Rudd shunted 10 years ago: reflections and reappraisals

It was 24 June 2010. I was the dentist chair watching Kevin Rudd giving his tearful exit speech, played on the TV in the ceiling. Rudd recounted the achievements of his term. Quite a long list, it was.

Peter Brent tries to make sense of what happened after that in Regrets? We’ve had a few.

To leave aside for a moment whether shunting Rudd was a good idea, and how all that worked out, Brent thinks the reason for our quick turnover of PMs is the Senate and our propensity to elect third party senators.

Currently the Coalition needs three out of five from One Nation’s two, Centre Alliance’s two and Jacqui Lambie’s one.

A lot of the time One Nation lines up, after some histrionics, with the Coalition. Which then leaves it up to Jacqui Lambie. I find that just a bit terrifying.

Is Rudd still raw?

We can have different opinions as to how good Julia Gillard was as a PM. Peter Brent thinks not very, but points out that she was very popular before she became PM, even drawing praise from Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtson, Miranda Devine and indeed grumpy old Gerard Henderson professed himself a “great admirer”.

All that changed, of course, when she became Labor PM.

However, Gillard has set a standard for what you should do after exiting the office. Write a book, get on with life, and don’t comment on current politics.

I disagree with Brent when he thinks the Rudd leaks had no effect on Gillard’s standing on the subsequent election campaign.

Just to recap, Gillard initially left Rudd on the back bench. He demanded the position of Foreign Minister. The first trouble came when Laurie Oakes appeared at a National Press Club speech by Gillard just before the campaign launch (normally he didn’t attend). He obviously came to ask a question based on the conversation she had had with Rudd on the fateful night of 23 June. Clearly he had been briefed. She was accused of reneging on a deal to leave her PM ambitions until after the election.

Gillard could not answer without publicly criticising Rudd’s chaotic administrative style, something she would not do.

Then 10 days into the campaign Laurie Oakes delivered an exclusive and blistering report on the evening news that Gillard had opposed both the parental leave scheme and pension rises in cabinet.

She had never opposed these initiatives, but had raised their affordability and timing as a matter of budget prudence when funds were tight coming out of the GFC. Detailed discussion followed, and the decision was to proceed, which she fully supported.

Now here’s the thing. The discussion had not taken place in cabinet, rather in the Gang of Four. Swan and Tanner would not have leaked. It was made known to Gillard that there would be more if she did not promise Rudd foreign affairs in her cabinet after the election. She was reluctant to do so, the more so because Rudd had accused the Chinese of “ratfucking” the Copenhagen climate talks. Gillard did not think Rudd was the one to repair relations with an important trading partner.

The Daily Telegraph had published this story with the photoshopped ‘old Julia’ pic:

Labor shed six points in the polls. Gillard conceded and the leaks stopped but Rudd continued do dominate the front pages, albeit Mark Latham then took a turn in disrupting the campaign.

Gillard never had clear air from that time onwards.

Rudd had another go in his latest opinion piece in the AFR Faceless men want power in Labor, not Labor in power (pay-walled):

    Ten years ago, the faceless men of the factions decided to remove Australia’s democratically elected prime minister. In the decade since, they have unsuccessfully sought to construct a narrative that their motives were noble.

    They weren’t. It was a crude grab for factional power which Julia Gillard was happy to accommodate to secure the prime ministership. The rest is history

Then he reminds us how well he did – fixed the GFC, cut withholding tax to 7.5 per cent for Australian funds managers to help transform them into a major new export industry, established Infrastructure Australia, launched the NBN, ratified the Kyoto Protocol and legislated a Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, co-founded the G20 Summit, and won a seat on the UN Security Council.

There’s more, including doubling the childcare rebate, launching the National Disability Insurance Scheme on the recommendation of the 2020 Summit (I thought that came later), negotiating a landmark National Health and Hospitals Agreement to reform federal hospitals funding, amending 87 federal laws to end legal discrimination against same sex couples, and advancing reconciliation through the National Apology and the Closing the Gap Agreement.

Very impressive, but I think Rudd was clapped out after the Copenhagen climate summit, essentially in a more or less permanent state of shock. The Chinese, he said, had ratf*cked the conference. His management style which was always chaotic became to many insufferable. Each of these factors was sufficient to remove him. However, if you think otherwise, nothing I say will change your view. Nor will anything Rudd says, so he should just let it be.

Phillip Coorey found that The faceless men who started it all have no regrets. They were hardly faceless. Rudd says:

    The core public argument of the faceless seven (Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar, NSW Right; David Feeney and Stephen Conroy, Victorian Right; Don “the Godfather” Farrell of the SDA; Bill Ludwig and Paul Howes of the AWU) has been that my government could not have won the 2010 election.

My impression is that it was Arbib, Bitar, Feeney and Farrell. I don’t think Bill Ludwig or Paul Howes had anything much to do with it. I also think Shorten was mostly concentrating on doing his job.

‘Tis true that Newspoll, inconveniently published just before the putsch, put the ALP under Rudd ahead 52-48. Bitar says that national polling was massively over-inflated by Labor’s vote in Victoria and inner Sydney and that Labor’s marginal seat polling was absolutely dire, showing Labor destined for electoral wipeout in Queensland and Western Australia.

That sounds a bit familiar! Remember, the one big thing Rudd did in the previous six months was to introduce a mining tax.

Feeney says:

    “This was the federal Labor parliamentary party rising up against a man using absolute power erratically and punitively and not governing well, and saying ‘he must be removed’.”

    It was not a coup but “a popular uprising”.

    “Support for making this change was spontaneous and it was overwhelming. When a tyrant falls, it is usually swift, spectacular and unstoppable,” Feeney continues.

    “The notion that a handful of ‘faceless men’ could so decisively manipulate over a hundred men and women comprising the federal parliamentary Labor Party in a matter of mere hours is absurd.

    ”It is a myth perpetuated by Mr Rudd and others to de-legitimise Julia Gillard and avoid some uncomfortable home truths.”

More could be said, but I agree with Bill Shorten, who said:

    Kevin and Julia are both distinguished Australians who worked their hardest for the fair go for all Australians.

Tony Burke says:

    “When he received life membership [of the ALP in 2018], Kevin said it was time to put the disagreements of the past behind us, and I agree with him.”

It’s interesting to see where some of the players are now.

Paul Howes joined KPMG, where he is now national managing director of its enterprise division. Mark Abib became an advisor to James Packer and a board member of the Australian Olympic Commission. Karl Bitar heads corporate affairs at Crown Resort. David Feeney, forced out because he couldn’t prove he was not a Brit, became an academic. Don Farrell continues as a right-wing power broker in the Senate.

Another view

Joshua Black has done an even more insightful piece Bringing order to chaos:

You can see that Nicola Roxon was relaxed and pleased with Gillard in the chair on 25 June 2010. Rudd had driven her mad in the previous six months with an idea for the Commonwealth to take over hospitals via a referendum. He dragged her around the country for 100 photo ops, but would not, could not shape up the ideas sufficiently to make an actual decision.

Black points out that the Rudd dissenters in writing their books had collaborated and shared texts. I’ve read a couple, and the case against Rudd is quite compelling.

What comes through in Black’s account is that Rudd was not governing by cabinet, he was governing autocratically using the Gang of Four – Rudd, Gillard, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner. Gillard says that towards the end even the Gang of Four was breaking down with chaotic meeting times, lack of a proper agenda, meandering and aimless discussion etc.

Black sees four lessons:

  • First, cabinet remains the central institution in Commonwealth administration. To misuse or abuse that institution in the 2010s was to create a large vulnerability for one’s leadership. The removal of Tony Abbott in September 2015 was equally premised on the need to “restore” cabinet government.
  • Second, bad process breeds bad policy.
  • Third, though it never pays to be naive in politics, spin is rarely a sound substitute for substance. Rudd’s quest to control the media cycle was central to the story of the dysfunctionality of his leadership.
  • Finally, the political class’s obsession with opinion polling — an obsession confirmed and reiterated in most of these accounts — was a key part of the structural weakness of Australian politics in the 2010s.

Please note, we currently have a prime minister who, having won the unwinnable election, has asserted his primacy over cabinet. However, he does not control the National Party, nor the senate.

Philip Chubb’s neglected research

I have had the pleasure of reading Philip Chubb’s excellent 2014 tome Power failure : the inside story of climate politics under Rudd and Gillard. Peter Christoff did a summary in The Monthly.

Chubb did 107 interviews with 74 people in and around the scene of action, including senior politicians, bureaucrats, other key players, plus a few citizens. Christoff says:

    The book reads like a Greek tragedy. It is, mainly, the story of how hubris, madness, malice, political misjudgement and misunderstanding bring down an enterprise forged in common sense and goodwill. A series of compounding disasters seems almost fated to lead to the Abbott government’s assault on global warming action.

It actually supports Gillard’s side of the story almost down to the last detail. However, the true story he reveals is more gruesome than she and others have told. The accounts by Rudd and especially Maxine McKew are found to be in many instances false or misleading.

To backtrack to 2009, the CPRS failed in the senate because the Greens did not support it. In truth none of the stakeholder groups like the green groups and business was onside, and Labor had done nothing to convince anyone. They had focussed on undermining their one true ally, Malcolm Turnbull.

Penny Wong, although popular, inclusive and able, had been selected as climate minister precisely because she had no background in the issue. Rudd, according to Chubb, was a leader-centric politician, where every solution of a difficult problem had to come from him. Personality-wise this was so important that he actually at times withheld information, undermined or outright abused people who threatened this ego-centric position. The big exception was the young public servants who worked in his political office, who were preferred to the PMs Department. Yet they too suffered from his chaotic personality.

There would be cabinet members with a different view, including Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen, I think Jenny Macklin. You can see them here on that fateful morning:

It’s just that there were another 100 or so not behind him.

In Copenhagen Rudd had been appointed as one of six Friends of the Chair to help facilitate an outcome. He thought that international success would allow Australia’s plans to advance in its wake. Chubb says there were various groupings of nations, notably the ‘climate culprits’, the industrialised countries which had become wealthy by burning fossil fuels; the 131 developing countries, including China and India, who insisted that the culprits should do the heavy lifting and pay the developing countries to help them meet planetary climate goals; plus the island and other states in imminent mortal peril from climate change.

The Chinese had withdrawn their main negotiator from the conference. Obama went looking for him and found him shacked up in the Indians’ hotel room, with I think Brazil, South Africa and a few others. Obama cut a deal in the absence of the EU and the main assembly which allowed talking beyond Copenhagen, but there was no deal for the planet.

China and India maintain their right to pollute the planet if they wish, and the USA, no matter who is POTUS will never pay to help China on climate change. That is the reason for the phrase “common but differentiated responsibility” which will always be a feature of UN climate deals.

Rudd worked night and day at the conference. Before he had to give Australia’s status report, he retired at 2am with the text prepared for him. At 6am he appeared with an entirely hand=written revised version.

When Rudd returned he looked like a ghost and appeared to have lost grip on reality. He rallied sufficiently to agree to a double dissolution election early in the new year. However, he tried to fire up on health and hospitals, at short notice demanded briefing papers to be prepared, promising to read them on Christmas day.

He never did, nor did he, like Swan, read Ken Henry’s 1100 page tax reform tome. He wrote a children’s book.

Over the break, the ALP office prepped an election, policies, media strategies, the lot.

However, when Rudd returned in late January, Gillard couldn’t get him to decide anything, least of all whether Labor should maintain or abandon the CPRS. He still seemed detached from reality. Gillard worried whether his mental health was up to carry a campaign.

Rudd contemplated a replacement climate policy, which was Abbott lite, planting trees and such. Gillard and Swan found it embarrassing.

At one meeting on the CPRS (carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) he actually hyperventilated and froze. His head of staff, Alister Jordan, had to take him for a walk in the garden while Gillard took over the meeting.

Chubb notes that some present did not notice what happened, but insists that the evidence is strong that it did. I can only surmise that strange behaviour from Rudd had both become normalised, as had Gillard taking over at short notice. It was not the only time Rudd froze during this period, unable to speak.

One urgent meeting was called on a Sunday, involving a number of pollies and support staff. Then Rudd decided he wanted to work with a smaller group. The others were not allowed to go home, so they played handball in the yard.

Gillard could see that he was in no shape to run an election campaign, and could also see that the public support for real action on climate was shallow and fickle. At this time, it should be noted, that any significant climate action would be at noticeable expense to the economy. However, Gillard absolutely supported proceeding and said she would back Rudd 100% if he did.

Meanwhile Penny Wong, who was sent off to negotiate with The Greens, found she could not negotiate because she didn’t know what Labor’s position was any more.

Chubb says the future of the CPRS was decided by drift. By the time the Gang of Four decided to can the scheme at a meeting in Brisbane on 11 April 2010, it was too late to make any plans to implement it or go to the people. Swan had already written it out of the budget because budget preparation wouldn’t wait, and he could see the CPRS was going nowhere.

After the April 11 meeting it was assumed that Rudd would tell the people. In fact he did not know how to, so he procrastinated. Someone, we don’t know who, leaked to the press that Labor had dumped the CPRS. Lenore Taylor, who was working inside the government at the time on gathering information for her book Shitstorm with David Uren on the handling of the GFC, was the recipient of the leak and reported it in the SMH.

Rudd, caught on the hop by journalists, fluffed his answer. Newspoll on 4 May showed Labor had lost a million votes in a fortnight. The Nielsen showed Rudd’s approval rating dropping from 59 to 45%.

At this time Rudd, as he realised the horror of what he had done in abandoning the “the great moral challenge of our generation”, started to blame Gillard for what had happened. As Swan pointed out, you can’t simultaneously behave like an autocrat and blame your deputy.

Rudd never did read the Henry report, but chose to implement a mining tax, whereupon the mining barons mounted a countering publicity campaign, which did not stop until he was removed, a blight on our democracy.

In early June Mark Arbib arranged four times to meet Rudd to revamp Labor’s strategies, and effectively save Rudd’s PMship. Four times Rudd agreed to meet and failed to show.

Gillard’s biggest worry about Rudd was that he had stopped talking to ministers, or to the people.

Gillard insists she did not decide to challenge Rudd until Peter Hartcher wrote in the SMH that Rudd’s staff were checking her loyalty, and she was convinced that was true.

Her big mistake, says Chubb, was not to tell the real reasons for dumping Rudd. Instead she said that a good government had lost its way. This sounded as fake as it was, and allowed Rudd to caste himself as a martyr, and write history as he chose.

Chubb says Gillard was a fine administrator, who delegated appropriately, communicated and negotiated well. However, she did not, as it turned out, communicate well with the people, and found that there was a lot of residual support for Kevin 07. Gillard had an enormous capacity for work, and doing Rudd’s job for him came easily. Repeatedly when Rudd was away, as on a trip, she slipped in and emptied Rudd’s bulging in tray. Ministers waited for such moments before submitting documentation.

However, when in the PM’s chair for real, the manner of her accession poisoned the whole enterprise.

Rudd started out with loads of policy vision, but after Copenhagen was effectively an empty vessel. Gillard was in a sense policy lite. She had a passion for education (mainly schooling) and the dignity and personal rewards that come with work, all in a context of maximising opportunity and a notion of fairness.

Her commitment to cabinet government was crucial, in that it allowed policy development right across government

On climate Gillard wanted political bilateral consensus and wanted to bring the people with her.

Rudd was an intelligent man, committed to socially worthy goals, but tied up in an impossibly eccentric personality. He loathes the factional system, but never could have risen to the pinnacle without Gillard’s numbers in support.

Now, I think he believes he has won the history wars about what happened in 2010. Superficially, I think he has. However, the documentation of an alternative version is now such that if anyone seriously looks at the evidence, his story does not stand up.

For a long time, I did not believe Rudd leaked in a way that effectively sabotaged the 2010 election campaign for Gillard, and poisoned her standing. To me such an act of disloyalty and putting self interest above the party is unforgivable. However, the evidence assembled by Chubb is compelling.

Accepting that Gillard was justified in acting as she did does not mean that she should have done so. History may show that the ALP at that point started a decline from which it may never recover.

As to whether Rudd would have won the 2010 election, or what Gillard’s prime ministership would have been like if Rudd had given her clear air – such speculation is pointless. History would have been different, that is all we know.

The main lesson to be learnt is about political leadership and the role of cabinet government. Gillard’s style made cabinet central, as, I think, would have been the case in a Shorten government. What Albanese offers is similar to Paul Keating in style, but with less rhetorical pungency. It was said that ministers brought a proposal to Keating, then Keating would have a view, but be open to being convinced. I think Albanese is similar.

The advantage is that he owns his policies and can better advocate for them.

So on climate change, Albanese knows in broad outline and considerable detail what he wants to do. He will advocate his position in the ALP Party conference, and will prevail, making his views democratically kosher.

That does not mean that the rest of us are wasting our time. There are multiple paths of influence, in the states, for example, and every leader has an inner group, less formal than the Gang of Four, which often became five with the inclusion of Panny Wong, but nevertheless real. In Albanese’s case it includes Mark Butler, Tony Burke, Penny Wong, Richard Marles, Jim Chalmers, probably Tanya Plibersek and a few others.

For now, I’ll leave you to contemplate how Scott Morrison works, but his ‘national cabinet’ meetings with state premiers have no legal or constitutional standing. And when he told Leigh Sales that he would decide the policy priorities, we have to assume he meant it.

Update: Gillard says in her own book My Story, she says she had:

    deep unshakeable beliefs in the power of education to change lives and nations, the benefits of work and the need for human beings, individually and through policies of government, to show each other decency and respect.

That succinctly sums up what drove her in politics. She also said that she had the luxury of having brilliant policy staff.

Chubb points out that Gillard as deputy was carrying three large portfolios of employment, workplace relations, and education, and as such did not have time to organise Rudd’s political office, which by 2010 was suffering from Rudd’s chaotic style of asking for things to be done urgently, then changing direction and not using what they produced.

Gillard says that in fact trying to give them some direction by convening diary and media-planning meetings with key staff, as well as supporting Rudd to the extent of editing his speeches.

The closeness and degree of trust between the two had to be extraordinary. However, Peter Hartcher was also close to Rudd, and when trust was broken there was nothing left. In her account she conferred with Tony Burke and John Faulkner, and saw her options as challenging or resigning to the back bench. She had the impression that if she chose the second, Tony Burke would follow.

When she went to see Rudd that evening Chris Uhlmann spotted it and came to the conclusion that a challenge was on.

She says that even then it wasn’t. She was trying to find a way forward. As the evening dragged on, and the pollies and media fired up, Anthony Albaene came in and told them bluntly that while they were talking the Labor Party was dying.

A little later her head of staff Amanda Lampe asked to see her. The message was that the TV channels assumed the spill was om and the Lampe was being swamped by pollies calling to support her.

She said that brought Albo’s words to front of mind. With her pulse pounding in her ears, she asked Rudd for a ballot, they shook hands and she left.

By her account she said Rudd had 14 supporters. My understanding is that Albo told him in the early hours of the morning that he couldn’t get much past 20, and to throw in the towel.

All I can say is that Gillard’s account has a feel of authenticity about it and lines up with Chubb’s findings. Here’s a review if Gillard’s book by Natalie Mast:

    The lucid presentation of Gillard’s case ultimately provides a cogent defence of the reasons for the challenge to Rudd, the difficulties her government faced, both internal and external, and an insight into Gillard herself.

The UK Independent saw a woman of substance.

60 thoughts on “Rudd shunted 10 years ago: reflections and reappraisals”

  1. This started as a Weekly salon but became too long.

    Apologies for the length of the post, but Rudd’s version of history offends me.

    There are also matters to contemplate, I think, in terms of which style of carrying out the PM role best serves democracy.

  2. Brian: I remember when Scomo got in he said something like “I am the leader and I will lead. ” The sort of thing you might expect from a control freak. Rudd was another control freak.
    I see Gillard as one of our better prime ministers. Shame she was there in the Rudd era.

  3. John, I agree with that. I’ve added an update which gives more detail on Gillard’s perceptions of the fateful day, plus a couple of links to reviews of her books.

  4. I’m going tho have to read that all thoroughly, but it looks to me like a massive rewrite of history. This whole period of Australian politics was entirely about addressing Climate Change, a distant memory now to the extent that one could fool oneself into believing the job was done. The fact is that a job was done on Climate Change to the extent that we have all but given up on it.

    Simple history : Rudd overcomplexified Climate action in trying to address it with a “market mechanism” rather than creating a straight forward tax or levy on emissions with the funds being used to install sustainable resources.
    Rudd attempted to do a deal with Liberals through Turnbull an action that lead almost immediately to the rise of Abbott.
    Lobor’s perpetual fluffing about gave the Coal industry time to mobilise and through the CEO of the ABC Abbott was able to use the ABC as a climate denial megaphone.
    while this was going on there was deregulation of the energy industry that gave unscrupulous players the opportunity to restructure Electricity supply in a way that completely anihilated opportunities for effective renewable electricity solutions.
    Gillard took over and continued the fluffing around completely distorting the finally partially success Carbon Pricing mechanism turning it into a social slush fund and Wayne Swan and Gillard came up with the notion that they could tax resources exploitation to “balance their budget”. this act drove the nail into the coffin of Australian Progressive government as the richest sector of the economy set up to protect itself with transfer pricing an a disastrous for Labour media campaign.

    Its what I’ve always said about Labor, they pay over attention to the warm fuzzy social things while they completely screw up the big issues.

    The fact is that if you look at the GDP growth Chart for Australia, Gillards government was a good growth period for Australia. Abbott and now Morrison’s governments are disasters economically ,and that is despite Labor having to cope with the GFC.

    Somewhere in amongst there was the Abbott fuelled insulation affair, entirely trumped up over nothing by Abbott purely for political gain and to the huge cost to Australia, typical of everything to do with Abbott and the Liberals.

    Everything the Liberals do gives license to China to walk in and “run the country properly” with a strategic plan, a plan that will include nationalisation of all land to a 99 year lease hold, if they do.

    Here in the Northern Hemisphere everyone knows that Climate Change is real, simply from what doesn’t happen any more. One of those is that winters are far less severe which for the Netherlands mean progressively more severe mosquito epidemics in Summer, and the certainty of migrations of disease bearing varieties gaining a permanent presence. There are bigger and better epidemics yet to come, and substantially a by product of greed, arrogance, ignorance, and apathy as people fail to pay attention to the issues that really matter.

  5. Enjoy the cheaper energy in the Netherlands with your 3 new coal power stations and a nuclear one.

    Perhaps you could boycott that and everything it enables.

  6. BilB, in this post I wasn’t trying to do the history of climate change, except in the broad. More about political leadership style, and how our democracy works.

    But mostly about the accuracy of the Rudd version, which he has largely succeeded in getting baked into the popular and press mind.

    In the end I don’t know who is right, but I’ve read probably 6-8 accounts, admittedly not Rudd’s huge effort, and find the Gillard version more coherent and faithful to the facts.

    I would agree and disagree with parts of your narrative. I don’t like statements such as “Labor always…”

    The big story is that reduction of tariffs started in earnest with Whitlam. The privatisation/competition agenda started in earnest with PJ Keating. The deregulation and privatisation in the energy sector and the setting up of a national market (minus WA) started in 1996 and came to fruition around 2009. Both sides drank the same coolaid, but the ACCC needs to explain why in Qld where this agenda was followed least, and the topography, demography, climate and vegetation are all against us, Qld has had consistently the lowest prices in the NEM.

    I’ve written reams on the urgency of climate change action, so I won’t add to that here, except that (1) I believe Albanese has grasped that the cheaper way forward is to do something about it, and (2) I’m waiting for the Chinese to realise that the Pearl River Delta, where they make stuff, and the northern plains, where they grow grain, are in the front line of sea level rise, and will become a mess if the global temperature does not come down.

    One would have thought with their far-sightedness they might have noticed that, but it seems not.

  7. As per usual, Jumpy, you are full of ideological crap. The 3 power stations I suspect you are referring to are these …….Which I suspect were authorised after the abandonment of Europe’s Desertec project. You will see that they are not seen as the Energy Future for the Netherlands.

    Most of the power stations here are readily rampable natural gas stations to balance wind energy of which there is huge capacity near where I am. On a clear day I can see at least two hundred wind turbines, and that is mostly because the area is dead flat. Also there is a steady program to increase the capacity of each turbine with larger ones such as the new 12 Mw tower near Rotterdam one Nuclear power station is very old and of very small capacity.

    But boycotting grid power is precisely what I am doing. I have bought most of the equipment but am waiting on the panels from Japan which are held up due to Corona related production delays. With 1 kw solar, .6 Kw wind, and a 6 Kw multifuel stove I will be completely energy independent apart from some diesel for occasional motive power and emergency heat. And there are quite a few other technologies to explore with my detachable home.

    What are you doing for the planet?

  8. Brian,

    Yes, generalities. My youngest takes me to task regularly for this, clearly I’m a slow learner. I only refer to Howard and forward, prior to then I was only marginally politically aware, so no meaningful comment there from me.

    I am bitterly critical of Rudd for his Climate Action fumbling. As you might remember I went to great lengths to point out that a simple 3 cents per unit electricity levy would have completely funded the conversion of the entire electricity sector to renewables, completely paid for from the levy (276 billion units at 3 cents yielding 8.28 billion dollars per year) with zero finance costs on the investment, while keeping electricity prices under 20 cents per unit nationally (in 2007 the NSW retail electricity price was 13 cents per unit). and that would be 30% of the CO2 dependency done and completed within 20 years.

    Instead Rudd turned a simple technology challenge into a huge economy/political bun fight with the Liberals, a fight he, all of us, and the world for that matter lost. You will remember the endless economic arguments on sights such as LP and John Quiggins. So much wasted time due to one man’s ego and lack of analytical skill.

  9. Bilb: Problem with economists is that they want to solve everything by manipulating prices using methods such as the carbon tax.
    Met Brian when I was advocating the use of competitive tendering for long term renewable energy contracts.
    This approach has now become the norm in the form of renewable energy auctions. ACT Labor/Greens government were the first in Aus to use these auctions and now has 100% renewables. What pissed me off was the way the Greens and Labor outside of the ACT ignored the ACT success.

  10. Yes, JohnD. I remember you long comments on the Canberra auctions and how they were achieving the best renewable energy results. The other States weren’t interested because they were already well down the path of rorting the public (see Jess Hill’s report “Power Corrupts” I think), which became possible when Abbott pushed Turnbull aside, leaving Rudd’s CPRS a lame duck, but with a predefined electricity price increase schedule but with no renewable energy requirement. This just pumped money into the pockets of the energy industry, and Jess Hill lays out what they did with it.

  11. Yes, I met John at the public hearings of a Senate Inquiry into Climate Change in 2009. It would have been when the CPRS legislation was being considered. John and I were the only public there, except for a young woman who shot through after a while. I’ve wondered whether she was a journalist.

    Quiggin was there, because, being Quiggin, they selected his submission to be considered in the committee hearings.

    I was in peak rhetoric about the urgency of climate change action back then, but I was mainly personally interested in the science, rather than detailed mitigation strategies. I’m not an engineer nor an economist, and never saw myself back then as ever writing anything about electricity pricing and such.

    I do recall the discussions at LP, and the common approach was that market mechanisms were the way to go. I remember thinking that markets were too slow, and that governments should intervene directly as the main strategy, but I don’t think I said much, because there was a commonspeak on the efficacy of markets and you could get the reputation as being hopelessly out of date.

    Electricity and, based on clean electricity, were seen as the low-hanging fruit, but I didn’t immediately understand what was meant by “reverse auctions” which is a jargon term.

    My recollection is that the Greens were rusted on to carbon pricing, and they opposed the CPRS for a lack of ambition, but mostly because it pretty much guaranteed the use of coal-fired power into the 1930s.

    They had a point on that one, but look where we are now.

    Recently NSW launched a coal mining strategy that saw little diminution in the use of coal through to 2050.

  12. Brian: “I didn’t immediately understand what was meant by “reverse auctions” Yep, it was a jargon term for the competitive tendering for contracts which has been the way the construction and contracting industries have been operating for yonks. Tendering or reverse auctions produces competitive bids and the contracts give the contractors confidence that the deal will be honored. Tony Abbot gave a convincing demonstration why the likes of carbon taxes provide no security. No compensation for contractors when he killed the carbon tax.

  13. Indeed, Ambi. No doubt Joshua Black when he’s finished his PhD will also write a book. With all the books from pollie participants and others like Bruce Hawker, Kerrt-Anne Walsh, Troy Bramston, Nicholas Stuart and Barrie Cassidy, just to name the ones on my bookshelf, that period of history should be well-covered.

    John, when people used the term “reverse auctions” I thought there must be something different involved compared to calling tenders. Otherwise they would just say “calling tenders”, which is easy to understand.

    There is a similar or even worse problem with “franking credits”. It’s not the credits that are franked, it’s the dividends.

  14. BilB, I’ve copied your comment from the COVID thread here:

      From Jess Hill’s report comes

      It was the first time energy demand had fallen in Australia in more than a century. According to Hugh Saddler, demand was falling for three key reasons: the impact of energy-efficiency schemes and appliances; the decline of electricity-intensive industry, like aluminium smelters; and, from 2010 onwards, a response to rising prices. …….

      This last factor, Saddler says, was a reaction to the Coalition’s doomsday preaching about the carbon tax, and its insinuation that the tax was driving prices up even before it was introduced. ………

      “People suddenly stopped thinking about the price of petrol or milk, and started thinking about the price of electricity and how they could actually save a bit,” says Saddler. In other words, was Tony Abbott the best friend energy efficiency had ever had? “Yes indeed.”

      “In August 2012, with rising electricity prices threatening to blow up her government, the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, finally linked the price hikes to the networks’ spending on infrastructure. In a keynote speech to the Energy Policy Institute in Sydney, she said, “At the heart of all this is a simple market design problem: a clear regulatory incentive to overinvest in infrastructure and pass on costs to consumers.” The then Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, responded immediately: “The problem is not the regulation of power prices. The problem is the carbon tax putting up power prices … This is a fabrication by the prime minister.”

      This is the way Abbott twisted Rudd’s good intention into the knife that brought down the government.

      It is true that prices were going up before the Carbon Tax was introduced and that is because announced an electricity price increase schedule along with dates. you should be able to find it in the SMH. The reasoning was that the CPRS was proceeding, Rudd thought, and he wanted the industry operators to have the funds in hand when the structure was working. What happened though was that Abbott killed Turnbull and renigged on the CPRS deal. He then has the gall as evidenced here to cane Labor for the electricity price increases.

      The infrastructure rort is an extra offence in which the energy distributors were able to distort the long standing cost break up for a third each for energy generation, energy wheeling (the high tension cable system) and the local distribution, to a new breakup where the wheeling of the power took 50% of the retail return.

      There was money flowing every where. there was the Stokes family and friends who bought a swiss manufaturer of smart meters for a handful of millions, did a deal with Victorian Energy, then sold the meter business to Toshiba for some two billion dollars.

      My 3 cents per unit levy proposal was criticised for “It’ll create a huge slush fund, and we all know what happens to those” at the time.

      So when you look at what the outcome has been, you might understand why I have no good words for Australian politicians. A bunch of grade A dunces.

    I have to go to work now. I’ll try to day a bit more tonight.

  15. Very interesting to read analyses of the Rudd govt and its faults. As far as I can judge, the chief fault was an utterly slavish attention to the paraphernalia of 24-hour news dominance: announcements, photo opps, sound bites , coupled with a monstrous ego and an inability to carefully read and consider…….

    Not only the Henry report on tax.
    Over and over again; a repeated pattern.

    The 24-hour publicity cycle got Kevin elevated to the top job; once there, he couldn’t hop off the publicity treadmill.

    Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd both considered themselves to be the smartest person in whatever room they occupied, it seems. Both dealt with human beings harshly – only if they were inferiors of course (but everyone was!).

    In both cases, the Party removed the Emperor.

    Sad, but probably deserved.

    What a mess the aftermath of John Howard proved to be for the Liberals. What a mess the aftermath of Paul Keating proved to be for Labor.

    Sometimes, Opposition is the best “space” for a Party that should be sorting itself out, to occupy ….. IMO

  16. Ambi: “Sometimes, Opposition is the best “space” for a Party that should be sorting itself out, to occupy ….. IMO” Problem is that it is easy to get stuck in opposition. People start to think voting for you is risky and talented people don’t want to be stuck in opposition. Think of Joh and Menzies.

  17. Think of Greg Combet! One of the few people who knows that forests are made of trees, and knows how to count them, and calculate the area they take up. And will never tell you any different.

  18. My guess is that Greg Combet, Lindsay Tanner, Nicola Roxon and your Qld economist Minister (name?) were some of the smartest and achieving Ministers of thise govts.

    I happened to hear Mr Tanner’s farewell speach to the House. Somehow feel that its timing, on the day of Ms Gillard’s ascension to PM, cannot have been accidental.

    Ms Gillard and Mr Tanner knew each other from student politics days.

  19. Ambi, the Qld economist your are looking for is Craig Emerson, once partner of Julia Gillard.

    No, she didn’t dump him when he swallowed her contact lenses in the bathroom having a drink of water in the middle of the night!

    Emerson is always worth listening to, but you have to accept that he is fully signed on to free trade.

    As to Lindsay Tanner, you might be able to read Andrew Charlton’s review of Tanner’s book. Frustrated with the dumbing down of politics, and mostly blames the corrosive role of the media.

    I know that during the GFC the other three (Rudd, Gillard, Swan) tended to leave Tanner out of the loop because he was not leak-proof. He didn’t intentionally leak, but had a habit of giving plain answers to questions, or so it was said.

  20. I came across Mark Butler’s 2017 article How Australia bungled climate policy to create a decade of disappointment.

    It seems a pretty reasonable sketch. I haven’t read his book.

    He mentions Peta Credlin’s give-away that Abbott’s attack on Gillard’s climate policy was pure politics.

    Howard’s commitment was mostly political too.

    Butler is very close top Anthony Albanese and also was a Rudd supporter against Gillard. I think he responds scientific information rather than ideology. There is no doubt in my mind that Butler and Albanese, if elected, would bring Australia back into the mainstream of countries acting on climate change.

    That’s not enough, but a start, and politically doable.

    Medicare was a political football when first introduced, but bedded down by Hawke-Keating, and now part of the furniture. I think the same would happen with climate change under a new Labor government.

    So all we have to worry about is the future of the human race, and the biosphere. See David Spratt – Canberra unprepared for climate upheavals that will rock the nation.

  21. BilB, Mark Butler in the article linked above makes brief reference to the gold-plating of the electricity grid as being a problem with electricity pricing.

    One problem has been privatisation. Generally speaking, I’m told, has been the notion the capitalists won’t get out of bed for less than around 12% return on equity. The returns allowed, or struck by the Australian Energy Regulator is a good deal more than that, but is still in line with what privately run infrastructure utility companies.

    Electricity distribution and retailing should be nationalised.

    BilB, I’ve said before when you’ve brought up the Hugh Saddler stuff cited by Jess Hill that I’m sceptical as to whether it applies to Qld. Southern analysts often don’t know what happens north of the Tweed, nor do some living here for that matter. Our power distribution systems need to be robust. We have real weather, and trees grow, well, most of the time.

    Now Premier Palaszczuk has deemed it appropriate to give us a $200 discount on our most recent bill. I’m actually not sure why, but I suspect it’s COVID kindness.

  22. Granted, Brian, the Jess Hill Study I believe is about New South Wales. And I do like Mark Butler as a straight deliverer.

    The 12% on equity comment,…that was one of the key advantages of the 3cent levy renewable infrastructure funding mechanism, the projects were fully paid up from the levy fund. All the operators had to do was propose and manage responsibly for their negotiated return. And as it was a progressive programme, there was time to learn who the best operators were and there was flexibility for variable returns on the various technologies.

    Have a look at the expectations of this micro fusion reactor project. . It is not near reality yet, but consider if there vision of distributed power production was ready for deployment, would the coal industry just role over and “OK, its time for us to go!”

  23. Thanks Brian,

    Indeed it was Craig Emerson whose name I’d forgotten. He seemed intelligent and articulate and a social democrat. Had worked in Indonesia, as I recall. He seemed the last, staunch defender of PM Gillard, as the Kevin circled for a second go.

    Perhaps that was down to Dr Emerson’s knowledge of Mr Rudd, more than his affection for the PM?

    BTW, I now have a copy of the children’s book written by Mr Rudd (when the nation needed him to be paying attention to A Great Moral Challenge). Hint: Enid Blyton and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie need not fear.

    And Mr Rudd, forget that riposte about your Deputy PM’s later frank assessment of your mental well-being (“I’m not aware that Ms Gillard holds postgraduate qualifications in Psychology!”)

    Mate, these people had to be work with you every day. They had to discuss policies with you and carry out your decisions. They were up close, closer than any journo; and had serious responsibilities as Ministers of the Crown. If you were off your game, they had to do their best to keep the show on the road, mate. Did you talk to them, mate? Confide in them? Or was it bark and harangue, as with hapless senior public servants?? If there are administrative and policy messes being made, it doesn’t take a postgrad degree in Psychology to diagnose the root cause of the difficulties.

    At a certain point, enough becomes enough, mate.

    A shock to the public – because it seems out of loyalty to you, mate; and a sense of self-preservation as a Govt; they had kept quiet and covered for you mate.

    A good thing the Westminster system allows a quick removal, mate. And didn’t the United Nations dodge a bullet, eh?

  24. You’ve got it Ambi. Re the UN, Rudd was cranky Turnbull didn’t push his case, but Turnbull I think said Rudd wasn’t suitable. Turnbull was right.

    Emerson worked in Hawke’s office, then came to Qld as head of the Qld govt community affairs department under Goss. He grew up in NSW. I think we own him now.

    I recall he organised a series of evening sessions under the rubric of ‘Vision 20:20’ or something like that. One was a talk by Ross Garnaut, which was the first time I ever heard advocacy for free trade.

    BilB, do you have an idea when fusion will become a real thing? It’s been 20 to 30 years away for at least 30 years. Are the Chinese or Japanese working on it?

    He’s saying completely clean, limitless energy for about a 10th of what anything else offers.

  25. Brian: Fusion is making less and less sense as other renewable options develop. Even if the actual fusion is bought under control converting the heat is not going to come cheap.

  26. I’ve just found a recent New Scientist article
    Why cracking nuclear fusion will depend on artificial intelligence
    (pay-walled). It says fusion has been 30 years away, probably since the 1950s. The Europeans tried to give it a boost in the 1970s. In 1985 the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project was set up with 31 nations involved, including the US, China Russia and the EU.

    They now have a plan to build a plant to do actual experiments in France by 2025, and expect to take another 10 years to refine their methodology. The major point made in the article is that recent humungous computers now have the power to push things along, in part by building models to find the most virtuous path. She says the difference now is that promised progress may actually happen.

    Meanwhile there is a fair bit of private money sloshing around, promising to produce power from fusion by 2030. Maybe the bloke linked by BilB has an idea that is better than the rest, and wants to do his own thing so he can stay in control. I don’t know.

    Last year the UK Conservatives pledged GBP200 million fora fusion plant. That is separate to their commitment to ITER via the EU.

  27. Here is a nature article about the UK project, with a photo of the plant being built in France.

    The problems seem to be generating enough heat to get a reaction where the heat generated is more than the heat input, and, secondly, keeping the plasma going over time, called “confinement time”. The current record is, according to the NS article, 100 seconds by the Chinese.

  28. Brian: The big risk I see with fusion power is that it will be seized upon by the climate skeptics as an excuse to stall climate action until this miracle arrives. Much the same as was done with respect to new types of fission reactors at the time when I first met you.

  29. OK

    If it’s thermonuclear fusion power generated in Earthbound plasmas you wanna talk about, I offer this physics & fusion anecdote.

    An early pioneer of plasma physics (1950s, 1960s in the US) was Dr Nick Metropolis. He was brilliant, and was convinced that fusion power would be achievable. Some physicists were puzzled by his certainty, as each difficulty was followed by another.

    Eventually it dawned on them.

    Metropolis had actually arrived on Earth from the distant planet ZXYZH. He knew that the chief power source on his home planet was nuclear fusion. But he couldn’t demonstrate to Earthlings how to achieve controlled fusion. On ZXYZH he had been a lift driver.

  30. Two other data points on PM Rudd.

    James Button, “Speechless. A Year in My Father’s Business”, Melbourne University Press, 2012.
    He documents the erratic nature of ‘governance’, and was there as a speechwriter for the PM at the time Health Minister Roxon was trying to work out what the PM had in mind – if anything concrete – for the grand ‘national hospitals plan’.

    Then there is Nicholas Stuart’s “ Rudd’s Way. November 2007 – June 2010“, particularly scathing about Kevin’s going off to write a children’s book in the summer “holidays” after his failure at Copenhagen.

  31. John, unfortunately some will use any excuse, However, we really need net zero emissions by 2030, and use available technologies.

  32. Brian: “we really need net zero emissions by 2030, and use available technologies.” Fusion wont be part of the solution and nuclear seems more and more unlikely given the fall in prices for non-nuclear options.

  33. Brian, the micro fusion project I only know about because it came up on you tube, but looking at it their claims are credible, and just like Space ex, private low budget initiatives can deliver different results. The reality is that we do want compact power sources for mobile applications, not excluding space exploration but most specifically powering shipping. One real advantage of more but smaller development initiatives is that they allow individual talents to develop better, and that is where real genius can develop and have real impact.

    I can’t comment on time frames as I know virtually nothing about that area of science, but I am an (realist) optimist. One thing I do notice about this project following it through from its earlier stages is that their machine, while still small, has become extremely more complex. Here’s hoping.

    JohnD though is correct, the bulk of the energy for the future will come from solar, and that is where all efforts must be concentrated. This is where the Australian government has failed so spectacularly.

    The working solution for distributed power generation will be a package of technologies that are financed in one purchase. The current solution is like buying a car one system at a time…. first you get some one to supply a chassis engine and wheels, then some one else later supplies the cab and seats, some one else provides the electrical system and you get a battery so you don’t have to hand crank the engine (that is a big day), later you get a heater, windscreen wipers and so on.

    What householders need is a single purchase, single system with all of the benefits of mass production and economies of scale for a system that produces electricity, hot water, back up power for non solar periods and can operate on its own or in conjunction with a micro grid and/or broad grid.

    It takes a significant amount of industry co ordination to make that happen and considering the urgency requires government involvement assistance. Piss on Tony Abbott’s grave, he can’t die soon enough for my liking.

  34. For the record, ahead of the 2007 election I was ringing Julia Gillard’s office imploring that she should be up for the Prime Minister’s position ahead of Kim Beasley, who to my mind was like pitting a Collie Dog (lovely dogs) against a Pit Bull Terrier in a contest against John Howard. Instead we got Rudd. What a different future it would have been but for that bad choice by the Labor Boy’s Club. With Howard knocked down by Maxine McKew Gillard would have done a spectacular job including ratifying the environment accord (Rudd’s big claim to fame..really a no brainer)

  35. BilB, on the micro fusion project, thanks, that puts it in the right context. I think there is going to be a lot of exciting stuff invented in the next century if homo sapiens can keep the show on the road.

  36. Bilb: Agree with investigating multiple solutions because, in my experience you start investigating something and end up with profitable solutions that may be a byproduct of the original investigation or just something you happen to notice. So you are right, investigating frontier stuff like fusion may do something very worthwhile even though it is never used to generate electricity.

  37. If micro fusion could be made cheap, safe and micro, well good luck to it.

    I have doubts.

    At present the engineering and plasma physics suggests super macro fusion. Refer to Tokamaks, ITER and so forth. Strong macro fusion programs in US, Japan, USSR, Europe etc.

    Problems for the macro reactors??
    Well there’s the obviousness of non-delivery so far.
    1. Huge temperatures needed to initiate fusion reactions
    2. Therefore hydrogen, deuterium are in the plasma state
    3. But plasma is electrically (and therefore magnetically) active
    4. Hot plasma has dozens of internal wave modes
    5. Waves can grow due to resonances, disrupting the plasma blob
    6. Huge magnetic fields must be applied to control a magnetically slippery very hot plasma blob which must be kept in a vacuum and away from the walls lest it cool
    7. The fusion reactions (unavoidably) generate neutrons which pass out of the plasma, cannot be magnetically contained
    8. Humans need shielding from the neutrons
    9. Magnetic fields needed inside the reactor are generated by massive external machinery which may be damaged by the strong neutron flow
    10. Huge energy must be put in, initially, to set up the magnetic field configuration that is to confine (and heat?) the plasma.
    11. See also the “Lawson criterion”. This represents an estimated necessary condition (benchmark) for the fusion to produce greater energy output than the energy input.
    12. Sadly, a necessary condition isn’t a sufficient condition for success at power generation.

    This is a macro undertaking which is the direct opposite of household scale, distributed, local network power sources which even now are becoming cheaper and easily managed by your local electrician, plumber and householder.

    It’s like building a behemoth ocean liner, when the customer wanted a serviceable bicycle or electric car.

    But I could be wrong.

    BTW, the British effort in controlled fusion is at Culham Laboratories in PM Johnson’s electorate. Boris joked about “the project that’s always promising success a few decades into the future”. Then promised a few more tens of millions of £.

    Here endeth today’s sermon.

  38. Thanks, Ambi. My only point is that not everyone needs a bicycle. For example, if you are running an aluminium smelter.

  39. That is a good run down of the subject there, Ambi, but I am wondering if you watched the LPPFusion video ?

    What they are doing is pretty hot, and a completely different process for generating fusion and with different fuels which creates Helium without releasing Neutrons.

    Have a look and let us know what you think.

    Brian, I hadn’t watched that particular video, I had seen their earlier ones, but the near final mechanism is awesome, and tiny. One final step to go I think he was saying.

  40. Here is a fairly comprehensive video covering LPPFusion’s development rate. Interesting that they are working on a budget of $0.6 million per year.

    Remember that Peter Beattie handed $500 million to Carbon Capture and Storage as he stepped out the door 13 years ago, as I recall, making that technology as big a money sink hole on similar time scales . Didn’t Howard give CCS 1 billion as well?

  41. Thanks BilB.

    Have watched the video.
    They mention two instabilities and claim they must lead to a plasmoid which for unexplained reasons shrinks (becoming denser).

    Yes the proton Boron reaction will produce no pesky neutrons.

    But the reason most controlled fusion (theoretical) reactor concepts are based on Deuterium Tritium fusion reactions is because they are the most energy efficient reactions.

    When a D meets a T a Coulomb repulsion of 1 unit must be overcome. A Boron nucleus has 5 protons doesn’t it? So the Coulomb repulsion is 5 units for a p-B fusion, I think.

    Call me old fashioned or ignorant, but the fusion energy I favour occurs approx 150 million km away from my backyard (NIMBY) and is unimpeded by its huge internal plasma instabilities, huge fluctuating magnetic fields, unconcerned by neutron flux or indeed neutrino flux. The whole reactor is gravitationally confined and reasonably safe.

    It’s got a proven track record; the plasma confinement time is VERY long. Peak temperatures about 20 million C (or Kelvin if you insist).

    Of course some of the output is dangerous, damaging ultraviolet radiation, but I’ve arranged for a massive ozone shield to shut most of that out.

    No need for maintenance workers or massive power inputs.

    I’m thinking of calling the fusion reactor “Apollo”. You can see it most days.


  42. Granted, Ambi, just not so good for powering super containerships.

    I like this concept, lower reaction yields aside (neutrino hazard? really?). Its not like they are burning through public funds in their self amusement, and they seem really close to energy capture without the losses of heat energy conversion. It is really clever. Cool Fusion, so to speak.

  43. The fact that they’re not burning public funds is certainly in their favour. Yes, you’re right about container ships.

    I don’t mind people having a go. Not at all.

    Just occasionally we hear a blitz of publicity for a quack proposal that violates thermodynamics or physics. I get grumpy (obviously ).

    At least with The Car That Ran On Water (cold fusion under the bonnet, Brisbane) there was the redeeming feature that it embarrassed Premier Joh.


    Or should have.
    Was he immune to ridicule?

  44. So, Ambi, just curious, what is or was your field of expertise/special interest? I was imagining legal, but the way you went at Fusion suggested perhaps physics other than the Neutrino comment. ?

  45. As a lad, I was keen on the potential for controlled terrestrial fusion power. Studied plasma physics in Australia.

    No further research after Uni days.

    By the way, ITER and other programmes all point to huge power reactors. Gobbling up development funds, requiring large local power supplies to achieve ignition if ever built.

    I’m not up to date; apologies.

    I favour smaller, local, decentralised power sources. I would classify the power sources in aircraft, ships, cars as small. To be on the move militates against huge mass.

    Running an alumimium smelter or medium to large steelmaking plant, that’d be big power. Doesn’t matter so much if the power plant is massive.

    Seeing Ian Macauley’s work on the Indonesian power network (1970s) raised for me the matter of energy losses in transmission lines.

    The “solar neutrino” problem (apparent deficit in the neutrino flux) was big in the 1970s. That might explain my irrelevant mention of neutrinos.

    As a footnote from the Cold War, physicist Bruno Pontecorvo (defector, atom spy?) was one who – much later than his nuclear work – suggested that many solar neutrinos might alter between the Sun and Earth….. and hence not be detected…..

  46. Correction: the Aussie economist specialising in Indonesia was/is Prof Peter McCawley.

  47. Thanks for that, Ambi. Plasma physics, well this reactor is Plasma Play in the extreme, I would have thought. Do you remember the US’s first big Fusion reaction attempt back in Carter’s day? It was a huge frame supporting 9 powerful lasers whose beams were projected to a single point at which there was a small glass ball of Deuterium gas. The working principle being that the flash of energy would cause the gas atom to accelerate in all directions and some of them would collide in a fusion reaction. I never heard the results of the experiment. Well this device is a bit similar but smaller, smaller with a lower energy requirement, and operates on a flash of applied energy to a small locality just millimetres in size. I think that if the plasma acts as they say then it is a really cool fusion (yes pun intended not cold fusion) process. The only problem I can see is that of keeping the fuel gas in the reaction zone . That is not explained (I don’t think). but the other super cool innovation is in extracting the energy from electro magnetic energy rather than heat. This is as different an approach as a successful project must be. I might even donate $100 as a vote of support. But what should happen is that the country that needs the energy the least, Australia, should offer to fully fund this guy’s research offering to send several Hercs to the US to pick up his whole lab and bring it here, while also letting the yanks know what they are doing. America awash with billionaires and so little to do with their money that they build ever bigger useless super yachts (no one can get to their super yachts unless they own a private jet… a big private jet… as well) that it should cause one of them to open their wallets enough to let a few dollars fall into the best cheapest and most promising energy project on the planet.

    Not blinded by the light, I want to see the energy output pulse proven to be real, then i want to see how much support equipment is required ie cooling for super conducting magnets etc. I am going to be keeping a close eye on this project.

  48. Useful sentiments, BilB.

    Time and again Australian scientists and engineers complained that leading researchers (and their associates, postgrad students, apparatus and future IP) were lured away to USA or Europe.

    Loss for us.

    The “Federation Fellow” scheme was supposed to initiate some luring to Australia .

  49. BTW
    On the criterion of reducing C emissions, I hope we can shift to ship cargo transport and away from air cargo in the medium term.

  50. Ambi: “Time and again Australian scientists and engineers complained that leading researchers (and their associates, postgrad students, apparatus and future IP) were lured away to USA or Europe.”
    In that vein “Autonomous robot scientist can choose its own experiments” should be of interest in areas where a lot of small tests are possible and an informed selection of tests to do may make a difference.
    “But like any scientist, the most impressive thing about this robot is its brain. The machine has been programmed with a detailed algorithm that lets it explore some 98 million possible experiments to run, choosing which one to do at any given time based on the results of previous tests.” Suitable in areas where a lot of quick tests are possible to do things like find better catalysts for renewable hydrogen production.

  51. Let’s hope it doesn’t get interested in cooking and decide to make an old biscuit recipe it found in a fiction novel, “Soylent Green”.

    “Assistant, I need help here, please come closer,……closer”

  52. Bilb: “Let’s hope it doesn’t get interested in cooking and decide to make an old biscuit recipe it found in a fiction novel,”
    Just be afraid. VERY, VERY AFRAID!!!

  53. If I may register another note of caution, is there also a robot labelled Ethics Committee which spends a few millionths of a second assessing each experiment before it begins??

    *Irrelevant Anecdote Alert*
    By the way, back in the 60s the school library was throwing out some very old, outdated, unneeded books. I purchased a copy of “Experiments in Warfare Chemistry”, published in Britain the 1930s.

    Its preface explained that its author, evidently well-trained in chemistry, felt that the general public were sadly ignorant of the possibilities of chemical weaponry almost certainly to be unleashed in the coming European War. His solution? (no pun)

    To set out a detailed sequence of school laboratory experiments whereby schoolboys and their Chem teachers could learn about mustard gas etc. and antidotes/protection.

    1. I’m not sure whether the author was familiar with certain propensities of teenage boys, which might have given him pause.
    2. I don’t know whether any schools took up the idea, and so
    3. am unsure in what ways this singular effort may have increased* the survival rate among the British people during WW2.

    * or indeed, decreased

  54. Ahem.


    Google Books informs me that I gave an incorrect title for the book.

    School Experiments in Warfare Chemistry: A Book of Experiments for Protection Against Gas and Air Attacks
    Author Walter Kinttof
    Publisher Massie Publishing, 1939
    Length 144 pages

  55. Sorry, I know nothing else about it.
    Bought my copy because I thought it so strange.

    Did Kurds or Marsh Arabs (in Saddam’s time) or other Iraqis later, protect themselves effectively?

  56. I don’t seek these things out, but twenty years later – in an opp shop in regional Victoria – what should turn up but an authentic US Dept of Defense pocket sized booklet:

    Soldier’s Handbook of Defense Against Chemical and Biological Operations and Nuclear Warfare .

    Full of useful tips.
    If you find yourself at a spot where the ground has a glassy appearance, hasten away.

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