The LNP/ONP coalition government: who’s in charge?

I’ve found the reaction of Malcolm Turnbull to the South Australia blackout too depressing to discuss, but I suppose it’s time to talk about it. Turnbull was depressing for three reasons

First, there was the absurdity of failing to distinguish between transmission failures (pylons destroyed by storms) and intermittency. Reading the comments of Turnbull and others, it seemed as if the reasoning process was something like “wind bad for electricity system, so must cut back on wind power”). I gave up on expecting any substantive difference between Turnbull and Abbott quite a while ago, but this silliness coming from the alleged “smartest guy in the room” was depressing.

Then there’s the substantive political content. Turnbull and Frydenberg have already any ruled out kind of carbon price, even the emissions intensity mechanism proposed by the Climate Change Authority (of which I’m a member) as an evolution of Direct Action. When doing this, Frydenberg justified his position by saying that an energy transition, presumably to renewables meant that the government’s targets were achievable. Now, even this fig leaf has been stripped away.

Finally, and worst of all, it’s one more step in the capitulation of rightwing neoliberalism to the rising tide of tribalism. In the LNP-ONP coalition I described a month or so ago, it’s now clear that One Nation with its associated faction within the government (Bernardi, Christensen, Abbott and others) has the upper hand. ONP Senator Malcolm Roberts tweeted to Turnbull that it was “Good to see you coming around to One Nation’s position“, and he was spot on. Doubtless he’ll have many more occasions for similar tweets in the future

The polls suggest that the public reaction to all this is unfavorable, but unfortunately it’s a few months too late. We’re stuck with this for another three years.

49 thoughts on “The LNP/ONP coalition government: who’s in charge?

  1. I agree with all of that. Eventually weight of evidence, weight of impacts and weight of world opinion will force Australia to do something about fossil fuels and GHGs. Clearly, it won’t be in this term of government.

    (Meta-comment – I’m taking a holiday from grumpiness, argumentativeness and long posts.)

  2. There are two Frydenbergs. There is the Frydenberg who reads the briefing material his department gives him, such as on energy transition, the technicalities of which he almost certainly doesn’t understand, and there is the Frydenberg who makes political statements given to him by his office. Which one you hear depends on who has gotten to him last.

  3. @Ikonoclast
    Just to re-charge your batteries I hope Ikon. I’m taking your 22 point socialist – After reform -‘to do’ list to a long time Marxist mate to discuss. Trust it’s not copyrighted.

  4. Turnbull does continue to surprise me. I thought after the election that Turnbull would move to stitch up a deal which gave us a somewhat more rational approach to climate change. It would have been a fairly easy thing to do given that almost all the States and Territories and some of the players in the power generation and distribution business want a better approach. And I would have thought it would have ticked a lot of political boxes for Turnbull. But Frydenberg has been taking us backwards, and Turnbull has been going along.
    What is puzzling is that they are even rejecting the Tony Wood (Grattan)/Xenophon/Frontier economics compromise. It doesn’t make sense.
    Ah well. Life goes on.

  5. I wish we could stop referring to wind and solar power as “intermittent”. This implies wind power is there and then suddenly not. The term “variable” is more appropriate. There is an industry association in the US that works on grid integration known as UVIG (Utility Variable-Generation Integration Group). It doesn’t call itself the Utility Intermittent Generation Integration Group!

  6. I have to say I have found MSM coverage of the black outs lacking to almost a sinister degree.

    There has been no detail offered showing close up what happened apart from vague factoids concerning one or more key components necessary for the optimal functioning of the grid were out of commission for “maintenance” (in a La Nina Year?) and that the towers were unable to stand up to a basic storm. I haven’t been told why there has been no back up for the Northern and Western parts of SA, where entities like Arrium Steel are now now taking big financial hits for the protracted outage affecting that part of SA, or why the system had not the capacity to absorb the blow down of pylons and cabling without the entire system having to shut down rather remained localised through some sort of more effective cut-off mechanism.

    The treatment of people in Whyalla and elsewhere has been shoddy as governments seek to avoid liability through the action of helping those affected and previous instances are recalled, such as Abbott refusing aid in previous disasters in Qld and NSW.

    There has been no examination of whether there are flaws relative to the privatisation of electricity generation and supply in SA and the rest of country that prevent the functioning of over sight and accountability as to maintenance. I begin to wonder if we return to examination of the most celebrated example of privatisation in our recent history; the off shoring of detention centres for asylum seekers to avoid accountability, is at play in some form re power, with its quangos, private corporations and state and federal governments impotent and at a distance, as seems intended as part of the selling a pup to the public as to the ëfficiency”benefits” of privatisation.

    As for Frydenberg and co, how dare these buffoons move in to misrepresent a situation requiring of calm explanation and requisite action, with their neurotic flat earth fantasies about renewable energy, as though dog whistling to Hansonists, rather than dealing with a real world situation in an adult way.

  7. @Ben

    AEMO uses the term intermittent for wind power. The definition of intermittent is “occurring at irregular intervals; not continuous or steady”, which seems perfectly accurate as a description of wind power.

  8. I had heard a rumour that there had been an ‘in-principle agreement’ made between the major parties behind the scenes to do something vaguely sensible on climate change after the government’s 2017 review of its climate polices. But the pubic statements in the wake of SA blackout seem to put the lie to that.

  9. I should say as I type this, another inch of rain has fallen in the last few hours.. a La Nina year

  10. ” … it seemed as if the reasoning process was something like “wind bad for electricity system, so must cut back on wind power”

    Indeed, it seemed that way. Is Mr Maurice Newman (share borker by trade) still the technical adviser on electricity generation and distribution?

  11. @pablo

    Not trademarked. It’s only the first 20 of about 100 points any socialist could make. 🙂

    Make sure you go to Richard D. Wolff’s site and read, watch and listen to him. He is very good and I don’t mind his hammy sense of humour. Recommend his site to all of your friends and acquaintances… other than neo-theo-liber-cons who are a lost cause of course.

  12. @paul walter

    “…the towers were unable to stand up to a basic storm.” – paul walter.

    This is a common beef of mine. Some of our infrastructure now seems to be inadequately engineered for our Aussie climate which does experience extreme events; drought, heat, flood. Surely it would be cost effective and risk avoidance effective to over-engineer those interconnector towers to a very considerable degree. One state blackout avoided might cover the whole cost.

    I also love this paragraph;

    “As for Frydenberg and co, how dare these buffoons move in to misrepresent a situation requiring of calm explanation and requisite action, with their neurotic flat earth fantasies about renewable energy, as though dog whistling to Hansonists, rather than dealing with a real world situation in an adult way.” – paul walter

  13. Chris Ullmann’s incoherent ramble on the ABC web site adds to my general depression. The idea that a generator could be connected to the grid and not be synchronous reflects a total ignorance of electrical power systems. Shame on Auntie!

  14. @paul walter
    My opinion is that it was not a basic storm which damaged those pylons.
    Reports from an emu farm in the Riverland point to a tornado touching down with an area 200m wide by around 2.5km long devastated.
    Photos I have seen of gum trees with all or most branches broken off 6m or so from the ground, some of which being thicker than a man’s body, suggest another tornado or two touched down.
    Having seen the way power lines swing in 104 km/hr winds I can easily accept that a particularly turbulent wind would produce short bursts of very high wind speed and set up a resonance with the swinging cables, producing forces beyond what could be reasonably expected by historical weather data.
    A study in the US found that transmission towers were not designed to withstand the particularly vicious ‘downburst winds’ which occur during violent thunderstorms and that these winds are not recorded on measuring equipment at their true speed. There were violent thunderstorms all over SA that day and particularly in the Mid North.

  15. @John Legge
    Yes, I thought of Uhlmann apropos of Ernestine’s remark at #11 above. It seems that, like Maurice Newman and his background in stockbroking, Uhlmann has decided that his credentials as a political interviewer afford him suitable expertise to bloviate about energy technology.

  16. Salient Green, you offer an interesting comment about one aspect of the issue, but is it the only aspect to be considered?

    I think Ikonoclast points the finger in the direction of the same sort of mentality that was responsible for, say, the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

    That could be worrying, given that SA is having imposed upon it nuclear dumps (away from water tables?) and deep water oil drilling in the Bight (by BP).

  17. @Ikonoclast
    Yep – the yanks seem to run their towers right through tornado alley with no problem. A bit of extra steel in those towers so they can comfortably stand a 1 in 100 year (but not one in 10,000 year) storm seems a pretty cheap investment.

    And the sensible critics of SA policy are right – more network redundancy seems in order. Mind you it was not so long ago everyone here (yes, including me) was complaining about ‘gold plating’ being responsible for sharp rises in electricity prices. Maybe the engineers were right there and we armchair critics were wrong.

  18. I am sure the towers were over-engineered but to what weather conditions? They would not have reasonably expected Queensland winds when designed back in the day.

  19. Ikonoclast, I think the point is that the towers /were/ over engineered, just not by enough of a margin to deal with the weather events that struck them. Nature can be surprising, even to very conservative engineers.

  20. Given other comments here, I must say I am more puzzled than ever, given this, from up to ten years ago.

  21. “not so long ago everyone here (yes, including me) was complaining about ‘gold plating’”

    We went through that in Queensland a decade ago. After corporatisation, Energex ran down the network to the point that it collapsed in the 2003 storm season. After that, there was massive investment to fix it, recompensed at the private sector cost of capital instead of, as it would have been in the past, the bond rate.

  22. I am glad I got curious.. bit by bit, a picture emerges not in keeping with the way MSM have portrayed things over the last week, in those brief moments when it is not fixated upon Kim Kardashian.

    Had msm not been so poor in its coverage, people would not have had to chase down appropriate info for a reasonable understanding of the issue.

    I wish they would stop trying to normalise neoliberalism and its mechanisms, like privatisation on unsatisfactory evidence. As I said above there is a big downstream set of costs re Arrium Steel and others.

    Now I will go down to the Torrens below the weir to enjoy more of our latest tourist attraction, provided the rain doesn’t start again.

  23. The electricity company Powercor is doing a great project in a small town in our Shire here in regional Victoria collaborating with the State government and town community to get to 100% renewable energy by around 2020.

    I am not great with all the technical electricity grid stuff to be honest, but one thing that’s happening is looking at neighbourhood energy generation and transmission.

    How its been described is a “Half on. Half off.” model.

    Geoff Park who is a local scientist and consultant who won a 2009 Eureka Prize and does a blog called Natural Newstead described the “half on half off” idea on the community Renewable Newstead Blog by saying:

    “Half On. Half Off.

    These four words perhaps define the Renewable Newstead project.

    Half on is the relationship with Powercor. This project is unreservedly “On Grid” – it is about using all those poles and wires to collaboratly share power that is generated locally and used locally.

    Half off is the fact that much of this generation will take place at home on your roof and soon be stored perhaps in a battery in your garage.

    Where did these words comes from? I first heard them in this ABC Science Show broadcast in which a panel describes this scenario from a number of angles. It is very well worth a listen.”

    The Science Show broadcast is here

    I talked to someone in Bendigo a while ago and they were saying Powercor had been really pessimistic about changing to renewable energy not too many years ago, so its really fantastic they have now partnered with the State government and community to do this.

  24. I was quite enraged to hear Frydenberg on the ABC stating that the cause of the power blackout was due to a lightning strike into a power station which then cause a power tower to collapse. That IS what I heard him say. So I rang his electoral office and his parliamentary office then the Prime minister’s parliamentary office to get some explanation as to why this LNP government is trying to “out stupid” Donald Trump……. and succeeding.

    Then I was flabbergasted to here Malcolm Turnbull later that day carry forward the stupidity with an attempt to blame the failure on Renewable Energy.

    I am here in Chicago at present and I have been told that a while ago a good part of Chicago was blacked out for 5 days for exactly the same reason as SA, tornadoes pulling down high tension towers. No chance of blaming that on renewables here. A story I heard was that this tornado ripped through a medical facility and peoples medical records were raining down as far as 500 miles away the longest recorded distance for solid material to be transported by a weather event (as I heard it).

    What ever is Malcolm Turnbull doing?? His NBN intervention (albeit induced by a mad person Tony Abbott) is a total failure for both cost and performance, now he is burying any vestige of a good name in Climate Denial, and taking this all to the global stage as Australia’s representative. Turbull is a flop, but worse the LNP nationally are a total disaster. The only more, at least on appearances, palatable LNP leader than Turnbull is Mike Baird, but he has demolished his reputation in the eyes of business leaders with his handling of the next generation intercity train by fleet handing it over to Hyundai.

  25. BilB,

    Maintain the rage, mate. Yes, they (the neolib LNP) are all stupid; mind-bogglingly, idiotically stupid. There is no other explanation for it. Unfortunately, the thick skin needed for politics obviously comes at the expense of tissue which ought to differentiate into brain calls at an early stage of embryonic development. 😉

    Maybe they need this process;


  26. It does my heart good to see BilB and Ikonoclast fire up to their ‘enviscerating’ mode.

  27. I sympathize completely John, having been through a phase when I ‘believed’ in Turnbull’s rhetoric as did my wife who as a former actor is trained to read people. We both encountered him sufficiently ‘up close and personal’ for him to pass the usual reality checks – e.g. tells and weasel words. And I expect you have seen and talked with him on many occasions you arent about to go into and got the same impression.

    When you think about it his strange behaviour here goes further back than the last 12 months. On the one hand we have the man of the people – e.g. public transport (latterly in New York) – concerned with his annual sleep out with the dispossessed and homeless around Lady Macquarie’s chair. But then you have “you dont stand between Malcolm and a bucket of money” Turnbull associated with a certain merchant bank better known for its identification with Vampire Squids….suggesting he is also a deeply embedded believer in the finance capitalism that gave us the, the global economic crisis, the dispossessed and our problematic banks in the first place. Other weirdness includes the contrast between his apparent understanding of climate change science with throwing several million dollars at a curious pyramid power project at Byron Bay about 10 years back.

    How did we and a large chunk of Australia aspiring to be inclusive i.e. take arguments on merit, get things so wrong?

    A few months while discussing expert witness behaviour a friend offered this answer to the puzzle of how barristers seem to get on top of detailed environmental science. A. Barrister’s are expert at picking up complex briefs, filtering key messages, finding areas of coherency and inconsistency, using it all, taking it into their persona AND then at the end removing it all from consciousness as easily as one would remove a coat. If there is any deep understanding and passion for the issues it is incidental.

    Perhaps this explains things. Turnbull is smart but not in the way we have believed, wise in the manner of Marcus Aurelius the archetypal philosopher king. He is an information processor more like an AI or at least that is his great skill. This is not to say he is without motivation and philosophy. And what human being realistically could understand the modern world in all its vast complexity anyway? Perhaps its as much our problem expecting more of him and other politicians than they can deliver.

    But it still also suggests that much of what we see in Turnbull are the output of methods he employes to support his deeper ambition. The latter I suggest is revealed here in Steve Keen’s post . He recounts his experience of the your Malcolm and indeed the young Abbott in a legendary USyd fight, back in the Whitlam dreamtime:

    So Turnbull and Abbott were bit players in that drama, but of course their eyes were set on a bigger role: that of becoming Prime Minister of Australia, as they both have now done. We knew those ambitions back in the 1970s too, and we laughed.

    Abbott and Turnbull both tried to play a role in this “Political Economy” dispute—and their approach then mirrors their styles today. One believed he knew the word of God, while the other believed he was God.

    No prizes for guessing who the latter was.

  28. I am an economist but with an electrical engineering background. Though I have not practised engineering for some time so not most updated, it seemed to me the blackout in SA had more to do with the coal-fired power plants than with renewable energy. Coal-fired generators need a stabiliser to keep the output voltage and frequency (rather) fixed while the load on the generator varies. However, these stabilisers work within a certain min-max load range. What seems to have happened in SA, is that a few towers were cut off, driving the load on some generators to below the minimum allowable and the safety mechanism on those generators acted to disconnect them for the line. Otherwise people’s electrical gadgets would have blown up by a supply of 350V electricity. Renewable sources, on the other hand, do not have that problem because they inherently generate a DC supply and an electronic convertor converts that into AC voltage. This process is quite stable compared to mechanical generators.

  29. @Newtownian

    The most striking instance of the barrister I’ve seen is Peter Costello. He’s razor sharp when well briefed. But even after 10 years as Treasurer, he was capable of making howlingly obvious errors when he talked off the cuff about fiscal policy.

    I think the same is true of Turnbull, but even more I think that he just doesn’t care. He’s capitulated to the ONP/LNP right and he knows that they aren’t going to worry about absurd illogic.

  30. @John Quiggin

    Peter Costello…. even after 10 years as Treasurer, he was capable of making howlingly obvious errors when he talked off the cuff about fiscal policy.

    I wonder how many politicians of all shades actually get economics and money. 2008 was an interesting watershed in that many Australians had their retirement funding seriously threatened. It was certainly an interesting wakeup for me. Yet I am still struggling to understand money.

    Concurrently there were several interesting groups who were even less incentivized to understand where their money was coming from by virtue of being on a defined benefit superannuation schemes which promised income as usual notably:
    – politicians
    – senior career public servants on “the old scheme”
    – senior tenured academics on “the old scheme”

    The situation of politicians doesnt look like changing any time soon so Costello’s faux pas makes sense. Some change might have occurred if respected advisors has provided a wakeup. But most senior academics, at least at at this institution, still seem to believe even in a deflationary world that Unisuper can deliver the promised income even though they have lost the University guarantee!? Separately just the other day again there was a question mark raised over whether the Telstra future fund could delivery Commonwealth public servants their equivalent.

    (A couple of older and newer comments for anyone unfamiliar with the issue )

  31. @Sam B

    Always interesting when people with direct technical knowledge comment. The truth is usually 180 degrees away from the BS the neocons spout.

  32. I’ve met a federal politician in totally different circumstances than you have Newtonian; it was a long time ago at a Permaculture Festival organised by Bill Mollison who recently died. My brother the climate change denier now, was one of the organisers in the tent and I dropped in to say Hi to him and was introduced to Jim Cairns.

    I was really impressed with Jim Cairns because he looked me in the eyes when shaking my hand although I was dressed only in a sarong tied around my waist. Men seem to get used to nudity like that pretty quickly from my experience of being at hippie festivals.

    Politicans were different then or just Labor ones?

    Peter Costello has a brother who sees things differently. John Howard does too I think I read somewhere. How does that happen?

  33. Regarding Synchronous vs Asynchronous wind power – much wind generation has indeed been Asynchronous (I was a bit surprised to find it was so) but it must have been deemed suitable for use to get their connections to the grid. But none of this criticism seems to be coming from network operators or regulators. It’s not an insurmountable challenge to make Synchronous wind power and the costs of doing so (presumably for new wind turbines, I don’t know about retrofitting) don’t look excessive.

    I think that it is unfortunately typical of the LNP rhetoric that foreseeable technological challenges involved in a transition to low emissions are framed as unscalable barriers; no offers to invest in making the grid renewable ready, no subsidy for new and improving energy storage, no support for time shifting demand or improving efficiency have been forthcoming, just alarmist hyperbole about the very transition that is the logical consequence of their official positions of acceptance of climate science and intention to sign on to the Paris climate agreement.

    I think it is not so much that there is a desire to cosy up to One Nation – although they can and they will – but that there is a lot of congruence of mindset between the Conservative Right of the LNP and Sen. Roberts on climate. And that is congruent with the larger parts of the lobbying representative groups of Australian commerce and industry.

    Unfortunately, whilst Roberts is open about his misinformed position and is open to ridicule for it most of those with similar views within the LNP keep their true beliefs and intentions out of public view, disguising their resistance as reluctance thus leaving them with greater freedom to influence policy without being called to public account.

  34. @BilB
    NSW, a state Liberal held state, has had massive blackouts…due to storm damage! Is Malcolm Turnbull rushing to blame that state’s woes upon the renewable energy sector? [Rhetorical Question].

    Politicians change their facts more often than their underpants. [This is based on absolutely no research of course 🙂 ]

  35. @Ken Fabian
    I aint an engineer, but I thought the point Jim B was making is that asynchronous power sources are LESS prone to synchronisation troubles than synchronous ones. It’s an awful lot easier to instantaneously modify the output phase of a solid state power inverter than a huge spinning rotor.

  36. @derrida derider

    Turbines have the very useful property of inertia which can restore frequency to a system which needs it, as SA did last week, after the transmission lines went down. Alas, wind generators don’t have inertia, so if they are the only things running at the critical time, everything shuts down.

  37. It’s unfortunate that the advocate Turnbull only advocates for what he perceives to be in his best interest, not the national interest.

  38. @Apocalypse
    I seriously doubt it will ever be a case of wind being the only supply. A mix that, for some time yet uses existing fossil fuel plant, with it being driven into ever greater intermittency until alternatives, including storage are introduced to supplant it seems likely. Nor would I expect that wind generation technologies will remain as they are; if it’s foreseeable that greater proportions of new installations have to be synchronous that will drive innovation to achieve it more efficiently, at lower cost.

    When it comes to reliability of supply I can assure people that around here we don’t have it; we seem to get several serious outages – of more than 4hrs and sometimes nearer to 24 – each year

  39. I should add that my home PV will soon be upgraded to a grid connected “hybrid” system that has storage, allowing greater self-use – easily every overnight following every sunny day – as well as supplying power during outages. Besides improved reliability over ordinary grid power it does look like it will ultimately pay it’s way with reduced power bills. It can accommodate some expansion of the PV and the storage and if necessary, go off-grid entirely. That would not be my preference, however if the electricity providers refuse to equitably accommodate homes with PV, with or without storage – or if storage cost reductions and available options exceed expectations – then it’s a real possibility.

  40. @Ken Fabian

    According to AEMO, wind was the only supply, apart from the interconnector from Victoria, just prior to the blackout. When the interconnector went down, wind couldn’t handle the load, and went down too. What AEMO didn’t say was whether all would have been fine had thermal power been running at the time.

  41. Apocalypse :
    When the interconnector went down, wind couldn’t handle the load, and went down too.

    Wasn’t it kinda the other way around?

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