008
  • “NOAA: 2010 Hurricane Season May Set Records”—headline, Herald-Tribune (Sarasota, Fla.), May 28, 2010
  • “NOAA Predicts Increased Storm Activity in 2011 Hurricane Season”—headline, BDO Consulting press release, Aug. 18, 2011
  • “2012 Hurricane Forecast Update: More Storms Expected”—headline, LiveScience.com, Aug. 9, 2012
  • “NOAA Predicts Active 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season”—headline, NOAA press release, May 23, 2013
  • “A Space-Based View of 2015’s ‘Hyperactive’ Hurricane Season”—headline, CityLab.com, June 19, 2015
  • “The 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Might Be the Strongest in Years”—headline, CBSNews.com, Aug. 11, 2016
  • NOAA: U.S. Completes Record 11 Straight Years Without Major Hurricane Strike“—headline, CNSNews.com, Oct. 24, 2016
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Australia’s deteriorating fiscal position

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From the Australian Financial Review, on Australia’s deteriorating fiscal position:

The Parliamentary Budget Office has issued a fresh reminder of how Australia’s political system is struggling to grapple with one of its most basic tasks – keeping the budget in balance.

In a series of graphs, the independent body shows that failure to curb spending and manage faltering tax revenues has left the budget in an ever-deteriorating mess, despite years of positive economic growth.

… Most damning – and the primary reason Australia’s AAA credit rating is facing the very real prospect of being cut for the first time in three decades – is the never-ending rise in national debt, which is growing faster than almost every other highly-rated nation.

The budget office estimates that net debt will surge to $428.5 billion – or 22.6 per cent of gross domestic product – by 2018-19. That’s $30.9 billion more than was forecast at the mid-year budget update in late 2015.

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Albrechtsen on the “cult of taking offence”

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Janet Albrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen had an excellent article in The Australian today on the dangerous “cult of taking offence” ($) stifling free expression in the West:

To be sure, America is the home of the modern-day propensity to find offence. If this was a cult called Scientology, progressives would be carefully deconstructing its concerning presence in modernity. But the cult of taking offence is a slyer virus because it is largely unchecked. And it’s running rife on university campuses, where it threatens to do the most damage.

… The cult of taking offence has become a determined game of what Jonathan Rauch has called the “offendedness sweepstakes”, and it keeps lowering the bar on what words, ideas and freethinking analysis are to be mowed down to protect the hold identity politics has over academe. Political correctness, the soul brother of identity politics, may have started out briefly in some quarters as a sweet-sounding search for a very civil utopia imbued with respect for minorities. Now it is the weapon of choice in the pursuit of power and control over ideas, words, books, teaching and much more.

Students seek “safe spaces” to avoid ideas they don’t like and even comedians are not welcome: Chris Rock no longer appears on campus because students are more interested in not offending anyone than sharp humour that may offend. Jerry Seinfeld has said he has been warned to stay off campuses too because they’re too PC.

And the result, best described by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, has been the coddling of the American mind where emotional reasoning now determines the limits of university debates. “A claim that someone’s words are ‘offensive’ is not just an expression of one’s own subjective feeling of offendedness,” they write. “It is, rather, a public charge that the speaker has done something objectively wrong” and must apologise or be punished for committing the offence.

This made-in-America phen­om­e­non is no longer an only-in-America one. Students studying archeology at University College London were recently given permission to leave class if they encounter “historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising” — in other words, if they are freaked out by bones.

The coddling of the Australian student mind is under way too. Last week at the University of NSW a well-meaning lecturer teaching a class on 20th-century European history told his students he felt obliged to issue a trigger warning about material they would cover. At the same university last year, a lecturer teaching a course on terrorism and religion issued a trigger warning too. Isn’t the trigger in the title? Isn’t history replete with traumatic events?

The Australian asked UNSW, the University of Sydney, Melbourne University, Monash University, Queensland University, Queensland University of Technology and the Australian National University in Canberra about their policies, formal or informal, about trigger warnings. Those that responded issued bland comments about having no formal policy, with some offering statements such as this one from Melbourne University: “We encourage academics to be sensitive to student needs and some may choose to give warnings about confronting content.” Or this from Merlin Crossley, UNSW’s deputy vice-chancellor education: “Some of our academics and teaching teams may choose to provide trigger or content warnings depending on course materials and in some cases possible confidential sensitivities of their students.”

In 2017 Monash University will introduce what it calls “a radical and far-reaching reform of our education and pedagogy” involving an “optional inclusion of content warnings where appropriate”.

… Indeed, there are few signs of Australian academics trying to ward off the American-born disease taking hold on our campuses. Quite the contrary. QUT vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake told this newspaper last month that the university did not choose to be associated with the current public debate about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. That’s unfortunate because section 18C, which makes it unlawful for someone to act in a manner that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity, is the legislative extension of trigger warnings that stifle open debate and infantilise students.

… Where does it end? That depends on where we start when it comes to freedom of expression, and currently too many self-indulgent Westerners are starting in entirely the wrong place.

Read the full article here.

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IPA report on the $1.2bn economic cost of green lawfare

The IPA’s recent report on how section 487 of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 enables environmental activists to hurt development and job creation, was featured on the front page of The Australian today: 

Environmental groups’ legal challenges to development projects ranging from dams and roads to coalmines are estimated to have cost the economy up to $1.2 billion — an amount that is rising as more “vexatious and frivolous” claims are made.

The 32 legal challenges under the environment laws that went to court meant developers spent a cumulative 7500 days — or 20 years — in court even though 28 of the environmental cases were defeated and three required only minor technical changes to go ahead.

The Institute of Public Affairs estimates that the delays to the projects “cost the Australian economy as much as $1.2bn”.

The conservative think tank’s investigation into challenges to projects under section 487 of the Environment Act, which allows anyone with a “special interest in the environment” the right to challenge, found that environmental groups carried out “an ideological anti-coal, anti-economic development agenda” aimed at holding up projects to reduce profitability and investment.

“Given the high failure rate and frivolous nature of many of the legal challenges, it is clear it hasn’t been applied in the way ­initially intended and rather has been persistently abused by green groups whose primary motivation is an anti-coal agenda,” the IPA report says.

Drawing on Productivity Commission calculations, the IPA finds the use of section 487, which was introduced by the Howard government in 2000, “is estim­ated to have cost the economy ­between $534 million and $1.2bn”.

“This estimate is likely to underestimate the total cost to Australia, as it doesn’t capture all flow-on effects to employment, investment and higher capital costs,” the report says.

“Some projects never go ahead due to heightened risk of legal challenges and consequent higher capital costs.”

Continue reading the front page report here ($). You can read the full report, Section 487: How activists use red tape to stop development and jobs, here.

 

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Ministerial confusion a symptom of big government

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Ministers Marise Payne, Christopher Pyne and Dan Tehan

Today’s revelation by the ABC that 100 days after the federal election, Australia’s three defence ministers still don’t actually know what their responsibilities are, is a classic example of what happens when government is too big.

A fortnight after the July election, FreedomWatch highlighted the Turnbull Government’s 42 executive officeholders and 53 portfolios, and how this compared unfavourably with the first Barton ministry and the first post-war Menzies ministry.

According to the ABC, a ministerial turf war over who controls what, is responsible for this extraordinary delay. Taxpayers may well ask if they still don’t actually have a job description after three months can we please have a refund of their ministerial salaries!

In the real world the job comes before the person – i.e. something needs to be done so you find someone to do it, and if you can’t afford it, you either prioritise, work longer hours or just forget about it. But in the world of government they give as many people as many jobs and titles as they can, paid for by the long-suffering taxpayer, and worry about what they actually have to do later.

Labor is no better, and now has a whopping 48 shadow ministers. There are so many people on the gravy train that one of Labor’s few non-ex-union-official MPs, former economist Andrew Leigh, had to take a pay cut to stay on board.

With federal government spending forecast to pass $500 billion per year in 2019-20 and gross federal debt to pass $500 billion in the next twelve months, it is clear that the size of government and the red tape it creates and administers is out of control.

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UK Nanny State bullies family restaurants

The UK government’s nanny statist food ingredients and portion size policies are now being expanded to restaurants, cafés and pubs of all sizes.

The government plans to set sugar reduction targets, calorie caps for particular products such as chocolate bars and muffins, and push for smaller portion sizes.

If foot outlets, of any size, don’t follow the punitive guidelines they will be named and shamed – possibly on an offical government website. This comes on top of a plan announced in this year’s UK budget to introduce a “sugar tax” on soft drinks. (I have previously written for The Spectator Australia that such taxes are illiberal, ineffective and regressive.)

UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is reported to have told a private meeting of over 100 food companies that he wanted to “shine a light” on non-complying companies, The Times reported in a front page story on Friday:

“We can’t ignore the changing habits of consumers. This means we expect the whole of the out-of-home sector — coffee shops, pubs and family restaurants, quick service restaurants, takeaways, cafés, contract caterers and mass catering suppliers — to step up and deliver on sugar reduction.”

Tim Wilson first wrote on FreedomWatch about Britain’s the impending portion size regulation back in 2013. At the time these were particularly targeted at larger food manufactures. The IPA’s Chris Berg has also warned in 2012 that draconian portion size regulation was recommended by the Rudd/Gillard government’s now-abolished Preventative Health Taskforce.

The basic idea that individuals should be able to choose what they consume, and restaurants allowed to decide their own ingredients and portion sizes, appears to have been lost. Instead the UK government intends to go after family restaurants that don’t comply with their arbitrary standards.

It is apparently now the role of government to decide what we are allowed to eat, and circumstances in which we can eat it.

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How much does it cost to tell a joke in the UK?

It’ll be £2,000 ($3450)!

That’s what former England footballer Paul Gascoigne found out after he made a tasteless joke about a personal security guard at a show earlier this year.

Gascoigne has pleaded guilty to racially aggravated abuse in a British court, and will be forced to pay a fine for his misdeeds.

The BBC reports that the anti-joke judge expressed his approval that Gascoigne was prosecuted in the case.

Gascoigne has denied that he is racist, and apologised stating that he did not intend to cause offence.

However, under UK law that’s apparently not enough. This case sets an extraordinary precedent, dragging people through courts for making a joke!

It’s no longer clear what jokes are and are not acceptable. A judge can now arbitrarily declare what types of humour is acceptable.

As Brendan O’Neill explains in The Spectator:

[The judge] went on to tell Gazza: ‘We live in the 21st century — grow up with it or keep your mouth closed.’ This captures the tyrannical essence of the state’s clampdown on hate speech. What is being said here is that if you have not fully imbibed today’s mainstream moral outlook — in this case that it’s bad to tell racial jokes, in other cases that you shouldn’t mock Islam, make offensive gags on Twitter, or even engage in ‘uninvited verbal contact with a woman — then you should not speak publicly. You should STFU, keep your warped ideas and humour and morality to yourself, thanks. And if you don’t, then expect a knock on the door from the cops, a fine, and maybe jail. This is profoundly illiberal. Under the cover of tackling ‘hate speech’, everything from people’s humour to their moral attitudes to our everyday conversation is being intensively policed and sometimes punished. The seemingly PC war on racist, sexist and Islamophobic language has opened the door to state monitoring of thought, speech and behaviour.

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IPA report: Superannuation cuts “will leave people poorer”

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Coverage of the IPA’s recently released report, “Strangling the goose with the golden egg” by Rebecca Weisser and Henry Ergas appeared in The Australian today. The report outlines that the purpose of a retirement income system should be to enable people to maintain their living standards after leaving the workforce, but that middle-income Australians are poorly served by this system. From The Australian:

Both major parties are condemning middle-income Australians to a dependency on the Aged Pension by targeting superannuation for budget repair, a report from the Institute of Public Affairs says.

As the government prepares to tweak its election commitment to rein in superannuation concessions, the free-market think tank says the government’s “desper­ation” for new revenue sources, as outlined in its $6 billion superannuation tax package, will undermine future retirement incomes.

The release of the report comes as Scott Morrison seeks to reach a consensus with Coalition backbenchers on the shape of the government’s super reforms, with MPs arguing for the Treasurer to lift the cap on non-concessional contributions from the proposed $500,000 to $1 million.

… Institute director of policy Simon Breheny said instead of targeting retirement income to fund spending commitments, the government should cut superannuation taxes of middle Australians to encourage savings.

Mr Breheny said middle-­income earners could expect to have a retirement income equal to 58 per cent of their pre-retirement earnings, compared with nearly 90 per cent for low-income earners.

“The poor have the pension, the rich have alternative investments and the middle class will miss out again. The objective of the superannuation system should be for people to maintain their living standards in retirement, not imply that they should be grateful to be tied to the Age Pension,” Mr ­Breheny said.

… “Unfortunately, proposed changes to superannuation from both the government and the ­opposition worsen, rather than fix the system’s myriad weaknesses,” the report says. “Superannuation reforms should be judged by the effect that they have on helping each individual to accumulate sufficient funds to maintain their living standards in retirement.”The report also concludes that the government’s proposal to introduce a cap on non-concessional contributions and lower the concessional contribution cap will “make a bad situation worse”.

“What is clear is that governments should not tax retirement savings at rates that make it difficult or impossible for savers to ­secure reasonable living standards in retirement based on the living standards they achieved during their working life. Nor should government taxes on retirement savings distort consumption decis­ions, undermining the quality of life in old age and ­reducing overall economic ­efficiency.”

Read the article here ($). Read the IPA’s report, “Strangling the goose with the golden egg” here.

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