Ben Courtice

Markets are neither free nor efficient, and they are bad for the environment. Market choice is not cheap. While that may sound like a timeless left-wing credo, it's also a simple assessment of Australia's 20 years of privatisation and market-oriented restructure of electricity supply.

Outside small left-wing dissident circles (from Keynesians to Marxists), operating the power industry according to market principles has become an unquestioned and unspoken assumption.

Unemployed workers staged a protest at a Werribee construction site where they say workers have been brought from overseas on subclass 457 work visas, without advertising the positions locally.
 
“We've spoken to management on site, they have confirmed there's 457 visa workers here,” protest spokesperson Nick Donohue told Green Left Weekly.
 
“The 457 workers are welding tanks. We've got an abundance of skilled labour in the area that can do the same job, so there's no necessity for these workers to be brought here,” Donohue said.
 

Residents of the south Gippsland town of Poowong are preparing to hold a public protest against coal seam gas (CSG) exploration in their area on February 17.

Local group CSG Free Poowong conducted an extensive survey of the area last year. They asked: “Do you want to declare Poowong coal and coal seam gas free?”

The survey results showed over 95% of the community does not want CSG mining in their region.

The event on February 17 is being organised as a celebration of this result.

Australia’s big electricity generators are feeling the squeeze of electricity demand falling in recent years and growing competition from renewable energy.

This year, some environmentalists criticised the federal government for scrapping the “contracts for closure” negotiations, which would have made the federal government compensate operators to close up to 2000 megawatts of coal-fired power stations. However, more than 2000 megawatts of coal power plant has now been closed or “mothballed” across the country without paying the contracts for closure.

In recent months, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has taken to highlighting the role of state electricity utilities in pushing up power prices. Average power bills have been rising rapidly — 69% over four years in NSW.

The ALP’s capitulation to populist refugee-bashing is wrong on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin.

The underlying rationale is patently false. The Age reported: “In a major backdown from her earlier insistence on the Malaysia ‘people swap’, Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared: ‘If people want to put up banners that this is a compromise from the government: dead — in order to start saving lives.’

If the official government line is to be believed, Australia is only a minor player when it comes to our greenhouse gas emissions.

In this view, Australia is powerless to bring about international action to cut emissions. Indeed, any such efforts are only likely to amount to economic self-sabotage.

From Laggard to Leader, the new report from research group Beyond Zero Emissions, demolishes these arguments. Far from being an inconsequential emitter, Australia’s carbon footprint is immense.

A report published on July 23 calls for Australia to institute a moratorium on new fossil fuel developments as the centrepiece of a global campaign to phase out fossil fuels.

Hundreds attended the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane meetings to launch the latest report from climate research group Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), Laggard to Leader: How Australia Can Lead the World to Zero Carbon Prosperity.

Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom & Australia's Future
By Paul Cleary
Black Inc., 2011
156 pages, pb, $24.95

Paul Cleary’s book Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom and Australia's Future, published last year, raises important questions, and provides much useful information for answers.

But the real elephant in the room, coal mining, is largely left untouched.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is being set up under the Clean Energy Future legislation (the carbon price package). It will provide $10 billion to support renewable and low-emissions energy.

That’s the message that most climate-concerned people have been hearing from the Labor government and the Greens.

Unfortunately, it now seems overly optimistic. The recently completed CEFC expert review shows it may give most of its support to gas projects.

Pages

Subscribe to Ben Courtice