Ghosts of privatisations past … and future?

Most people won’t recognise the name “Leo Hielscher” unless they regularly cross the eponymous* bridge (better known by its original name, the Gateway). But he is a figure of great consequence in Queensland, responsible for the downfall of two governments. Hielscher ran the state’s finances for decades, and was the architect of the Bjelke-Petersen strategy of an extractive economy based low taxes, low services and low skill. His proudest boast was the state’s AAA credit rating

The low point of his career was probably the leadup to the 2009 election when Anna Bligh announced that, rather than cut infrastructure spending or sell assets in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, she would allow the state’s credit rating to be reduced to AA+. Bligh was re-elected, and promptly announced a massive program of asset sales. This was one of the rare instances where I was directly involved in the policy process, providing advice to the Queensland Council of Unions, and in this capacity I got to observe Hielscher in action. He was very effective in pushing the (economically spurious) case for asset sales and the need to regain the AAA rating.

Bligh, and her Treasurer, Andrew Fraser pushed through the asset sales and pushed the Labor government off a cliff, being reduced to seven members at the 2012 election. Of course, Bligh landed on her feet, ending up as CEO of the Australian Bankers Association. I didn’t get such a ringside view of the process that led Campbell Newman and Tim Nicholls to adopt their catastrophic “Strong Choices” asset sales campaign, but I have no doubt that Hielscher played a significant role in the background. Both Campbell and Nicholls have duly been consigned to well-deserved political oblivion.

Now the rightwing Australian Institute of Progress has staged a reunion.

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When is a record not a record?

It’s been  cold here in Brisbane for the last few days, at least by our subtropical standards, with overnight minimums of 6 degrees in the city, and negative temperatures in  towns like Stanthorpe in the nearby Granite Belt. That occasioned lots of news coverage, with the observation that this was the coldest temperature we’ve had since 2014 and one of the coldest since 2000. The same was true for much of Eastern Australia. Melbourne had its coldest morning in several years, and  a couple of towns in NSW had the lowest minimum for several decades.

All of these are “records” in the trivial sense that we record the temperature every day, but none of them are records in the commonly used sense of “lowest (or highest) value in the relevant record”. That didn’t stop the usual denialist suspects claiming a RECORD (all caps in original) and evidence of global cooling. The Daily Mail  claimed “Australia’s east coast shivers through its coldest EVER morning” even though the sub-headlines made it clear this wasn’t true.

What’s striking here is that the same people who are willing to claim that the Bureau of Meteorology is part of a world-wide warmist conspiracy to doctor climate records are eagerly credulous about any piece of data that suits their case. Next time we get record heat, the conspiracy theories will be wheeled out again, but for now the Bureau is an unquestionable source of scientific evidence.

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Grattan goes denialist

Reading the reactions to the incoherent report on electricity pricing from the ACCC, I was struck by this quote from Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute, writing in the Oz 

Australians need energy policy that is driven by neither green evangelism for renewables nor a deep-seated fear to protect the role of coal for baseload power.

“Green evangelism” is rhetoric straight out of the denialist camp, associated with the bogus claim that climate change is not science but a religion   The content of the piece bears this out. Wood opposes any form of subsidy for renewables and (by omission) any price on carbon emissions. He advocates a policy that is “the policy is indifferent to the tech­nology mix, whether new-build or the extension of the operating life of an existing, newer coal-fired plant.”

This is centrism at its worst. Faced with a choice between an evidence-based response to climate change and culture-war proposals to actively subsidise the destruction of the global environment, Grattan has gone for the “middle course” of doing nothing whatsoever about climate change.

 

Years too late, the ACCC recognises the failure of the NEM

The latest ACCC report on the National Electricity Market is an incoherent mess, reflecting the breakdown of the neoliberal/market liberal assumptions on which both the ACCC and the NEM are founded. But I can at least endorse this statement

There are many causes of the current problems in the electricity market. At all stages of the supply
chain decisions have been made over many years by many governments that set the NEM on the
wrong course.

As I said in a report to the Electrical Trades Union in 2014

The National Electricity Market was implemented in the context of National Competition Policy and at a time when faith in competitive markets was at its peak. The [resulting’ design flaws  have led, over 20 years, to the failure of the NEM … These failures are not accidental. Rather they can be explained by fundamental and incurable flaws in the NEM model of pricing, regulation and incentives for investment. Marginal adjustments such as those being proposed at present will inevitably prove inadequate.

Back then, as I recall, the idea of that the NEM was a failure was not so popular. Rather, the only obstacle to complete success was said to be the remnants of public ownership in NSW and Queensland.

Regular update

After a gap of several months, I finally got around to writing up an update on my recent activities, only to discover that the Contacts application on MacOS had lost most of my contact list.  Following the advice of helpful readers, I decided to switch to MailChimp to manage my mailing list. If you would like to receive my regular email news, please sign up using the following link

http://eepurl.com/dAv6sX

For those who’d rather read it here at the blog, here’s a link.