Abbott: a prime ministership in its death throes


Nicholas Stuart thinks that when Tony Abbott sacked Chief Whip Philip Ruddock he lost the conservative core of the Liberal Party.

From the moment Ruddock’s removal was announced, late on Friday afternoon as part of a desperate attempt to bury the revelation, it became quite apparent Abbott’s time is up. His prime ministership is in its death throes. The only question is when. The issue that decides the timing of his demise will be the budget.

On the budget Stuart thinks Joe Hockey has simply given up and Mathias Cormann can’t do it on his own.

The key question facing Liberals when the party next meets in March is whether a new leadership team can craft a budget in the time available. Urgent action is required to both raise income and curb spending. The biggest problem for business confidence at the moment is that no one trusts the direction of the government. This crisis becomes apparent if you project the forward estimates out beyond the budget. Expenditure is growing faster than revenue. It’s unsustainable.

Meanwhile Abbott tries to distract us with talk about bad people treating us like mugs and terrorism. When Parliament meets next week he is going to address the gathered assembly on security.

Stuart finds that it is “in the national security space that Abbott’s egregious blundering has becoming most apparent.”

In Iraq our troops effectively watch from the sidelines. Iraq doesn’t even want our aircraft based there.

On submarines “Abbott wants to blind us into a tight alliance against China and he’s selling out our manufacturing and intellectual industries while he does so.”

Abbott has no concept of Australia producing anything. Defence research has been slashed, and now the government’s arbitrarily changing specs for our new armoured vehicle project.

On pay and conditions:

Effectively cutting remuneration for those in uniform is not just political suicide, it’s economically idiotic. It targets morale. It should also be a great way to win votes in marginal electorates – for Labor.

In the Fin Review Phillip Coorey says (paywalled) says MPs are angry and that the Ruddock sacking beggars belief.

He says that Ruddock struggled to get a hearing with Abbott, so he encouraged back benchers with concerns to take them to the Prime Minister’s Ofiice. There they were either refused a hearing or had their concerns dismissed.

One MP reported that under Howard the Chief Whip always attended full ministry meetings but this practice was stopped under Abbott.

Mungo MacCallum thinks the problem is with Abbott’s style:

Abbott has always believed that the best, indeed the only, form of defence is attack. At a long-ago bout in Oxford, an admiring reviewer said of the then Rhodes scholar: “No-style Abbott’s a real smasher!”

He won both that fight and a university blue, and in the 35 years hat have followed, not much has changed. Our Prime Minister is still reluctant to consult and conciliate when unbridled aggression will suffice – and it’s more fun, too.

Meanwhile Essential Poll found that LNP voters were spit over whether Abbott should stay on as PM.

Some 48% of LNP voters believed Abbott should stay on as leader until the next election, 34% said he should be given six months to improve and 14% said he should be removed immediately. Overall though:

39% said he should be replaced as soon as possible, while 22% gave him six months and 28% said he should be kept on until the election.

At New Matilda Ben Eltham writes that Tony Abbott’s biggest problem is not leadership instability, it’s the economy. The government has been asleep at the wheel on the economy from the outset and now is in a state of paralysis, more concerned with its own political survival.

The previous post on the Ruddock sacking is here.

Large scale renewable energy still lives

Toowoomba Regional Council has approved a $1bn solar farm for a total footprint of up to 2 gigawatts over the next eight years.

APPROVAL has been given for the largest solar farm in the country — and possibly the largest proposed in the world — to be built in Queensland.

Construction on the 13,000-acre Bulli Creek site near Powerlink’s substation near Millmerran, southwest of Toowoomba, is expected to start next year. It will be on cleared, flat cattle grazing land.

Developer Solar Choice has received approval from Toowoomba Regional Council for a total footprint of up to 2 gigawatts over the next eight years.

The solar farm will be built in stages of multiple 100MW-plus phases, within a total planning approved envelope of 2GW.


If the farm reached its full potential it would take Australia 25% closer to achieving the mandated 41,000GWh target by 2020.

The ‘largest in the world’ claim relates, I think, to solar PV.

They say the project is expected to start next year but:

“The Bulli Creek project is attracting attention from a range of global investors prepared to take a medium- and long-term view,” Solar Choice said, stating it remained open to a large-scale investor.

There’s more at RenewEnergy.

Managing Director of Solar Choice, Angus Gemmell, says the Bulli Creek Solar Farm is one of a very small and select number of mega-scale solar projects that Solar Choice has strategically located at transmission nodes on broad-acre lands with high solar irradiation, west of the Great Dividing Range.

These include a 1GW solar project currently being progressed through the Whitsundays Regional Council , directly adjoining Powerlink’s 275kV Strathmore Substation at Collinsville. Another 300MW project, the Gannawarra Solar Farm in north-western Victoria, is already planning approved on the 220kV transmission lines between Swan Hill and Kerang.

“We believe that large-scale solar is on the right side of history – it’s not a matter of if these projects will be built, but when,” Gemmell told RenewEconomy in an interview.

The Toowoomba approval allows for battery storage to be added, should that become feasible.

For those who don’t know, Toowoomba at about 110,000 is the most populous inland non-capital city in the country and is the second most populous inland city overall, after Canberra.

ACT renewable energy contract

On another thread John D informed us of the ACT renewable energy contract.

The prices announced have stunned some observers, including rival bidders such as AGL Energy, which had hoped to kick-start it Silverton project. The prices are even lower than they appear, because the ACT tariff is fixed for 20 years, and it does not rise for inflation.

It appears three wind farm projects have been approved, at Bendigo ($81.50/MWh), at Ararat, west of Bendigo ($87/MWh) and at Hornsdale, south-east of Port Augusta ($92/MWh).

Battery storage

AGL Energy is planning a major new push into the rooftop solar market, along with digital meters, battery storage and home management systems.

Australia’s biggest energy utility, AGL Energy, says battery storage is already an “interesting” proposition for consumers, and it expects radical changes in the home energy market in coming years.

“We are at the point where we have got big changes going on (in energy markets),” AGL Energy managing director Michael Fraser said on Wednesday.

“We see battery storage technology going ahead in leaps and bounds.” This, in conjunction with rooftop solar and home energy management systems, would cause a “significant” and “fundamental” change in the way the energy market operates, Fraser said.

Brisbane-based Redflow says it is fast-tracking the rollout of its battery storage products to the residential and mining sector.

Redflow, which is bringing its unique zinc bromide flow battery to market, says its new products are 40 per cent cheaper than its first generation products, and are now approaching grid tariffs in some markets.

So much so, that CEO Stuart Smith says the grid, the backbone and chief source of electricity [for] more than a century, could soon be relegated to the role of mere “back-up”. This, of course, has huge implications for existing utilities – be they network operators, retailers, and/or generators.

“We believe we have a disruptive, scalable technology whose applications are continually expanding,” Smiths says.

“The future where the grid progressively becomes a backup rather than the primary source of energy is fast approaching by integrating our products with renewables such as solar and wind at a residential and commercial level.”

It seems they will be targeting Germany amongst others, where there is lots of solar and high electricity prices.

Tesla is also gearing up to enter the battery storage market. In an interesting development:

Queensland network operator Ergon Energy is installing up to one hundred 100kWh battery storage units because it is less costly than traditional grid upgrades. The units will be installed without subsidies, and other network operators are also trialling various battery storage models.

South-east Queensland is supplied by Energex. Ergon supplies the rest of the state where network costs are higher.

SA looks at nukes

South Australia has announced a Royal Commission into nuclear energy. At New Matilda, nuclear advocates Barry Brook and Ben Heard put the case in favour:

Nuclear is expensive, at least compared to coal. But when coal pays its environmental costs (especially for air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions) nuclear is not expensive at all.

Electricity from some renewables is now comparatively cheap. But when renewables pay their full system costs to overcome variability, a renewable system is very expensive indeed.

In this context, a ‘nuclear intensive’ strategy is still likely to underpin the most viable, scalable and cost-effective pathway to replace coal.

Nuclear is the safest form of large-scale energy production, when evaluated on the basis of deaths per unit of generation.

Not sure where we go with nukes, but with a bit of luck Abbott’s attempt to kill off renewables should be no more than a bump on the road in the longer term.

Climate clippings 126

1. New research reveals extreme oxygen loss in oceans during past climate change

New research published this week reveals that vast stretches of the ocean interior abruptly lost oxygen during the transition out of the last ice age that occurred 17,000–10,000 years ago.

If that happened as a result of the relatively gentle forcing caused by changes in the Earth’s orbit, imagine what is possible now!

Like most of the life on the planet, the large majority of marine organisms need oxygen to live. Most marine life, from salmon, crabs, to shellfish, respires oxygen and many forms are intolerant of low oxygen seawater.

So-called ‘dead zones’ do contain life comprised of worms, bacteria, specialized urchins and bivalves, and other extremophiles, just not the kind of tucker we like to eat.

2. India ‘walking the talk’ on climate change

India is one country a bit allergic to discussing agriculture and climate pollution. They worry about feeding the millions. They also got a serve from Obama when he was there:

During a visit to New Delhi last month, Obama warned that the world does not “stand a chance against climate change” unless developing countries such as India reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

India, as usual, is impervious to pressure, but the environment minister reckons they are doing their bit. New prime minister Narendra Modi is keen on renewable energy:

Since coming to power in May, Modi has pledged to increase India’s renewable energy in a bid to lower coal use and bring electricity to more than 300 million poor people currently without power.

Modi, who built up a solar industry in Gujarat state when he was chief minister, has set a target for India to have 100 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022.

3. Abbott’s decline attributed to G20 Obama snub and climate change

On Newspoll Abbott’s net approval rating is now -44 (68% disapprove, 24% approve of how he is doing his job). Jason Wison says:

After a polling mini-recovery of sorts for Abbott between July and September, November – the month of the G20 and Obama’s address – marked a turning-point. Between September and November, Abbott’s always-poor net satisfaction ratings had improved and stabilised a little; from November they declined rapidly to where they are today. In some polls, Abbott now has more than half the voters saying that he should resign. November was also the month in which Bill Shorten decisively overcame Abbott as preferred prime minister, and Shorten’s lead is now wider than ever.

Wilson reminds us that Abbott refused to accept President Obama’s request to put climate change on the G20 agenda. Obama’s response was to kick off his stay with an address at the University of Queensland embarrassing Abbott with his references to Australia and climate change.

4. Maurice Newman wrongly claimed a UK charity had blamed the deaths of elderly people on renewable energy policies

Maurice Newman is of course Tony Abbott’s top science advisor. Graham Readfearn investigated his claim and found:

Newman is not only misrepresenting the charity’s position, he appears to be making up positions that the charity simply does not hold.


between 2004 and 2011 the average annual energy bill in the UK went up from £610 to £970.

Only £30 of that £360 increase was due to costs related to low-carbon power generation.

Most of the increase, the analysis said, was down to higher gas prices and network costs (maintaining poles and wires).

In my view, Newman’s attempt to pin the blame for the deaths of UK pensioners on renewable energy policies is either disgustingly dishonest or pathetically sloppy.

In the rest of the article Readfearn gives an explainer on how world surface temperature is measured.

5. Miocene temperatures

This Skeptical Science post gives a detailed account of what happened 14 to 17 million years ago in the “Mid Miocene Climate Optimum” (MMCO):

The MMCO was ushered in by CO2 levels jumping abruptly from around 400ppm to 500ppm, with global temperatures warming by about 4°C and sea levels rising about 40m (130 feet) as the Antarctic ice sheet declined substantially and suddenly.

Over the succeeding 2-3 million years Antarctic ice fluctuated dynamically in response to orbital wobbles, showing it was balanced on a knife-edge between a world with little ice and a world with substantial ice caps. Ice-free parts of Antarctica were rain-drenched and supported lush vegetation, while Arctic land was covered by temperate forests. Parts of the planet that had been arid before the MMCO rapidly re-greened and reforested (eg Patagonia).

This graph plots temperature and CO2:


There were some differences between then and now. The Isthmus of Panama had not closed, for example. The warming happened on a warmer base.

Our warming is about 1000 times faster, giving less time for ecosystems to adapt. This is problematic for ocean acidification inter alia.

Abbott sacks Philip Ruddock

Tony Abbott has sacked Philip Ruddock, father of the house and government whip.

Veteran Liberal MP Philip Ruddock has been sacked as chief government whip in the wake of the failed leadership spill motion, a move one MP likened to the start of “the night of the long knives”.

Mr Ruddock, who is currently the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, will be replaced by Queensland MP Scott Buchholz.

Tasmanian MP Andrew Nikolic, a prominent supporter of the Prime Minister, will also be promoted to a whip position.

Some senior ministers hold Mr Ruddock partly to blame [for the narrow loss of the leadership spill], saying one of his roles should have been to rally support for the leader.

But others believe his job is to act as a sounding board for the backbench and to pass on MPs’ concerns to Mr Abbott.

They say if that had happened, the Prime Minister would have been forewarned disquiet was building in his ranks.

After the spill Mungo MacCallum wrote Call this professional politics? Then give me amateurs. Imagine his column next week!

At The Guardian:

“It seems that someone has to be blamed for the fact that they can’t count,” one Liberal told Guardian Australia. “This is shabby treatment. What is he supposed to have done wrong?

“And he shows he has the guts to sack Ruddock, but not the guts to sack [the prime minister’s chief of staff, Peta] Credlin.”

After surviving Monday’s spill, Abbott promised there would be no repercussions, saying: “I’m not into retribution. We have been an outstanding team.”

Abbott is as good as his word, and you can see how good that is!

Ruddock was first elected in 1973, that’s 42 years ago.

Elsewhere Adrian Beaumont tells us five polls released in the last week have Labor well in front, and Abbott’s approval rating continues to dive:


Saturday salon 10/2


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

1. Paluszczuk premier at last


Annastacia Palaszczuk has been invited to form government, with the interim ministry to be sworn in on Saturday. Most likely she will start with a couple of key ministers and wait for the arrival of the newly elected members before finalising her ministry.

Former Labor treasurer Terry Mackenroth has been assisting Palaszczuk in transitioning to Government. It was revealed yesterday that he has been assisting her for the last six months.

The Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) has decided not to lodge a petition with the Court of Disputed Returns for the seat of Ferny Grove following additional legal advice.

ABC full Queensland election coverage is here. Ours is here.

Elsewhere at Overland Mark Bahnisch has written another brilliant article, wrapping the election.


[Update: Palaszczuk has announced her cabinet with 8/14 women. Leeanne Enoch, the first indigenous MP in Qld, will be Minister for Housing and Public Works, Minister for Science and Innovation.]

2. Brandis asked Gillian Triggs to resign

The attorney general sent the request to the human rights commission head in a move Labor called a ‘disgraceful attack’ on a statutory agency.

The Abbott government asked the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, to resign ahead of the publication of the commission’s critical report into children in detention.

Guardian Australia can confirm the resignation request, reported in the Age on Friday, and understands it was relayed to Triggs on behalf of the attorney general, George Brandis, by the secretary of his department, Chris Moraitis. It is understood that Triggs was offered another position in the same conversation.

Government backbenchers have also ramped up their public calls for her resignation and threatened a parliamentary inquiry into “bias” in her organisation.

Triggs is understood to have refused to resign from her position. She was appointed the president in July 2012 for a five-year term and can be removed for bankruptcy or serious misconduct only.

Max Chalmers at New Matilda says the coalition attacks on the Kids In Detention Report are irrational and wilfully blind.

The release of the report was always going to be accompanied by recrimination. For months the Coalition laid the groundwork, belting the Australian Human Rights Commission publicly and feeding material to The Australian newspaper, which gleefully conspired to trash an independent, public institution.

It was a pre-emptive strike inspired in part by pure malice, and in part by anticipation: they knew the report, which documents the impact of the bipartisan-backed policy of mandatory detention of children – would be devastating.

3. German higher education is free

John D brought this fact to my attention recently so I googled and here we have it:

From this semester [September 2014], all higher education will be free for both Germans and international students at universities across the country, after Lower Saxony became the final state to abolish tuition fees.

Education is the responsibility of 16 autonomous states in the German federation. There are 379 higher education institutions with about 2.4m students.

If they can do it, why can’t we?

4. Link between lead and violent crime

The last Catalyst program (series 16, episode 2) revealed that lead particles absorbed by children correlates with violent crime 22 years later. Australia, producing a large share of the world’s lead, has some hotspots, in Boolaroo, Broken Hill, Port Kembla, Port Pirie and Mt Isa. IQ is also negatively affected.

We were told that Australia’s permissible blood levels (10 micrograms per decilitre) were twice as high as those in the US and 625 times background levels.

There’s more at the ABC, at the BBC and at Mother Jones.

It seems that the general decline in violent crime around the world may be attributable in large part to regulations governing lead in petrol.

5. Health benefits of drinking

It’s a widely held view that a glass of red wine a day can be good for you. Unfortunately new research shows that not to be the case. Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney:

we found that the protective effect reported previously in fact could be an artefact, a statistical artefact relating to the way the study was designed.

What we thought was an established fact turned out to be a methodological error:

The old methodology compared drinkers with non-drinkers. But ex-drinkers where also included in the group of people considered non-drinkers – some who had been directed to stop drinking alcohol for health reasons.

The new research compared drinkers to non-drinkers only, and consequently could not find any evidence that drinking in small amounts can be good for you.


Meat eaters’ alert: the planetary and the personal

Farming is now worse for climate than deforestation writes John Upton at Climate Central.

And the finger points at red meat.

A new study reported on by Upton says that burning fuel produces about four times more climate pollution every year than land use. Nevertheless land use remains an important consideration. Within land use, climate pollution from deforestation has declined over the last decade or two, while agriculture is increasing:

Land use_2_2_15_John_FAO_AFOLU_table1_logo_600

Greenhouse gases released by farming, such as methane from livestock and rice paddies, and nitrous oxides from fertilizers and other soil treatments rose 13 percent after 1990, the study concluded.

Within agriculture, ruminants produce two thirds of the pollution, with cows and buffalo the worst offenders.


Climate talks have focussed on deforestation. REDD (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) has been a major focus of UN climate negotiations, whereas agriculture has been neglected.

Some countries, particularly India, have been averse to discussing agricultural impacts during U.N. climate negotiations — largely because they fear that the outcomes of such talks could reduce agricultural output and worsen food shortages. “Poor countries are not going to sit idly by and just impose reductions in food production to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets,” Schwartzman said.

Doug Boucher, the director of climate research at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says agriculture’s climate impacts could be reduced without taking food off tables. Reducing the overuse of fertilizers, protecting the organic content of soils by changing farming practices, and keeping rice paddies flooded for fewer weeks every season could all contribute to a climate solution, he said.

The biggest opportunities for reforming agriculture’s climate impacts can sometimes be found miles from where any food is grown. Reducing waste where food is sold, prepared, eaten and, in many cases, partly tossed in the trash as uneaten leftovers or unsellable produce, reduces the amount of land, fertilizer and equipment needed to feed everybody. “Shifting consumption toward less beef and more chicken, and reducing waste of meat in particular, are what seem to have the biggest potential,” Boucher said.

Vegetarianism was not mentioned in the article.

Wikipedia tells us that there are more than 3.5 billion ruminants on the planet, with cattle, sheep, and goats accounting for about 95% of the total population.

Linda Geddes took a look at the merits or otherwise of eating meat in the New Scientist. If paywalled the article is available here.

From the 1970s eating meat was linked with colorectal cancer on a population basis. Countries which ate more meat suffered more.

In 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund pulled together the results of 14 studies, concluding that red and processed meats were “convincing causes of colorectal cancer”. Their report suggested cutting out processed meat altogether and eating no more than 500 grams of red meat per week.

Now this:

Two large studies published in 2012 found that the risk of dying from all causes – including bowel cancer and heart disease – during the study follow-up period was 13 per cent higher for people eating 85 grams of red meat per day, and 20 per cent for those eating 85 grams of processed meat. That would translate to roughly a year off life expectancy for a 40-year-old man who eats a burger a day.

As often in health research, just when all that seemed clear complications set in. Such studies are based on self-reporting as to quantity and frequency and often didn’t discriminate between types of meat or tease out links with other life-style factors. In 2013 a European study:

followed half a million people in 10 European countries over 12 years, and as well as distinguishing between consumption of red meat, white meat and processed meat, it also controlled for factors such as smoking, fitness, body mass index and education levels, all of which might be correlated with high meat consumption.

The study found no association at all between fresh red meat and ill health, but the link with processed meat remained. It found that for every 50 grams of processed meat people consumed each day, their risk of early death from all causes increased by 18 per cent.

An American study of 18,000 people found no association between deaths from cancer or cardiovascular disease and the consumption of meat, even processed kinds, but was criticised for the crudeness of its questionnaire.

Further studies have now linked haem, the component that makes red meat red, with the generation of cancer cells.

Meat, however, remains a handy nutritional package, difficult but not impossible to replace. There is this caution about vegetarianism from the European study:

Perhaps the most surprising finding from the EPIC study was that those who ate no meat at all had a higher risk of early death from any cause than those who ate a small amount of red meat.

Vegetarians don’t always make healthy food choices.

The cautionary position seems to be that small amounts of meat are good – about 70 grams per day. (This does seem very cautious in the light of the European study.) It’s not clear whether it’s best to eat a small portion each day or save your allocation for a splurge. It does matter how you prepare meat and what you eat with it. Avoid chargrilling, eat plenty of fibre and for some reason let the cooked potatoes grow cold! Best to avoid processed meat if possible.

At the production end, there is masses of grazing land in the world that can’t be cropped. The methane, however, remains a problem, which can be mitigated in various ways. That, however, is another story.

Trapped inside his own feedback loop

Tony Abbott is trapped inside his own feedback loop, understanding the world is still out there, but not really comprehending how to reconnect. He’s been gone so long now – for years. What is the pathway back?

That’s from a brilliant article by Katherine Murphy. It can be lonely at the top, but Abbott is still prime minister.


The opinion polls are shocking. Newspoll has Labor ahead 57-43 in two-party preferred terms. Fully 68% of people disapprove of the job Abbott is doing while only 24% approve.

The personal disapproval would not matter if the LNP was in a winning, or even competitive position. But it is not, and won’t be unless Abbott can fix the economy and the budget. On the 7.30 Report Abbott explained that he would complete “fiscal repair” by abandoning spending cuts, “putting money in families’ pockets” and giving small business a tax cut.

This has panicked the right in the party who can see the restoration of a balanced budget, or “fiscal consolidation”, disappearing over the horizon. Paula Matthewson reveals that there is a subterranean battle taking place within the party “between the right-wing conservatives who want to protect the Government’s current agenda and the moderates who seek to change it.”

Abbott is trying to play to both sides, so is adopting contradictory positions and basically floundering in an attempt to save himself. Jettisoning Joe Hockey has apparently been contemplated.

So far the only spending cut abandoned has been the parental leave scheme, which no-one except Abbott in the party seemed to favour. The conservative right will try to hold the line. The GP co-payment is actively being pursued and yesterday in parliament university deregulation, with swingeing cuts, was being vigorously defended.

Since being in opposition is unacceptable, the right will need to be desperate to go for Turnbull. Julie Bishop is not considered competent enough by the right according to Matthewson, and the right still have the numbers.

I suspect, however, that Bishop as PM and Turnbull as treasurer may ultimately prevail.


Most seem to think six months of poor polling will see Abbott gone, sooner if he stuffs up again.

Ben Eltam sees the spill motion as Tony Abbott’s last gasp. There will be no ‘clear air’.

Laura Tingle has been emphasising the dilemma with the budget. The revenue base is “buggered”, there are no more big saves to be made, and the ones the Government chose are locked up in the Senate.

The economy continues to struggle to reach even its long term average growth levels. Commodity prices continue to slide. The world economy is not looking great. Confidence is mediocre and not being helped by the ludicrous spectre of the implosion in Canberra.

In this milieu the government is trying to remake itself as voters fear for their jobs. The strategy of having an early tough budget and locking in “reforms” has spectacularly imploded.

Having sprung radical overhauls of education and health funding on an unsuspecting electorate and been comprehensively rejected, the government is going to have to re-prosecute the cases, and restructure its policy offerings, much closer to an election – even making them mandate issues.

Peter Hartcher tells the inside story of how the Liberal leadership duo of Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop cracked. All Tone’s handiwork. And he’s going to have to get by with less direct minding from Peta Credlin, if she stays. Apparently she will no longer attend cabinet meetings or veto ministerial staff appointments.

Finally I’d like to return to Katherine Murphy’s article. Impossible to summarise, but she is saying that to become PM he has suppressed his real nature and moulded himself to fit the role in service to others.

Being a man for others has seen Abbott lose himself, and squander the opportunity to grow beyond his superstitions and self-soothing rituals to something approximating genuine self-expression. Abbott has denied himself the chance to be interesting. His confidence and judgment have taken a hit. The prime minister conducts himself less as a prime minister and more as a prisoner who can’t persuade the screws to give him early release.

But rather than admit defeat, he fights, and swaggers, and swings between bouts of brutal introspection and outright defiance. Rather than reach out he retreats, and roils at the fickleness of everything – entreating media boosters to validate him, telling the colleagues they have no right to desert him, while pondering who he can jettison in order to save himself.

Sad, but tragic for the nation.

Unseemly squabble over keys to the Executive Building

In a sense that is what the 2015 Queensland election has come down to. From the Brisbane Times:

Newly elected LNP leader Lawrence Springborg, who is taking on the role as party leader for the fourth time, accused Labor of “trying to snatch the keys to the Executive Building”.

When the LNP was elected in 2012, it moved into the government’s George Street headquarters the very next day, but Mr Springborg urged Labor to be cautious, given the “unprecedented” Ferny Grove situation.

It is believed to be the first time in Queensland’s political history where a seat is known to be disputed before it has been called. The situation in Mundingburra did not come to light until after it had been declared.

“You could have the possibility of the government changing in the next few days and then changing again in the next month or so,” Mr Springborg said.

Springborg is arguing that an LNP caretaker government would provide necessary stability.

A flaw with that argument is that if Ferny Grove, which Electoral Commission Queensland has referred to the Court of Disputed Returns, requires a by-election the matter could take 6 months or even a year to determine.

By Wednesday Ferny Grove will be represented by a duly elected Labor member and Annastacia Palaszczuk will have the numbers to command the floor of parliament with the assistance of Peter Wellington, the independent member for Nicklin, who puts the case very well:

To put Ferny Grove into the picture is nonsense. While the seat is subject to assessment by the Courts because one of the candidates was ineligible, the fact is that it was won by Labor and Labor is entitled to include that seat in their claim to govern.

Ferny Grove could face a by-election after a Court hearing or the Court may decide that the preferences were so insignificant that a by-election is not necessary. The timeframe for this decision is uncertain. It could take over 12 months and it is unreasonable to expect Queensland to remain in a state of limbo until the outcome is known.

It is farcical for the new Leader of the LNP to seek to hold on to power until then leaving the Newman appointed senior public servants to govern the State.

The Governor has the responsibility to hand the reins of government to whoever is able to deliver the 45 seats and should not be drawn into hypothetical scenarios involving the future of the electorate of Ferny Grove.

Wellington refers to a blog post by Antony Green, which says exactly that.

Green finds the situation similar to South Australia in 2002 and Tasmania in 1989 where Liberal premiers refused to resign in the face of similar electoral circumstances. They had to go.

Labor claims Springborg has no mandate to govern. Jackie Trad told fairfax Radio:

“What happened on the 31st of January was the LNP lost the election,” she said.

“They are now – in an arrogant and dismissive way – they are still not listening to Queenslanders, trying to hold on to power.”

They want Newman out of the Executive Building at 6.01 pm on Tuesday night.

I believe Graham Orr, a QU academic who knows about electoral matters, suggested Springborg was attempting a “constitutional coup”.

I’ve also been told that Possum Comitatus reckons Springborg wants the Governor to break the relevant electoral act.

We shall see.

Another flaw in the Brisbane Times article is this bit:

While the Ferny Grove result will be sent to the Court of Disputed Returns, where a by-election is expected to be the likely outcome, results can still be declared in the meantime. (Emphasis added)

From Green’s earlier post:

However, beyond the narrowness of the result, doubt has been thrown on the election outcome following the revelation that the Palmer United Party candidate for Ferny Grove, Mark Taverner, is by credible sources an undischarged bankrupt and therefore ineligible to be a candidate for election to the Queensland Parliament.

Will this cause the courts to overturn the Ferny Grove result, order a by-election and leave the fate of government undetermined for some time?

In short – no. Resolving the Ferny Grove matter could take several months based on past Court of Disputed Returns cases, and there is nothing to stop a new government being formed in the mean time.

The Queensland Times has uncovered a Supreme Court ruling from a Moreton Shire election in 1985 which could form a precedent. A candidate’s name appeared on the ballot paper although it was discovered prior to the election that his American citizenship rendered him ineligible. The votes caste for him were simply set aside.

Meanwhile the Katter boys have released their full list of demands on the major parties. If they get their way all the money will be spent in the bush. Apart from royalties to regions, a railway line to the Galilee Basin and other boondogles, they want a series of roads projects, including an inland highway.

Springborg has apparently agreed to their demands. If so it’s magic pudding budgeting.

Climate clippings 125

1. Paris climate talks won’t keep warming below the dangerous 2°C Limit

Joe Romm at Climate Progress believes the Paris climate talks should not be written off as a failure if they don’t do enough to keep warming below 2°C. He thinks the CFC ozone layer example is apt. The Montreal Protocol was concluded in 1987. Initially the protocol’s targets and timetables slowed the rate of growth of concentrations only slightly and would have still led to millions of extra cases of skin cancer by mid-century.

President Reagan endorsed the protocol, and the Senate ratified it. By the end of 1988, 29 countries and the European Economic Community — but not China or India — had ratified it. The treaty came into effect the next year. But it took many more years of negotiations, continuous strengthening of the scientific consensus, and significant concessions to developing countries before amendments to the treaty were strong enough and had enough support from both rich and poor countries to ensure that CFC concentrations in the air would be reduced.

Elsewhere 14 high-profile CEOs want to decarbonise the economy completely by 2050. They are the B Team led by Virgin founder Richard Branson. See also at The Guardian.

2. 2013 record heatwave ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change

That’s according to a new report from the Climate Council.

From The Guardian:

The country experienced its hottest day, month, season and calendar year in 2013, registering a mean temperature 1.2C above the 1961-90 average.

The Climate Council says recent studies show those heat events would have occurred only once every 12,300 years without greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Record hot days have doubled in Australia over the past 50 years. During the past decade heat weather records were set three times more often than cold ones.

Heatwaves across Australia are becoming hotter, lasting longer, occurring more often and starting earlier.

The ABC article has handy links to other sites.

The following graph shows the number of days each year where the Australian area-averaged daily mean temperature was above the 99th percentile for the period 1910-2013:

Hot days Australia_cropped_600

3. Two degrees by 2036

Michael Mann using an Earth energy balance model has calculated that we could reach 2°C of warming as early as 2036. To stay within the 2°C guardrail we need to limit CO2 concentrations to 405 ppm. It would be 450 ppm but for the aerosol issue. If we cease burning coal we lose the cooling effect of the crap that coal spews into the atmosphere along with CO2.

Mann has done the calculation on the basis of climate sensitivity of 3°C. Problem is, he says, that this modelling is based only on short term feedbacks.

David Spratt at Climate Code Red has done a long and thorough post based on Mann’s article. Spratt looks in some detail at the longer term climate sensitivity issue, drawing also on the work of James Hansen, Aradhna Tripati and others. Hansen found that climate sensitivity with long term feedbacks was considerably higher than 3°C; Tripati found that in the Miocene with CO2 concentrations similar to now “temperatures were ~3° to 6°C warmer and sea level was 25 to 40 meters higher than at present”.

Spratt also reminds us that 2°C warming is not safe.

4. Would turfing Abbott help climate change policy?

In short, yes, but perhaps not a lot. The conservative side of politics is still infested with climate change denialists.

Mother Jones in an article One of the World’s Worst Climate Villains Could Soon Be Booted From Office would clearly like to see the back of Abbott. Julie Bishop has a background of denialism, but is pragmatic and has understood from the Lima experience that our stance on climate is negatively affecting our international standing.

Turnbull stated back in 2009:

“I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”

He would now, of course.

Tristan Edis looks at actions Turnbull might get away with. Giles Parkinson thinks he might rescue renewable energy and could adapt Direct Action into a baseline and credit scheme.

See also Lenore Taylor at The Guardian.

Saturday salon 7/2 (on Sunday)


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

SS delayed

It looks as though I didn’t hit the ‘publish’ button last night, although I’ll swear I did! Here goes!

1. Dead malls

By some estimates, half the shopping malls in the USA will close by 2030, suitable only for horror movie sets.

The big problem is oversupply. America has more retail space per capita than any other country.

The question is whether the same will happen in Australia. I tend to think not, at least I can’t detect any sign of it in Brisbane’s northern suburbs.

Thanks to John D for the link.

2. Rightwing rules rather than governs

Or you might say it’s government of the people rather than for. Jason Wilson peers into the rightwing mind and is horrified by what he sees. The article is a tour de force. Very impressive!

From Tony Abbott all the way down to pundits in the conservative press, the verdict is clear: elections are illegitimate when it returns a result they don’t like.

This extraordinary outpouring of contempt for the voting public is not simply a fit of rightwing pique. Rather, we can see that conservatives and a broader swathe of the political elite revealing some of their basic assumptions when put under pressure. To argue that democracy fails when it resists the imposition of fiscal austerity is simply to argue for our permanent subjection to the rule of property.

Apparently we are not competent to determine our own interests, or the kind of community we want to live in. Democracy becomes equated with disorder.

3. Growing brain drain as one young scientist chooses not to work here

Award-winning Dr Danielle Edwards applied for four years for work in Australia, but could only find it in the US. Eventually she was invited to apply for a position at the CSIRO, but the Abbott government was elected, a freeze was put on hiring and the job disappeared.

Then she was offered a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, or DECRA, by the Australian Research Council.

Hugely competitive, her grant is worth $385,000, but Dr Edwards has chosen to turn it down.

She says the most recent round of funding cuts to science, and the prospect of university fee deregulation, means she sees no future in Australia.

The award-winning Dr Danielle Edwards has conducted research from the Greek Aegean to the Galapagos. She’s an evolutionary biologist specialising in reptiles, researching how genetic diversity is affected by factors like the environment.

Dr Edwards says her work feeds into important questions around what species can survive extinction, and why.

She’ll be doing her research, and raising her child, somewhere else.

4. No institution has the right to kill, whether it’s a nation state or Isis

That’s the view put by Gay Alcorn at The Guardian.

She points out Indonesia’s inconsistency in objecting to Saudi Arabia executing Indonesian nationals working there, and paying “blood money” to save them.

She points out our inconsistency in objecting to ISIS beheading sundry people, but ignoring Saudi Arabia where people can be put to death for such things as apostasy and witchcraft.

The death penalty is always brutal and violent and is never acceptable, no matter what the crime.

Elsewhere Greg Craven, Vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University and a campaigner against the death penalty warned staff at the ABC’s triple-j radio station that they’ll bear some responsibility if the Indonesian government executes the two Australians on death row in Bali.

The station conducted a survey showing a slim majority of those Australians who were polled support the death penalty for drug offences in other countries. The survey is being quoted in Indonesia to support its actions.

5. Mark is here

My son Mark is here, staying with us for a few days, which for me makes blogging difficult.

Catch his latest at The Monthly, telling us why Malcolm Turnbull gives him the irrits. People of the left who favour Malcolm should remember a few things!

Interest rate cuts, jobs, debt and absent vision

The Reserve Bank cut interest rates by 25 basis points in the jargon on Tuesday to a new low cash rate of 2.25%. This is the first cut since August 2013, just before the last election. Back then Joe Hockey lambasted the Rudd government for the sluggish economy requiring such stimulus. Now he hailed the RBA decision as good news for families, businesses and jobs.

ABC business editor Ian Verrender comments:

Make no mistake, this is an emergency cut to a level well below what already was considered crisis level.

Verrender explains that the RBA has two main roles. The first and primary role is to maintain steady prices, that is, to keep inflation under control.

Secondly, it has a responsibility to maintain the labour market as close as possible to full employment.

Verrender suggests that the RBA has now adopted a third role – massaging the level of the currency. This indeed seems to be supported by the Reserve Bank governor Glen Stevens’ continual commentary on the currency.

What really has spooked Mr Stevens are the actions of his global central bank contemporaries, many of whom have either embarked on programs specifically designed to depress their currencies or to cut interest rates.

Despite the Australian dollar falling sharply in the past year, from around US94 cents last September to US77 cents early this week, Mr Stevens argued the currency was still overvalued, given the crash in commodity prices and the decline in our terms of trade.

Last year Stevens called for a currency level of US75 cents. His comments indicate that he has an eye to the Trade Weighted Index, which measures our currency against a parcel of our trade partners. The TWI has not fallen as much, essentially because of the successful massaging done by other central bankers.

The Guardian quotes Stevens thus:

The Australian dollar remained above “most estimates of its fundamental value”, Stevens said, and reducing rates would therefore bring more downward pressure on the currency “to foster sustainable growth”.

Problem is that interest rates in other countries are down to almost nothing or less, so we will still attract money looking for yield, putting upward pressure on the currency.

On the box tonight one economist was suggesting that the RBA should trim a whole 100 basis points off the cash rate over the next year and take the currency down to US70 cents or thereabouts.

BT chief economist, Chris Caton, says the RBA is rightly concerned about employment and the investment needed to transition the economy out of its dependence on the mining construction industry. He sees Hockey as overly concerned about debt and deficits, which is not a big issue. Certainly it would be nice to reduce the deficit, but not at the expense of killing the economy.

Caton sees one more cut of a similar order down the road.

Chris Bowen (see at the bottom of the Hockey link) reminded Hockey of his 2013 comments.

“Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott both used to say that falling interest rates were a sign of a weak economy and a bad government,” he said.

“Instead of engaging in hypocrisy and spin, the Government just needs to start producing a proper economic plan with economic growth and jobs at its core.

“Making it harder for low and middle-income families to make ends meet while gutting science, research and development funding is no economic plan, it does nothing other than undermine future sources of economic growth.”

Peter Martin at The Age pointed out before the RBA move that our 10-year bond rate was now about 2.5%, basically the same as inflation. Effectively the government could borrow money for nothing.

Martin suggests that the government should borrow $100 billion or so to use in nation-building projects.

That’s enough to build the long-awaited Brisbane to Sydney to Melbourne high-speed rail line, or to build Labor’s original national broadband network, or Sydney’s $11 billion WestConnex road project plus Melbourne’s $11 billion metro rail project plus Melbourne’s $16 billion East West Link plus something big in each of the other states.

Or we could buy all the coal-fired power stations, shut them down and install solar with battery storage everywhere.

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. All we need is vision and confidence.

But that would mean ‘picking winners’, and increasing our debt numbers, so we’ll do exactly nothing.

Abbott looks terminal, but what about policy?


Dennis Atkins talking to the ABC on Tuesday afternoon said that on the weekend Abbott asked Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull to say that they wouldn’t challenge for PM, or so the story goes. Bishop refused, apparently. This became a story on Tuesday morning. Bishop came out with the necessary words, but it took her 9 hours to do it.

Atkins reckons that the chatter will continue. Abbott can’t afford to make a mistake from here and must turn the polls around.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, opinion amongst the backbench is so sour that whatever he does will be seen as a mistake by some. For example, when Gillard announced the election date in early 2103, I thought it wasn’t a bad idea. To her backbench critics it was self-evidently the stupidest thing ever.

Secondly, the backbench revolt is no longer anonymous. Dennis Jensen and Warren Entsch have demanded a ballot on the Liberal leadership and say the PM’s position is ‘terminal’. Mal Brough says the leadership issue “needs to be resolved”.

The ABC was told that cabinet ministers have urged Abbott to resign.

Under these circumstances Abbott can’t get enough clear air to say anything that will not be seen through the leadership filter. Lenore Taylor wrote of his Press Club speech:

Tony Abbott’s press club speech had little to do with charting a path forward and everything to do with circling the wagons around his prime ministership.

But a path forward – a way out of its political mess – is the only thing that can save the prime minister and his government. Circling the wagons might hold his critics off for a while, but it doesn’t address the cause of their concern.

The speech was reported as much or more for its political intent – telling the backbench he was going nowhere – as for its policy content.

“the point of the speech was to tell agitating backbenchers that he would stare them down and that they were doing the country a disservice by the very act of leadership agitation.”

Ben Eltham laments the media role in this. The larger problem, he says, is that Abbott is wedged between the hard right agenda, favoured by backbenchers that put him there, and the fairer more humane deal that the electorate wants.

What could he do? Abandon university deregulation. Give up on the GP co-payments. Restore some of the family payments Joe Hockey cut in 2014. Fashion a 2015 budget for the middle class, not big business.

On these substantial issues, Abbott stayed the course. Perhaps he has to: ideologically wedded to a hard right agenda, the Prime Minister relies on right-wing backbenchers to stay on as leader. Such policy changes would never be acceptable to the bulk of the party room. Nor would the conservative pundits and commentators who wield so much influence on this government be pleased with such concessions.

And this is the real problem faced by whoever runs the Liberal Party in 2015. Conservative ideology has drifted well to the right of the general electorate. For a long time, the timidity of the ALP disguised just how toxic the neoliberal brand of conservative politics has become. But, in office, the nastiness of the Coalition’s attacks on the welfare state has become impossible to conceal.

As the ALP gropes towards a rediscovered belief in fairness and slowly rebuilds its grass-roots campaign base, the Coalition’s dominant political ideology looks increasingly out of touch. There is no sign that Julie Bishop understands this, or, if she does, can do anything about it.

As occasional commenter wpd indicated recently, it is the whole Institute of Public Affairs agenda that needs to be defeated.

Meanwhile the latest Essential poll has a lot of colour and movement about personalities, but the bottom line is that it has Labor ahead 54-46. That is what is scaring the backbench, and may it continue to do so!