Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Australian Government's dog days

The world seems to be in a degree of turmoil at present. Internationally, the North Korean crisis continues. I think that Kevin Rudd has provided one of the most sensible summaries of the position. He thinks that war is unlikely but now possible. He places the possibility of war now at 20-25 per cent.

The thing that worries him, as it does me, is that some-one will finally lose patience and say bugger it. Mr Rudd phrases it more politely, crises have their own logic, but the message is the same.

There is little that you or I can do or perhaps anyone else. It's an example of a wicked problem whose evolution will be discussed for years to come.

Here in Australia the same-sex marriage postal vote is before the High Court. The Government seems confident, they have to appear so, but constitutional expert George Williams takes a counter view. Intuitively I'm inclined to agree with Professor Williams, but in any event we will know soon enough. Whichever way it goes, the issue will continue to suck oxygen from debate on other issues in that there will either be campaigning for the postal vote or a renewed push for legislation back in Parliament. Meantime, Section 44 dual-citizenship uncertainties will continue until resolved by the High Court.

The nightmare scenario for the Coalition Government is one in which the High Court rejects the postal vote and also rules that citizenship by descent does make candidates ineligible  for election as a consequence of Section 44(i) in the Australian Constitution.. The ABC's Antony Green discussed some of the issues in a very helpful blog post on 25 August.

In the Senate, the main problem for the Government would be the resolution of tensions arising from the the existence of a joint ticket between the Coalition Parties in NSW, together with the presence of a merged party in Queensland. In the House of Representatives, the Government would face a by-election for Barnaby Joyce's seat of New England. My Joyce would recontest and probably win. However, this would remove the Government's one seat majority in the meantime. In this case and depending on timing, I think that the Government would prorogue Parliament until the by-election had been held, thus avoiding sittings.

Problems with the Australian energy (electricity and gas) sector covering price and supply add to the Government's woes. A few weeks back I got my latest electricity bill. This rose from $395 for the previous quarter to $600. Part of that was due to usage, the house is cold and I have been using an electric heater quite intensively, more to increases in the basic price. On top of this have been debates about the reliability of supply that began with the South Australian blackouts. Yesterday, AEMO (The Australian Energy Market Operator) provided advice to the Government.  
The NEM is not delivering enough investment in flexible dispatchable resources to maintain the
defined target level of supply reliability, as the transition from traditional generation to variable energy resources proceeds. This was vividly illustrated by the load-shedding events of February 2017 and by the Finkel Review analysis. Most stakeholders see changes to market rules as the most economically efficient way to remedy this deficiency. AEMO forecasts of NEM demand and published investment plans confirm the urgency of this task and short-term measures will be necessary until a long-term solution is agreed and becomes fully effective.
The current mess has been  a long time coming and, to a degree at least, foreseen. The problem is that there hasn't been agreement on causes or responses, with discussion caught up in ideological and environmental issues. Now that interconnected problems have become acute, all governments are scrabbling to address them

It's a case study in bad policy at all levels. The Commonwealth Government faces a particular problem in that in his opposition to a carbon tax, previous PM Abbott effectively nailed the Government to a lower electricity price flag-pole. The problem has been compounded by the absence of a coherent narrative from the Government.  

In all, a mess.

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