Lost in the smog: whatever happened to the ALP?

Image: Singleton Argus

For a solid indication of just what a shambles the federal Labor party is in, look no further than Australia’s energy sector.

Hence the attention on last weekend’s Upper Hunter by-election.

On paper, no greater snooze ever crossed the headlines.

The NSW Nationals held a seat that’s been in their possession for nine decades after the federal government threw a $600 million dollar gas fired power plant into their laps.

Sharon Stone knows not such pork as was barrelled to clinch this dead cert.

Even then, the Nats could only muster a preferential vote of just over 30 per cent.

What made this pork flavoured nothing burger interesting is the swing against Labor of seven per cent.

Pundits expected a beter showing, which is to say, they expected something approaching logic to prevail.

The Upper Hunter by-election should, for all intents and purposes, have been fought on energy sector policy.

The Morrison government has spent it’s entire lifespan hoping to discuss literally any other subject.

But if Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a talent, it’s running the numbers on media saturation.

The announcement of the $600 million Kurri Kurri power plant at any other moment in the political news cycle would have been met with howls of laughter.

A week before the Upper Hunter election, it was ideological pay dirt in a campaign where investment in fossil fuels had been cunningly refashioned to mean job security.

Labor knew it too, but somehow still managed to be dragged down the spiralling eddy of inevitable defeat.

How?

Outside of the energy sector, public discussion of renewable energy in Australia is ill informed to the point of mass hysteria.

Again, how?

The future of renewables is an endless series of dazzling wins for big business, the consumer and all levels of government.

The Australian Energy Market Operator recently released reports showing over 300 dispatchable, renewable projects are planned across the 2020’s.

By the time they’re completed, between solar, wind, batteries, hydro and state interconnectors, Australia will have doubled its current energy output.

The national energy market is ahead of schedule to be 90 per renewable by 2040 and is likely to be almost completely decarbonised in the 2030’s.

The private sector has seen the writing on the wall.

Big energy companies are demerging so their unprofitable fossil fuel assets don’t drag down their retail sales.

Their investors are looking at batteries, solar, wind farms and grid upgrades as the drivers of future profit; and the profits are real.

Turns out your overhead drops when you don’t have to burn things to keep the lights on, and with batteries around, they need never go off again.

You’d think all this would be great news for a political party sold as the businessman’s friend.

Capitalism doing as capitalism should.

Cut to the biggest single government intervention in the energy sector in generations: a power plant every market regulator and every major business says we don’t need.

For the energy sector this was utter pandemonium, decades of convention shredded and billions in investments suddenly up in the air.

Today, federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor gets the inenviable task of addressing the Australian Energy Week conference, specifically to soothe the industry’s ruffled feathers.

On page thirteen of this morning’s Australian:

‘Energy Minister Angus Taylor will signal a change of stance on the government’s approach to move away from intervention and put the right market framework in place to guide new private investment. “The driving principle is to make fit-for-purpose reforms to market design, rather than ad hoc interventions made necessary by developments in the past.”‘

Translation: the same policy that just won the Upper Hunter by-election mortified the energy industry so dramatically, the federal government is leaking official statements trying to calm them down.

The coalition government has a history of supporting fossil fuels despite resounding evidence the private sector has moved on.

Another relevent factoid also slid down the gullet of the news media this weekend.

Arrow Energy, the sordid love child of Shell and PetroChina, posted a $1.2 billion write down of assets caused by the ongoing price collapse within the gas sector.

Australia’s gas industry grew to over $200 billion dollars in value in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Now the worm has firmly turned with major gas companies collectively seeing their assets shed $25 billion in value as demand and prices fall just as fast as overheads rise.

Arrow Energy alone has posted $8.8 billion worth of losses since its creation in 2010.

Australia is the world largest gas exporter, a product shortly to be worth very little to anyone not in a political party reliant on donors from the corporate sector.

Suddenly a gas fired white elephant out back of Newcastle makes sense, but it’s purpose isn’t new jobs or even local jobs. It’s executive jobs.

Somehow, this hot mess wasn’t enough for the ALP to engineer a swing even a few points in their favour, let alone victory.

Realistically it was never on the table as the results now show.

State opposition leader Jodie McKay will likely be on the ropes by week’s end.

Federal Labor backbenchers in electorates now gas plant adjacent, Joel Fitzgibbon, Meryl Swanson and Pat Conroy have all gone picnicking on each other.

Albo, bless his cotton socks, says the whole thing has no relevance on any hypothetical, upcoming federal election.

Then he mentioned the national vaccine rollout was stuffed.

Rather quaint he noticed, really.

May as well let Jenny Morrison know she can get started on a renno for the Lodge. She’s going to be there for a while.

Four more years of Scott “stop the boats”-“we don’t comment on operational matters”-“you’ll have to speak up, I’m in Hawaii”-“I asked Jenny and she said I can empathise”-“can I lay my hands on you?” Morrison; with nary an opposition in sight.

If you’d told any Australian ten years ago this man would get rockstar press treatment to rival the glory days of Bob Hawke, they would have laughed in your face.

Baffling.