Tag Archives: Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott and his #climate record since becoming Prime Minister 2 years ago #auspol

By their fruit ye shall know them.”  Since September 7th 2013 Tony Abbott has done his best to undermine Australia’s response to climate change.  Here’s a guide to the ruins, under the following headings

  • Opposing robust climate action
  • Attacking green groups
  • In favour of coal
  • Undermining renewables
  • Symbolic action

[If I’ve missed anything, please let me know! Btw, for blistering critiques of Abbott’s reign more generally, see Michelle Grattan and Lenore Taylor.]

Opposing robust climate action
1)  Julia Gillard, as the price of Green Party support for her minority government, had skilfully guided the ‘Clean Energy Futures’ package through parliament, over protests. An emissions trading scheme became law in July 2012. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott swore a ‘blood oath’ that he would repeal it. And he was as good as his word. As a consequence, emissions from electricity generation, which were reducing, are going up.

2) Keeping climate out of domestic policy documents

  • The 2015 Energy White Paper got word-counted by the folks at Reneweconomy – “Gas leads still with 173, while coal gets 47 and nuclear 23. Solar gets 19 mentions, battery storage six and wind energy gets just the one mention – in a generic sentence that says Australia has “world class” solar, geothermal and wind resources.” (this is ongoing – the 2004 Energy White Paper was basically a fossil fuel industry wish list)

It will be interesting to see if climate gets more of a mention in the Defence White Paper due later this year. Could go either way ( see here and here).

3) Abbott attempted to keep climate change off the agenda at G20 meeting in Brisbane in 2014, resulting in embarrassment, a healthy dose of schadenfreude for everyone else.  In general he’s been snubbing the international process by not sending a minister to 2013 Warsaw Conference of the Parties (and undermining Julie Bishop at the 2014 COP in Lima by sending Andrew Robb to ride shotgun). Inevitably, his government didn’t put forward its targets for Paris until the last minute, and then feeble ones at that – “statistical sophistry and deceptive deadlines.”

Attacking green groups
In December 2013 Abbott defunded the Environmental Defence Organisations making it harder for civil society to know about, and challenge, dodgy ‘development’ decisions. Most infamously, in response to ‘green sabotage’ (er, using the law) that has delayed the Carmichael Mine, Abbott wants to strip people of their ability to participate in legal process unless they are ‘directly affected’.
At the behest of state-level resource councils, it is investigating the charitable status of green groups (to try to dry up their funding) This ties up these groups’ very limited resources.  Whether it ‘succeeds’ or fails, that’s how wars of attrition work.  Meanwhile, as The Australia Institute points out, the resources councils get even bigger tax breaks!
[Fun fact:  John  Howard also attacked civil society, and the Institute of Public Affairs got $50,000 of tax-payers money to help out].

In favour of coal
Rhetorical; Opening the Caval Ridge coal mine  in October 2014, Abbott intoned – ‘coal is good for humanity’, echoing the Peabody campaign ‘Advanced Energy for Life’  He offers ongoing (rhetorical) support for CCS, while cutting $460m from the research budget (no bad thing, many will think.)

Practical;In July 2014 Environment Minister Greg Hunt gave planning permission for the Carmichael Mine (won’t anyone think of the skinks?) In July 2015 the Abbott giving planning permission for the Shenhua Coal Mine on the Liverpool Plains. Abbott has als set up the $5bn Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (which is not just for coal of course!) There are of course ongoing federal subsidies, which beggar belief.

Undermining renewables
Australia should be an energy superpower. It was a world leader in renewables, but the CSIRO shut down its research in 1983, and alongside a more general ‘brain drain’ Australia’s lead evaporated.
In order to get around his election promise not to cut renewables, appointing climate denier Dick Warburton to re-examine (and in a shock move advocate cutting), for the gazillionth time, the Renewables Energy Target that came into force because John Howard had to promise it as part of his pre-Kyoto placation.
He’s appointed a wind-farm commissioner to ‘investigate’ spurious health claims.
Having reduced the Large Scale Renewable Energy Target (RET) Abbott is attacking the small-scale RET target
He’s tried to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, (CEFC), and then when he didn’t have the numbers, forcing it not to do its job of  supporting technologies that are near commercialisation. He’s also attempted to abolish Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Symbolic action
The main (already failed) plank of Abbott’s emissions reduction is ‘Direct Action’  (Independent Senator Nick Xenophon recently pointed out that the safeguards for an already dodgy scheme are not in place). Meanwhile he has claimed Australia has reached its Kyoto target, using ‘considerable diplomatic effort’ to hid actual levels of emissions. He’s attempted to set up ‘Climate Consensus’ centre, with Bjorn Lomborg, first at University of Western Australia and then at Flinders University in South Australia. He’s appointed arch denialist Maurice Newman as his chief business adviser, and Common-Grace-1refused a gift of solar panels for Kirribilli house (as did John Howard).  Oh, and for his ‘sins’ Kevin Rudd’s first climate act was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Abbott’s was to… abolish the Climate Commission

What does it all mean?
People often think that the Liberals simply do what Big Business tell them.  Perhaps, but on climate change the picture has, for 15 years been complicated by the question ‘which bit of big business?’  Ten years ago it was only banks, insurance industry and bits of the energy industry who demurred from the mining-industry-led blocking.That began to break down in 2006.

Now, big business seems to be awake to the damage Mr Abbott is causing. Renewables investment is fleeing the country. In combination with Big Green, business has set up an Australian Climate Roundtable,. There has been some hand-wringing about ‘policy uncertainty’, but less about the coal exports…

There are two questions –

  • how come they didn’t fight harder in 2011 and 2012, when it could have made a difference?
  • do they think another three years of Tony Abbott will serve their interests any better?

Keeping up to date
There are two journalists I read whenever I can – Lenore Taylor and Mike Seccombe; both have been on the climate beat for decades, have great contacts and even greater insight.   Bob Burton’s work on  PR, Coal and corporate strategy makes him invaluable (see his latest project, Coalswarm).
There are of course, great writers on ‘The Conversation‘ (and I am on it too)
On renewable energy and incumbent strategies, Reneweconomy  (though I think they sometimes mishandle the knotty concept of grid parity)

Some (there are others – these mostly cover the politics) excellent books
Ian Lowe (2005) Living in the Hothouse: how global warming affects Australia
Clive Hamilton‘s “Running from the Storm” (2001) and “Scorcher” (2007)
Guy Pearse’s brilliant High and Dry (2007), his other work too (especially ‘Big Coal’)
Maria Taylor’s (2015) Global Warming and Climate Change: What Australians Knew… and then buried
Philip Chubb (2014) Power Failure: the inside story of climate politics under Rudd and Gillard
Chris Wright and Daniel Nyberg (2015) Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction (NB I’ve only read the first – good- few chapters so far and  Chris Wright is a friend.)

DISCLAIMERS:  I am very well aware that life was not a bed of roses under the Australian Labor Party, 2007-2013. The mitigation targets were hopelessly inadequate, adaptation got stuffed etc etc.  Oh, and  I am not now, nor at any time in the past have been a member of the Green Party (Australia, UK, Mars) or indeed of ANY political party. I’m just a bewildered and dispirited member of a species that is clearly unable to use its thin quantities of wisdom to solve the problems it is causing (for itself and other species) with its remarkably thick intelligence.

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The gift that keeps on giving: of solar panels and Australian Prime Ministers #climate #auspol

On 20 October 1997 a team of Greenpeace activists scaled the walls surrounding Kirribilli House, the Sydney residence of Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. Solar panels were rushed past the security guards and lifted up on to the roof as a ‘gift’ to the Prime Minister. From the roof, the protesters used mobile phones to inform the Australian and international media about their opposition to the Australian Government’s refusal to support common and binding greenhouse-gas emission targets.

The Prime Minister’s response was that ‘noisy groups such as Greenpeace will…. have absolutely no impact at all on the direction of policy’. That policy, according to the Prime Minister, was driven by the view that ‘economic reform has produced significant reorientation of the Australian economy towards the export sector in general and resource processing sectors in particular….’”

Wiseman, J. (1998) Global Nation? Australia and the politics of globalisation Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 86-7

Fast forward 18 long years, and in March this year we get this-

Australia’s Tony Abbott Rejects Solar Panels, Cites Security Concerns

“Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has rejected a gift of solar panels offered by a Christian group that ran a crowdfunding campaign late 2014, citing security concerns as a primary reason.”

Common-Grace-1The first ‘gift’ was perhaps a white elephant gambit, an attempt to weigh the recipient down with embarrassment. The second may have been too, or a sincere effort to get a man who wears his faith heavily, to wake up. It failed too, of course.

[Update – as a good friend points out – one of the first things Reagan did upon taking office was to remove the solar panels that Carter put up.]

The bosses know that there are important symbolic battles being fought (and won – by them) here. Australia has been turning its back on the sun for decades. By now, if the early trajectory around research and development had been sustained, it might well have been an energy superpower in renewables and energy efficiency. We will never know, of course, absent a time machine and the willingness to run a parallel experiment (sort of hippie Kyle Reese?)

Meanwhile, the carbon dioxide accumulates….

On the Stepper: #ImStickingwithTony (not). Tech history, Field -Configuring Events, normative utopia

Was on the stepper on Thursday, reading about the global coal trade (Thank you IEA Coal Information 2014 and World Energy Council survey.) And yesterday, reading about the Australian Coal Export industry (more on that soon).

Today was broader, and perhaps more fun (!?)

I started with a speech by the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, [if you haven’t seen the delicious twitter hashtag #ImStickingWithTony yet – who knew Australia had so many top quality snarksters?!]. Abbott made the speech (complete with his verbal tic of repetition, verbal tic of repetition] at the “Annual Minerals Industry Parliamentary Dinner” on 28th May 2014. Here’s my favourite bit –

It’s particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold. Well really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future.

There are several things I could say at this point, none of them helpful…

Next up was Divall, C. (2010) “Mobilizing the History of Technology”, Technology and Culture, Vol 51, pp. 938- 960.  It was cited approvingly in the research proposal of a PhD colleague. Lots of very interesting things in this, on notions of “usable past”, “techno-tales” and “techno-myths” and so on…

Younger people are becoming habituated to living in spatially complex and extended social networks and are thus heavily dependent upon “cheap transport” (and telecommunications). All of this suggests just how widely held and deeply rooted is the belief that personal mobility is a right, and that we are still locked into the same techno-tales that led Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–59) famously to proclaim that “every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially.”

When techno-tales start to look as though they are underpinning claims to rights, we are clearly entering deep waters. Questioning the history implicit in such ideas is fraught with difficulties, because they are often sincerely held elements of an individual’s or community’s sense of identity— not merely techno-tales, but myths. In David Lowenthal’s formulation, “myth” provides stories of origin and continuance through the decades and centuries, narratives that bind today’s individuals and communities together through a sense of common purpose and prestige.

Next up Lampel, J. and Meyer, A. (2009) “Field-Configuring Events as Structuring Mechanisms: How Conferences, Ceremonies, and Trade Shows Constitute New Technologies, Industries, and Markets ” Journal of Management Studies 45:6

Field-Configuring Events (FCEs) are temporary social organizations such as tradeshows, professional gatherings, technology contests, and business ceremonies that encapsulate and shape the development of professions, technologies, markets, and industries (Meyer et al., 2005). They are settings in which people from diverse organizations and with diverse purposes assemble periodically, or on a one-time basis, to announce new products, develop industry standards, construct social networks, recognize accomplishments, share and interpret information, and transact business.

FCEs are arenas in which networks are constructed, business cards are exchanged, reputations are advanced, deals are struck, news is shared, accomplishments are recognized, standards are set, and dominant designs are selected.

I wish I’d known about this back in 2006 (impossible, since it hadn’t been written) while involved in Climate Camp, which was an attempt at a Field-Configuring Event…. #toolatenow

Finally Berkhout, F. (2006) “Normative Expectations in Systems Innovation” Technology Analysis and Strategic Management. Vol. 18. pp. 299-311. (Also from that research proposal).,

Hmm, I was probably too tired (80 mins in on the stepper) to read this properly, but there was useful stuff about the (de)mobilising power of visions –

We further argue that, to give them force, visions of the future tend to be ‘moralised’, in the sense of being encoded and decoded as either utopias or dystopias. This is because the possible effects of different visions are socially distributed (there will be winners and losers), and because one way of enrolling actors to a particular vision is to attach it to positive moral values, or to visualise the negative consequences of not pursuing it.

And some stuff on whose visions “win” (the actual, non-meritocratic, selection pressures) –

“Second, we may say that, in broad terms, there are two kinds of explanations for the successful articulation and diffusion of a vision: its validity or attractiveness to a wide range of interests; and/or the power of the constitutive interests who dominate a discourse about alternative futures. In these two cases what is different are the terms under which new adherents are enrolled to the vision. In one there is a process of voluntary and empowered enrolment, in the other enrolment is in some sense involuntary or even coercive. This may be because a deliberately constrained set of options have been considered, or because the capacity to realise future options has been disproportionately aligned with one particular future option.”

Which translates as “rich powerful people can be numbskulls and still get approval and the intellectual equivalent of retweets.”