24 August 2014

Media scrutiny and the Abbott government

Before the 2013 election and since, it has been the contention of this blogger that the Australia's political media (including, but not limited to, the Canberra press gallery) did not sufficiently scrutinise the Coalition about its suitability to govern this country.

It is more than fair to say that it was excessively critical of the former Labor government and has been insufficiently critical (in the best sense) of this one. To compensate, political journalists are acting all surprised that the Abbott government turned out to be worse than they had expected it to be, when nobody had any right to expect an Abbott government to be anything but the combination of punchline and disaster like the US Presidency of George W. Bush. I've already gone after Michelle Grattan for this silly approach, but yet it persists from beyond the press gallery by two commentators who ought to know better.

In 2010 Greg Jericho was a public servant living in Canberra, hoping that the media would examine the Coalition's policy on disability services. When it instead engaged in its traditional Boys-On-The-Bus crap Jericho took to social media and demonstrated its power for the first time in Australia. The political media were confronted with the idea that whatever they dished up might not be good enough, that they didn't have a monopoly on (or any) news sense, and that they might be judged by both how well they played the game and on the game itself by people who weren't even 'players'. By and large, they hated it. Some, such as Fairfax's Tony Wright and the ABC's Mark Scott, admitted being caught out and promised to lift the standard of political reporting, but none did.

Earlier this week, Jericho wrote this. He seems to think that the most you can expect from journalists covering politics is that they attend press conferences, document launches and other set-piece events, maybe ask a few questions, transcribe what is said and simply relay it on.

During last year’s election campaign, the Liberal Party did all it could to say very little that might rock any boats other than asylum seeker ones.

It was happy to talk about border and national security but on issues like education and health it played a straight bat and suggested little change was coming. While such a strategy may have been the safe play in opposition, it's rebounded badly on them now they’re in government.

A few weeks ago at the National Press Club, Guardian Australia journalist Katharine Murphy suggested to Christopher Pyne that one of the reasons the government was struggling to sell its policy was that “there was a deliberate effort by the Coalition to minimise the differences and the perceptions of the differences in education between the Coalition and Labor”.

Pyne replied that he had given speeches “hinting” that the Liberal Party in government would propose the changes it had and that “the fact that some members of the fourth estate missed that is not my responsibility.”
He's right; it isn't. Journalists should have sources of information that go beyond staged events. Murphy's idea of investigative journalism is clicking the Send/Receive button on her email in the hope that some press secretary has sent her a press release. Almost all of her press gallery colleagues are of similar modus operandi.

The reason why Laura Tingle is consistently one of the better journalists in the press gallery is that she seems to have contacts outside Parliament House, in the public service and other organisations that both feed into and are affected by policy outcomes. Murphy and the rest of them don't, by and large, which is why they can't cope when what seems like a great idea in Canberra falls flat before it hits the Federal Highway.

If you want to catch Christopher Pyne you need to watch how he spends his time, and where he gets his ideas from. Pyne did not, as Julia Gillard did, go around to actual schools and ask actual teachers and actual parents and actual students what was going on. So much for minimising differences. Pyne spent most of his time in opposition engaging in parliamentary silly-buggers and offering commentary on any issue other than education, which is why he relies on ill-considered assumptions like these.

Talk to Coalition backbenchers and note the aridity of their ideas and the process by which they come up with ideas: if these intellectual deserts will not fill the banquet-halls of government, then where are we to look? Look at what the IPA come out with, and the antecedence of their ideas: they do not like scrutiny and scurry away like those timid marsupials in First Dog On The Moon cartoons - but that is all the more reason to turn up the klieg lights. The same goes for policy units within business organisations like BCA. Rather than stand around Canberra like the world's most expensive microphone stands, they could examine where the Coalition forages for its ideas, and thereby build a better picture (for better and worse) of how the Coalition governs.

In higher education, he is attempting to implement the same policy that John Hewson proposed in 1991, a version of which Amanda Vanstone attempted to introduce as minister five years later. Fightback! is indeed 'old news', but political journalists need to overcome their aversion to it if they are to detect, report on and analyse how we are governed. Clearly, hanging around in bunches within Parliament House and doing whatever else they do is not working for anyone, including them.
Like education, the Liberal Party’s health policy was barely articulated.

In the months leading up to the election, Peter Dutton told the Australian Financial Review that “Our policy is ready to go. I’ve been working on policy with stakeholders in this portfolio behind the scenes every day over the past five years. We will have a cracker of a policy as we did at the last election”.
The political commentator Paul Kelly said before the election that the Coalition had fifty fully costed policies ready to go, but it is hard to see any evidence of these. Kelly put his credibility on the line by making a statement like that, and it's fair to diminish his credibility in light of the actual performance of this government (including the fact that so many current ministers had held ministerial office under Howard).

Again, regarding the above quote: the AFR journalist referenced by Jericho, Joanna Heath, did not approach any of the relevant stakeholders consulted, but instead merely relayed the 'cracker' comment and moved on. This is a failure of journalism on her part and on that of all journalists covering politics and health. They had a duty to examine what an Abbott government might be like, and go around the Coalition press wranglers if necessary; they squibbed it.
Nowhere in the Liberal Party’s health policy document was there anything relating to GP co-payment, nor anything suggesting, as was reported yesterday, that private health insurers would get control over general practitioner treatments.
No there wasn't, but that was the wrong place to look. How were private health insurance companies trimming their sails this time last year in response to what was then an inevitable change of government? Who does the Coalition listen to on health matters, and what were they saying?

This isn't being smart after the event. It should be basic journalism.
The AMA was against [the $7 co-payment for GP visits announced in the budget]. But lest you be under some delusion that the AMA was against a co-payment, let me correct you. As the president of the AMA, Brian Owler, told the media yesterday, “The AMA’s position has never been that everyone should be bulk-billed.”
If the public are under any delusion about any aspect of public policy, then this is not the fault of the public, but of those who inform them - the media. AMA policy should have been one of the measuring sticks for both Labor and Coalition policies. Journalists should take more responsibility for this than they do.
So, the government remains saddled with a policy that has little love among voters and less among the people needed to make it into law.
Time to revisit the question (too late, but still) as to what extent anyone might regard it as a "cracker". If the Coalition had consulted its stakeholders about this policy, surely the stakeholders themselves bear some responsibility for helping convince the public. Building a constituency for change is basic politics, and investigating that constituency (or its absence) is basic journalism.

In terms of "the people needed to make it into law" (i.e. the crossbench senators), this is a simple misjudgment of politics by Dutton and Abbott. Politicians may fail at economic management, they may fail to prepare the country in education or health or in any number of policies. Politicians who fail at politics have failed utterly. Poor old Amanda Vanstone couldn't work out whether the rise of Clive Palmer was a shock or utterly predictable, and so decided on both.

In his various columns Jericho sets himself apart from other commentators by taking a politician's statement and comparing it against reliable external sources of fact to test whether or not the statement stands up. There should be more of this, and he should be congratulated for doing it. He should not be congratulated for insisting that journalists can only be expected to cover what is said in set-piece announcements (including in Hansard).

Journalists have no right to be surprised by the Abbott government when they observed it up close for so long. This is why the very first sentence of this piece by Michael Gawenda was wrong. It is no more weird than any other time since Abbott became Liberal leader.
... Tony Abbott has been unable to offer up any coherent statement of what the main challenges facing his government -- and the country -- might be.
The absence both of any vision, and any capacity to execute it, has been there all along.
First there was Eric Abetz for his suggestion that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer.
This question was put to Abetz by someone outside the press gallery, regarding an event Abetz is participating in that is squarely in line with his long-held, professed beliefs. Eric Abetz has been a Senator for 20 years. In every parliament, the question of abortion comes up. The idea that Abetz holds ill-informed views and holds them staunchly should surprise nobody. Yet, the entire press gallery flapped and floundered at the 'revelation' of a predictable approach to a predictable issue, diminishing their value as observers and commentators.

Weird? No. Seriously weird? Hardly.
Neither of them, not Abetz in his pathetic attempt to say that he was quoted out of context, nor Hockey, in his abject apology for being misunderstood, actually resiled from what they had said.
That, too, was predictable by any close observers of politics and of the way it is reported.
What this points to is the major problem with Tony Abbott’s first year in office. On the available evidence, he has not yet been able to make the transition from an opposition leader renowned for his ability to be relentless in his attack on a shambolic government and its policies, to a prime minister who can articulate the direction in which he wants to take the country.
What this points to is the major problem with the way the media covered Tony Abbott and examined what he said. To what extent was he being facile and repetitive, rather than 'relentless'? To what extent was the Rudd-Gillard government shambolic - in absolute terms, or in comparison to the incumbents?
Some commentators seemed to believe he had found the 'real' Tony Abbott PM after the shooting down of MH17 ... For the first time since he was elected prime minister, Abbott sounded like what he was saying, how he acted, the tone of his language, came from conviction and a clarity about what he felt and believed that had about it a real authenticity -- a political authenticity that is, something that every politician aspires to but few actually achieve.

But on the evidence of the past week or so, it seems that this ‘real’ Tony Abbott that his friends in the media were so hopeful had finally emerged and would transform the political landscape, was no more than a transitory moment.
These 'friends' are the problem. Why so many of them, even now? Have they privileged this relationship with their friend Abbott over what was best for the country? It's time to ask serious questions about the credibility of the press gallery in terms of telling us how we are and might be governed. It's time to stop accepting that bad reporting is like bad weather, there's nothing you can do so just put up with it.
He has allowed friendly commentators to signal a move by Abbott towards something they describe as pragmatism and at other times, a move towards the political centre, though it is wholly unclear just what that means in policy terms.
The signalling is done through the organs that employ those commentators. Their credibility diminishes when Abbott's does. In dictatorships it is the role of media outlets to explain what government has done and that it means well, not in supposedly robust democracies like ours. If commentators have failed to explained Abbott, and have succeeded only in explaining him in ways that please him, this is a problem for the media that employ those commentators.
And Abbott has been muddled at times and at other times tin-eared when it has come to selling the government’s proposed anti-terrorism laws.
What did you expect? The Minister who bungled the treatment of Dr Haneef is still a member of Abbott's cabinet. Nobody has explained what the Coalition, the security agencies or anyone else learned from that caper.
He might even be right to take the advice of the security agencies that the anti-terrorism laws need to be beefed up ...
... but when the previous government proposed this, the Coalition opposed it on civil liberties grounds. Journalists should have questioned whether this was a point of principle or a cynical maneuver, and looked at the power of security agencies in shaping Coalition thinking (as they had under Howard after 2001).
But when he conflated his government’s abandonment of changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act ... It went downhill from there when he talked about ‘Team Australia’ as if there were communities who were not part of the team ... And what exactly did Abbott mean when he said on talk-back radio that "you don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team"?
Oh come on, he's been doing that for years. The idea that this is some departure from a well-considered position is flatly false. Nobody has any right to be shocked at the inconsistency and cynicism involved.
He knows what he is against, but he finds it very difficult to say what he is for, except in slogans ...
'Twas ever thus. This is not a new phenomenon for Abbott, it's just that the media are being a little more critical in some respects, and the Coalition can't handle it.

Had they scrutinised the prospect of an Abbott government, who knows what might have happened? Maybe the last election would have been like 2004, when a flawed and unpopular government was re-elected rather than be replaced by a manifestly worse alternative. Michelle Grattan's insistence that Abbott's policies (such as they were) need not be scrutinised because he was going to win anyway should have brought forward her retirement and signalled her end as a useful commentator. Instead, she and other signallers remain in place, puzzled at Abbott's inadequacies in government, without examining their own role in bringing such a predicament into being - nor their inability to effectively scrutinise the activities of any government, now or into the future.

Gawenda, Jericho, Murphy and the rest need to stop their automatic exoneration of the media. In failing to scrutinise the Abbott government before it was elected, the traditional media have failed the nation and themselves.


  1. I share your disquiet about the failings of the media Andrew and I fear nothing will change.
    The failure of journalists, with notable exceptions, to place the Abbott led Opposition under proper scrutiny is there for all to see in columns expressing surprise at the disordered, inconsistent and downright belligerent government now being delivered. No surprises. No shocks. That is what we were promised.

    Well I am not surprised by the shenanigans but I am shocked at the impudence of politicians like Pyne talking about pre-election 'hints' signally policy reversals on a huge scale. What he is really saying is that voters were too gullible to see things hidden in plain view. Why? Well you have covered that well above Andrew.

    I wonder though if the shortcomings of political commentators is another symptom of the malaise of our democracy. I am beginning to wonder if we are now a plutocracy.

    1. I've been of the opinion that we've been a plutocracy for quite some time. Next step? Yep - that little bundle of sticks.

  2. Thank you for a great article Andrew.

    I see all News Ltd journalists as "cleanup crew" for government blunders. They start with 'What the Minister meant to say was ...' and proceed to concoct a more palliative set of words to justify the Abbott government train wreck.

    Clanger of the week must go to Peter Hartcher for suggesting it was up to Labor and the Greens to help 'control' PUP. While very amusing it is another example of how poor journalism has become in this country.


    1. Hartcher was 'cleanup crew' for Rudd. He was indignant that women interpreted Gillard's misogyny speech in ways that reflected their own lives rather than the dim-witted narrative Hartcher and co were laying down. He attempted to get close to Hockey but I'm not sure that has worked as well as he'd like.

      Hartcher is one of this country's senior political journalists and sets the tone for political coverage to a larger extent than is necessary. The CEO of Fairfax has declared him a protected species. Fairfax's press gallery representation (Tingle aside) is rubbish, and Hartcher handpicked them. Sacking him would send a powerful signal that traditional media is serious about its own survival, but it won't happen because it isn't.

    2. i enjoy blocking people like hartcher and grattan on twitter if only they new, they are blocked by so may tweeters who are fed up with their style of journalism.

    3. every time I knock back a subscription offer from Fairfax I make a point of telling them I wont buy till Hartcher goes. And Mark f*** Kenny

  3. Another spot on comment Andrew, the coalition spent 6 years in a hammock leaving QT as its avenue of effort and what a farce that was. Those 50 "policies" what a joke, mostly from the IPA, Howard and Hewson archives but not Frazer or Menzies who at least had the country's interests at heart. Roll on 2016 to Quote Henry V111 who will rid me of this meddlesome priest(well almost).

    1. Wrong Henry (II not VIII) - and turbulent, not meddlesome.

  4. Good points Andrew. I can't help but wonder why press gallery journalists are so well-paid - especially in the current climate of media organisations cutting costs - when any cadet could do what most of them do.

    1. I wonder why they're exempt from the widespread redundancies that have swept through traditional media. For the AFR to get rid of Neil Chenoweth while keeping Fleur Anderson shows the difference between cost and value.

  5. every many woman and child should read this, i have given up hope many days i block the msm for their reporting and story telling where is one of them that would wish to win a prize for going behind the story they write, one can think of many things we see on twitter daily, and wonder
    will they read this i wonder do they, there is a few of course that do well one i can think of is the young man who informed us about manus island,
    you would think there is one just one who would like to win a prize the last one i remember was the watergate story, is there no one in aust with that drive and determination to receive a prize for great jounalisim

    if your reading this , consider that you are the ones that can stop up slipping in to recession depression and where that leads,, it s on your watch,, and it for the sake of your own family if not the country,
    ps andrew do you ever get feed back from them or they do not read your blog as they do not want to read or hear.

  6. As good as he is, Jericho is just showing signs of now being a member of the MSM herd.

    1. Disagree, see my response to Dan below.

  7. Andrew, I think Jericho is just stating the obvious. It IS all we can expect from journalists these days that they attend a few press conferences etc. Until we start to turn over the Federal press gallery in particular, political journalism will remain firmly rooted in the 1980s. Just look at the number of Press Gallery members who were there in the 80s and are still there (actually the Gallery is firmly rooted!).

    I would cut Jericho a little slack. I think he does a reasonably good job in exposing the humbug of this government and those who make a living out of writing about it.

    1. I would cut Jericho a lot of slack. He's one of the country's best commentators, one who is always worth reading. I haven't gone him as hard as I would an overpaid dummy like Mark Kenny or Niki Savva. In NSW they turn over press gallery representation with each new government, lots of merit in that.

  8. As always Andrew yet again a good article.

    To quote part of what you wrote ...Paul Kelly said before the election that the Coalition had fifty fully costed policies ready to go, but it is hard to see any evidence of these. Kelly put his credibility on the line by making a statement like that, and it's fair to diminish his credibility in light of the actual performance of this government.

    In the light of this, it is not difficult to categorise Paul Kelly as a stenographer of only limited talent and intellect. It a question of ...you can fool some of the people some of the time; but you can't fool all the people all of the time. Except of course when it comes to the likes of Paul Kelly he can be fooled all of the time ...and it seems not difficult to do either, just ask any coalition politician.

    1. Kelly was genuinely first class in his day, but his day passed sometime early in the Howard government. It was ridiculous for ABC's 'Insiders' to indulge him for as long as they did.

    2. He's not even a particularly accurate stenograpeher these days - not evn in Grattan's class.

  9. I've moved from 'the media is biased' pre election to deciding they're lazy, clueless and ignorant. Different cause , same result.

    I was surprised more wasn't made of the 'we don't have an industry policy because Mirabella wasn't elected' idoicy - which is now sometimes used as a reason we can't expect MacFarlane to be across his brief.

    Consider the implications of that statement - Mirabel la did have policies, ready to go, but because she wasn't elected we have to start from scratch.

    So either young Sophie tore her policy documents up in a fit of pique, or somehow it has been impossible to transfer them from Wangaratta to Canberra.

    Implicit in this , of course, is that at no stage did she even discuss her policies with other Liberals, let alone show them to them.

    Yet the media not only doesn't question this but accepts it as a valid reason for a policy void in this area.

    Zuvele Leschen

    1. There's a million stories in Canberra's naked city, and that is yet another one of them that goes begging. Bravo.

  10. It would seem few people are taking any notice of the MSM any more. An article over at the Guardian on line about another Christopher Pyne brain fart had over 781 comments so far, almost all negative.
    People do care and increasingly the web is where they are going. We still need someone, anyone, to give us the facts, just the facts, and maybe an expert in depth analysis, the MSM have not done that for quite a while.
    As an aside, how many enraged parents of high school kids does it take to change a government?

  11. Dammit, I just typed up a long post and it got eaten by the posting software.

    The gist of the post was that someone like Grog may /need/ to be relatively circumspect about what he says (though preferably not quite as circumspect as in that article - the press gallery needs a solid kick every time anyone talks about them, and that article was far too nice). Grog's in a position where people read his articles and take what he says seriously, without needing to generate a twitter storm to get people's attention. If he went around saying things exactly as they are and giving the deserving their just desserts (a boot to the arse), wouldn't he be jeopardising that position? Would he be able to achieve more by saying what he thought openly than he could by being circumspect?

    How much is that privileged soapbox worth preserving, at the cost of being a little more subdued than you would otherwise choose?

    Simon Fowler

  12. Mr Denmore, with a financial journalist background, once summed it up well. In his field it would be unacceptable to report on major investment activities and stories without checking them out thoroughly. Peoples and institutions savings and futures depended on the reliability of that information. Occasionally they'll get it wrong, as with Skase a generation ago, but usually that will be the more generalist reporters rather those employed specifically for financial reporting.

    Why should we expect any less from our political reporting? It is more than just the fundamental principle of a democracy needing an informed voting public. Peoples lives are affected in just as many ways by an uninformed public as their savings are when the spivs are let loose.

    When the NBN was trashed for no reason other than bowing to News Ltd and the rent-seeking lobbies, it crushed a very rare opportunity to overcome a major Australian problem of distance and small scale. What was offered in its place was a dog's breakfast of PR junk stitched together to prevent the LNP being exposed on this issue. It was a deception that was not any more heavily disguised than was Direct Action as a supposed Climate change strategy. That these destroyed the only two ministers with some credibility added to the woes of this government's reign.

    Pyne claimed he hinted at some of the nasty stuff but nobody took it further, presumably wanting to believe the lies that they had a 'Unity ticket' on Gonski, which Pyne had never read, and on NDIS. It wouldn't have taken much work to reveal the hollowness of the LNP claims.

    The thing is, they were mostly deceitful, as Dutton was and is, in pretending they had a swag of policies ready to go. It seems pretty clear now that what passes for ideas, even now they cannot be called policies, came directly from IPA, the BCA and the various lobbyists for the big money interests.

    Arguably the only promise Abbott has kept, beyond abolishing the 'carbon tax', has been the one to be a government of 'no surprises'. Because none of what they've done or tried to get away with has been any surprise to anyone reasonably well informed.

    And that is where the media failure is massive and so costly to the nation. To report the government and political scene comprehensively and fairly should not have been beyond their professional responsibility.

    A generation back I was alongside a businessman in a plane. He was fuming at reading the left-liberal political reporting in the AFR. I asked him why he read it, if he disagreed so strongly. His answer was, "Oh, I must have reliable information for my investments. So I have to put up with the political views."

    I thought it was signal that he placed reporting reliability ahead of views that suited his political leanings. That is surely what is needed. We can still draw our own conclusions but we need all the background briefing.

    We never got that in parliament over the last four years. Instead we just got the circus stuff. Both Abbott and Rudd, and their backers, were good at manipulating the fluff, but it was essentially noise.

    Serious professional reporters would have known that.

  13. "In failing to scrutinise the Abbott government before it was elected, the traditional media have failed the nation and themselves."

    True, true but ...have they failed their employers [Rupert and Gina et al]?


  14. Thank you Andrew

  15. VoterBentleigh25/8/14 7:56 pm

    Greg Jericho is right in his criticism of the Abbott Coalition's trickery surrounding their policy detail before the election, but your criticism of the article in letting the media off blameless is justified. Of course, the Coalition did not indicate a co-payment, etc. They would have lost the election. If one reads any report or curriculum vitae, it is not just what is said that is often significant, but what is not said. The very fact that there was such a lack of detail on the LNP's education and health policies was important in itself and the media should have drawn the public's attention to the significance of it.

    Although the Coalition's policy "plan" had little detail on education and health, it did make one clear point and that was that decisions would be devolved to the local level. This and Mr Abbott's continual talk of small government and reining in spending was "crystal clear" code for shedding Commonwealth responsibility and Commonwealth public funding for education and health.

    Since the media did not scrutinise what the Coalition stated before the election, the Government Ministers can now claim that they gave "hints". In fact, most of their "hints" were omissions and sly, cryptic clues.

    By now the media should see that, while the PM engages in self-aggrandising talk about being the "captain" of the political Commonwealth, the Abbott Coalition does not believe in the notion of common wealth, but rather that it's each state for itself, it's each individual for him/herself. If the PM is the captain of anything, it's the LNP ship, the "USS Caine", but mutiny seems unlikely.

    The Senators who vote for any co-payment , etc., will "long be remembered" (as Abe would say) every single time people have to make the payments.

  16. Another good article; the Australian media has much to answer for. But there was another dimension; the number of so-called political experts, commentators like the lightweight Waleed Ali who assured us that when the Abbott led LNP came to power they would have to behave in accord with the political realities of office, as well as the gravitational pull of mainstream Australia, and that as a result Abbott would end up as a typical small "c" conservative PM (i.e. the pragmatic demands of office would "tame" his wilding tendencies). It should have been obvious before the election that Abbott had no capacity to learn from his mistakes, that he was a simplistic thinker, and that the nature of his elevation to the Liberal leadership, courtesy of extremists like Minchin and Abetz, involved a number of backroom deals for which we would all be made to pay. The media were not the only ones at fault; so were so many of our political "experts" who assured us that Abbott would not be anywhere near as bad as many of us feared.(He's not; he's worse.) Your blogs were one of the few sites which consistently warned us of the evils that would befall us if we elected an Abbott government.

    1. Waleed Aly was appointed by Tom Switzer as the tokenistic Muslim to make them look decent.

      Narcissistic ideological creeps that don't care.

      I listened to Tim Wilson on M.M.M and he recalled an incident where a senior businessman hit him!

      They all deserve the same treatment ...a big swift slap!

  17. Alas it isn't only Murdoch press doing the warmongering. Consider this clanger from Peter Hartcher:

    "With Abbott confronting Islamic State terrorism, standing up to Russia's Putin and joining Obama's Iraq mission, we are seeing the transformation of Abbott from domestic scrapper to wartime statesman."



  18. Thanks as always for your thoughts, Andrew.

    One thing that has really infuriated me for quite some time is the complete acceptance of the 'labor government shambles' narrative. Even so-called moderate/balanced/left-leaning journalists and commentators like Jericho continue to repeat this as though it were an absolute truth. I fully accept the serious issues caused by the Rudd-Gillard power struggle, however the substance of most of their policies and the actual functioning of the parliament were anything but shambolic.

    I'm guessing the narrative persists because that is the only real excuse the press has for their woeful performance. But why do people like Jericho help perpetuate with it?


  19. chrispydog1/9/14 12:35 am

    Silex said one of it's reason for pulling out of the 100MW project was low wholesale electricity prices, which are, ironically, partly due to low demand and partly due to the amount of electricity produced at low marginal cost (ie "renewable"). As it was a solar plant, it would have also been competing with the other million rooftops (that produce around 2% of our annual electricity) all peaking at solar noon...power so cheap you can hardly give it away. (Yes, the wholesale price went negative for a while on a sunny day in Queensland...once).

    Public perception is generally that a MW of 'renewable' electricity simply replaces a MW of coal. Oh, if only it was that simple. It isn't.

    I read through quite a few of the larger utility company's submissions to the RET review, and most wanted to keep it, but at a true 20% of the now (lower) projections of electricity demand in 2020. (Personally, I think this would be the best option for many reasons). What is also apparent is that the RET without a carbon price or ETS is a pretty strange beast, in that it perversely causes things like the CO2 intensity of our electricity to rise as the higher costing gas on the wholesale curve gets shoved aside for cheaper brown coal. A carbon price works against this, but alas...(watch this metric carefully in the future).

    It's also true that no modern economy has managed to deeply cut carbon emissions with renewables. Germany, the poster boy of renewables, still has very high emissions and they've spent hundreds of billions. The numbers on their wind/solar output are not good (2013 PV capacity factor 9.5% and wind 16.6%) and the recent moves to cut back on subsidies an admission (of sorts) that the whole exercise is not sustainable. In the next five years, Germany will commission more new coal fired electricity output than its entire solar PV fleet.

    The Green/Left meme that renewables (as in wind/solar) are some saviour from climate change, is now so pervasive it isn't even questioned, but taken literally on faith. Sure, we have our "100% renewables" cheer teams, but in serious engineering circles, these efforts to prove the illogical are not taken seriously. Even Germany only pretends to have a target of 80%...by the middle of the century!

    So, back to Warburton: it's easy to see another AGW denier with his foot on the throat of the Messiah, but really this too simplistic. There is too much capacity (see Silex above), and without lots of subsidies, the economics of renewables don't stack up (once again, see Silex). There's a law of diminishing returns going on here folks, and we can keep chucking more and more money at companies who want to build the next wind/solar farm, but to quote Barnaby Joyce, soon "we'll run out of money".

    In round numbers, Australia produces 800g of CO2/KWh and France just 80g.

    And we are debating cutting our emissions by 5 or 10 or 20 percent?

    As the man said: SRSLY?