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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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;


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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. @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.

  8. @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 )

  9. @Sam B

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

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. @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 🙂 ]

  13. @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.

  14. @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.

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

  16. @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

  17. 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.

  18. @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.

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