Ben Courtice

Australia's large energy companies appear to prefer to accept fines for not building renewable energy rather than build it and weaken their investments in coal and gas generation.

When the Tony Abbott government passed legislation to reduce the Renewable Energy Target (RET) by about 20% in June 2015, some supporters of renewables hoped that an end to policy uncertainty would free up finance for investment and get planned projects into the construction phase.

Why is the government so keen to reform Senate voting with the threat of a double dissolution election hanging in the air?

The government and the Greens are supporting legislation to enact some recommendations of a parliamentary committee into the 2013 election while Labor and most small parties and independents are opposing them.

Economics After Capitalism: A Guide to the Ruins & a Road to the Future
By Derek Wall
Pluto Press, 2015

Derek Wall, ecosocialist activist and international coordinator of the Green Party of England and Wales, has written a primer on the main strands of economic critique of globalised capitalism.

It is a short and easily readable book, well suited to someone looking for a starting place. For those already embedded in one of these strands, it provides a welcome introduction to some of the others.

Although about 99% of Victoria's volcanic plains grasslands have been destroyed by development, some outstanding remnants of this unique ecosystem persist, especially on the western fringes of Melbourne.

The grasslands ecosystem was listed by the federal government as critically endangered in 2008. But at the same time, the then-Labor government of Victoria was initiating an expansion of Melbourne's Urban Growth Boundary that would severely impact some of its best remaining areas.

The geologically recent volcanic activity across western Victoria created a landscape with rich, but often shallow, soils, that supported a unique grassland ecosystem.

Climate, soil, herbivory and fire history, among other factors, have combined to maintain tussock grasses, such as kangaroo grass, as a dominant species, with small herbs including diverse orchids, daisies and lilies growing in the spaces between tussocks and few or no trees over large areas.

More than 2000 People's Climate Marches were held over the weekend of November 27 to 29. In Australia more than 140,000 people took to the streets to show they care, passionately, about climate change. They are also angry at government inaction, as illustrated by the many homemade placards and props.

These marches were the biggest national anti-government mobilisations for many years. The Melbourne march — a huge 60,000 people — was the biggest street march there since the anti-Work Choices protests of 2005.

Should the climate movement call for the restoration of a safe climate, rather than just zero emissions?

According to a recent paper, Striking Targets, by climate writer Philip Sutton, greenhouse gas concentrations are already too high to avoid dangerous global warming, so the zero emissions goal is inadequate.

Australian governments have always encouraged extractivist industries, particularly coal mining. These industries now face a well-organised environment movement, which is challenging environmentally damaging projects and calling for an end to coal mining.

The federal government under PM Tony Abbott took attacks on the environment movement to a new level, by introducing legislation to restrict environmentalists’ influence.

In the same week that it approved the huge $1.2 billion Shenhua Watermark coalmine in prime agricultural land on the Liverpool Plains, the Abbott government has directed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to end all investment in wind farms and small-scale solar projects. These are just the latest salvos in a series of attacks on the renewable energy sector that seek to protect their friends in the coal industry.

Scandal has erupted in Victoria as GDF Suez, the majority owner of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station, refuses to pay an $18 million bill to the Country Fire Authority. The bill is for the firefighting effort at last year's coalmine fire that blanketed local towns with soot and smoke for 45 days.

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