Precarious Climate can exclusively reveal surprising announcements made last week in a speech by Angus Taylor, Australia’s new Minister for Getting Electricity Prices Down. The media reported on only the first half of his speech, leaving out the unexpected turn he took toward the end.
“My first and only priority is to reduce power prices,” Taylor began. “And to do this while keeping the lights on.
“Focusing relentlessly on price while keeping the lights on will require some truthtelling. There will be no ideology, no grand gestures one way or another, just a simple, pragmatic focus on the solutions.
“The reason for this focus is to help people, families, small and family businesses make ends meet, and to help industry create new jobs. Prices are no longer sustainable – for families, for pensioners, for businesses.”
This firm declaration from the new Minister was met with loud applause from government supporters.
“Before I outline the direction of this new Government,” Taylor continued. “I wish to address four points about what motivates me in this area.
“First, we need to recognise that sharp increases in retail electricity prices has eroded the trust of Australians in the capacity of government and politicians to deliver affordable, reliable energy. Because of a failure to focus on the basics the electricity sector, like the banks, needs to re-establish its credibility or social licence with the community.”
Junior party members stood behind the Minister, solemnly nodding along with his every word.
“Secondly,” Taylor insisted. “I am not sceptical about climate science, but I am and have been for many years deeply sceptical of the economics of so many of the emissions reductions schemes dreamed up by vested interests, technocrats and politicians around the world.
“I am a lover of the environment. My family has continually changed farming practices to reflect the changing climate, particularly in recent years.
“But none of my concerns justify supporting expensive programmes that deliver little else other than funnel consumers’ hard-earned money into vested interests resulting in increased prices and reduced reliability. In good conscience, I simply can’t support the hard-earned wages of Australians being siphoned off into these sorts of schemes.”
Standing next to Taylor, the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison grinned proudly at how closely Taylor was adhering to his vision.
“Thirdly,” the Minister continued, “I see a strong role for commercially viable renewables. My grandfather was chief engineer of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, Australia’s greatest renewable scheme, a scheme that has done more to reduce emissions than any other project in Australian history.
“Renewables are in my blood, and have been from the day I was born. Like many others in regional Australia, we use solar technology on the farm where we live.”
There was scattered polite applause at this statement. It was expected that the Minister give lip service to climate change and renewable energy to keep the public happy.
“Finally,” said Taylor. “As a Liberal, I am not a strong believer in heavy-handed government intervention. It would be marvellous if we could fix these problems by leaving the industry alone.
”But we are well past that point. This is a sector now characterised by heavy-handed government intervention. Poorly conceived interventions in the past leave us no choice but to make interventions if we’re going to get things back on track quickly.
“There has been a lot of talk in recent months about increasing investment certainty for the electricity sector. Frankly, I think there is some naivety in the idea that governments can largely eliminate uncertainty, or should even try. Parliaments or governments can’t bind future parliaments and governments – this would be a breach of the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty.”
Taylor was finally ready to announce the new government’s policy.
“Our policy in this area is sharply differentiated from Labor and we make no apology for that,” he said to more applause, cheers, and cries of “hear, hear”.
The unexpected turn
But then the Minister’s press conference took an unexpected turn, and his colleagues’ approval turned to concern.
“Because of all the reasons I have just listed,” said Taylor. “My energy policy will pursue a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy for Australia.”
The Prime Minister looked shocked. “What? But I thought we agreed our goal is to reduce power prices, not to cut emissions!”
“That’s right,” said Taylor. “Renewables are the best way to achieve a future of lower power prices. Renewable energy prices are plummeting as the technologies improve, while fossil fuels will get ever more expensive as they become ever more difficult to cheaply extract. Renewables will also help keep the lights on, as coal-fired generators have trouble coping with demand spikes during heatwaves. The renewable energy industry will create new jobs too.
“And as power prices fall, restoring trust in the electricity sector, that will help create political support for cutting pollution.
“All that is true regardless of whether you’re sceptical about climate science, which I’ve just clarified I’m not. I also just explained why I was so skeptical of all the past emissions reduction programs – because they favored a particular set of industries. When Labor were in government they showered fossil fuel companies with free pollution permits.
“Likewise the previous Prime Minister’s programs, whether it was the Emissions Reduction Fund, Emissions Intensity Scheme, Clean Energy Target, or National Energy Guarantee, have done little more than funnel government money to fossil fuel companies. I opposed the NEG because it was trying to strangle the growth of the unfavored set of technologies. It threatened to halt investment in renewable energy between 2020 and 2030, although renewables are now the most commercially viable energy technologies and may supply 50% of our electricity by 2030 even if we do nothing.
“The previous Prime Minister’s latest change to the NEG, removing the emissions standard, made it even more protective of his favorites. It would have effectively underwritten new fossil fuel generators. He even announced a last resort power, to force companies to divest fossil fuel assets rather than retire them. We definitely won’t be doing that – we’ll scrap the NEG and go back to the drawing board to design an entirely pro-renewable energy policy.
“Those failed climate policies are just some of the fossil fuel subsidies we now need to correct through new interventions. The fossil fuel sector is propped up by $11 billion in annual subsidies to facilitate and attract fossil fuel investment, from the fuel tax credit scheme to fringe benefit tax exemptions to aviation tax concessions. Adani even wants us to fund their rail line and allow them to destroy the Great Barrier Reef.”
At this point, the Prime Minister seized the microphone and sacked Taylor on the spot, saying he had failed to understand his job and the announced policy was a mistake.
“My sincerest apologies to the Minerals Council of Australia, Chevron, Wesfarmers, Origin Energy, Woodside, and Santos,” said Morrison. “I hope this will not dissuade you from continuing to donate to the party of the free market.”
The quotes before the “unexpected turn” are the actual words of the real Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor (here’s the real speech I’m satirizing). Of course, the real Taylor was arguing against cutting emissions on the basis that high power prices have been caused by government intervention to subsidize renewable energy. If he was honest, he would admit his own words argue against that position. Fossil fuels are now the more expensive energy source, and the government’s stated free market ideology is a fraud – in reality the government intervenes to protect established industries and throttle new ones that threaten them.