Negging the NEG

The proposal of the pompously named “Monash Group” that public funds should be allocated to investment in coal-fired power stations is, of course, absurd. Leaving aside its environmental effects, new coal-fired power is far more expensive than renewables or gas.

Nevertheless, the proposal is welcome in a number of respects.

First, in combination with Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 proposal, it represents a repudiation, by the conservative side of politics, of the ideology of privatisation. From now on, anyone who wants to make a case against the extension of public enterprise will have to do so on the merits rather than on the ground of free market dogma. Proposals for coal-fired power fail on the merits, but the case for public investment in renewables is strong.

Second, it exposes Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee for the sham it is. As has been more-or-less admitted by its main architect Kerry Schott, the idea of the NEG is to provide a technology-neutral facade for a set of rules designed to keep existing coal-fired power stations open a little longer. That’s obviously unsatisfactory for anyone who cares about climate change. It’s equally unsatisfactory for those on the right who imagine coal can be kept going forever.

The Monash proposal makes a mockery of the idea, promoted by the Grattan Institute and much of the Canberra commentariat, that the NEG represents some kind of long-term resolution of the debate over climate change policy.

The reality is that no such resolution is possible. Everyone who cares about the enviroment knows that we need a rapid global phase-out of coal-fired power. The Monash Group know this too, but their primary goal is to spite their enemies in the culture war . They are happy to treat the future of the planet as collateral damage. The middle path imagined by Turnbull and Schott is an illusion.

As with gun control in the US, the idea of a compromise here is nonsense. Our only hope is to vote these vandals out and keep them out long enough to make the end of coal irreversible.

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