Image for NATION: Jay Weatherill speaks truth to power ...

Our parents toiled to make a home hard grubbing t’was and clearing

They wasn’t troubled much by lords when they was pioneering

But now that we have made the land a garden full of promise

Old Greed must crook his dirty hand and come and take it from us

So we must fly a rebel flag as others did before us?

And we must sing a rebel song and join in rebel chorus

We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting of those that they would throttle

They needn’t say the fault is ours if blood should stain the wattle

From Freedom on the Wallaby, Henry Lawson 1891

Sparks fly, shots ring out. A whiff of grapeshot wafts across the nation’s political stage this week as South Australia, fair maid of liberty, flower of Athens of the South, rebels against Canberra’s dark, despotic cruelty.  The crisis goes viral as Minister for Energy and Environment, Josh Frydenberg tilts at SA’s windmills; blaming them for its power outages Thursday at a press conference set up to upstage, bully and humiliate its junior commonwealth partner.

Frydenberg, the man with a plan from a government without an energy policy, is there to spruik his government’s Snowy 2.0 scheme, a pie in the sky project akin to Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN, a scheme which will take too long to complete, cost too much and fail to deliver. No. Let’s be clear. Snowy 2 is not designed to help anyone except the PM himself and his image-building PR team who must now reinvent the merchant banker as a nation builder.

It says a lot about your need for spin when even your hydro needs pumping. Weatherill is justly disgusted.

“I have to say it is a little galling to be standing here next to a man who has been standing up with his Prime Minister bagging SA at every step of the way over the last six months to be standing here on this occasion, him suggesting that we want to work together,” Jay Weatherill sprays. He wants a divorce. And he’s taking the kids.

The spat has commentators clutching their pearls or reaching for their smelling salts. “Unedifying” huffs Aunty, a word deftly dropped into the mix by the coalition spin team. Unedifying? Are we to believe the Prime Minister’s personal attacks on Bill Shorten are edifying? Was Malcolm Turnbull’s victory whinge where he blamed Labor for the mess he himself led his government into – edifying? On the contrary, Weatherill is inspiring.

It’s a dramatic scene which presents a clear choice between truth and more of the same old bullshit. Weatherill not only opts for truth, he strikes a blow for freedom from the yoke of commonwealth. Yet it’s freedom from neglect and mismanagement as much as oppression.? The power price scam; the fake gas shortage rort are just the final straws. A nation applauds as SA walks away from an abusive relationship. Other states may follow.

... more than enough gas for all our needs ...

Let the PM blow hard about our energy crisis. We’re about to overtake Qatar as the world’s largest producer of LNG.  No. We have more than enough gas for all our needs but we’ve let corporations sell it offshore and jack up our prices.

We are not paying international prices. We are paying an artificially inflated price jacked up by a cartel of companies. Who needs a federal government whose role is to just stand by and let price gouging and price fixing happen? Or aid and abet it? Blow smoke about how a rigged electricity market fairly decides consumer prices?

SA declares its independence over its electrical power. Pulls the plug. Consigns fossil fuels to the rubbish bin of history. It’s a bold move that rocks state and commonwealth bonds. Forget Snowy 2.0. This is federation 2.0 It also highlights the Coalition’s craven gas and coal corporation co-dependency.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill vows to build his own gas-fired plant. Generate his own backup capacity. Australia’s largest battery farm will store the electricity. Flamboyant TESLA CEO Elon Musk, whose very name conjures romantic heroism, pledges a money-back guaranteed 100 MW battery farm in 100 days.

But it’s as much a hard-headed business deal as an act of disruption which puts the skids under fossil fuel. With a toehold in the local market, Musk could make billions supplying households with his TESLA batteries.

The battery beats another gas plant. Or new gas production. SA farmers will never abandon all their fears about water contamination and environmental degradation. Weatherill’s offer to pay farmers for what gas companies can take out of their land will never lead to a new wave of gas production. Who’d embrace fracking or gas wells for a pitiful ten percent royalty? You’d need more than that just to repair the damage to your land.

In fairness, the long lead-in before any new gas would flow, the cost of new exploitation weighed against the falling cost of renewables and storage make new gas supplies the state’s least likely option. Weatherill’s having a bet each way. Gas giant Santos, for example, is choosing now to invest in a solar farm rather than drill any new gas wells.

Santos says the cheapest way to free up gas is not to drill for more, but to build a solar plant? We should listen.

...the state no longer has faith in the market operator…

Weatherill still needs the gas plant backup, however, because the state no longer has faith in the market operator to act in the state’s best interests. It will give itself emergency powers to fire up the plant when it is needed. And just to make sure, it will order emergency diesel generators to be on standby until the gas plant is operational.

Even more contentious is Weatherill’s promise to give SA new powers over the National Electricity Market, a price-rigging scheme designed to boost multinational power company profits at consumers’ expense regardless of reliability of supply.

The lines of authority are complex. The National Energy Market, NEM is governed within COAG’s Energy Council, a body which comprises federal and state energy ministers. It’s a dog’s breakfast.

The Australian Energy Market Operator is supposed to look after System security and reliability while network investment is the responsibility of private network businesses, overseen by the Australian Energy Regulator. 

It’s a great management model if you want to run a business by means of a committee without a CEO. The prime bodies charged with delivering electricity and gas to the NEM have done very poorly because they lack a chain of command or strategic plan; no idea of what they want or how to get there. David Leitch Renew Economy.

“There are no real metrics for the success of the system and no shared vision of the appropriate direction or how to get there.” It’s almost a definition of the coalition’s approach to commonwealth government.

The privatised electricity system is a complete failure. In a damaging revelation, close to Neoliberal heresy, the Grattan Institute reports another open secret , Monday. The so-called competition of privatised electricity markets has failed, or in an odd admission from a mob that believes in markets, “has failed to be managed properly”. Up to 43 per cent of household power bills are profits which line the pockets of electricity retailers.

Weatherill’s defiance drives the coal-powered federal Coalition government into a flat spin. It will seek legal advice, it huffs, to see if SA’s threats are lawful. But it can deal its legal mates in as much as it likes. Nothing can disguise its confusion. Energy Minister Frydenberg falsely claims that states are responsible for the stability of their power system.  That’s AEMO’s job.

... Malcolm Turnbull wimps out ...

Terminally conflicted and confused, Josh Frydenberg whose cruel fate is to be Energy and Environment minister in a government which lacks a policy for either, is dispatched to upstage the unplugged upstart by re-announcing AGL’s 5 MW 2016 household battery farm. True to form, his fearless leader Malcolm Turnbull wimps out, opting instead for a nation-building image makeover, a Snowy chopper ride and a chat with the gas industry.

Tough-talking, trouble-shooting Turnbull goes the full tea-bag. He rebukes gas corporate CEOs by giving the lads a cuppa and a heart to heart about saving a bit of gas for Australia. The tactic works so well with the banks. His script is similar. Abandon your cartel and your price-fixing boys. So you over-invested $60 billion in plant? So you plan to gouge the Australian customer to recover that debt? Stop it now. Walk away, boys, walk away.

What could possibly go wrong? Richard Denniss, chief economist of the Australia Institute explains to Crikey:

… that for the gas industry, everything is going to plan. “It took 10 years and $60 billion building three enormous gas liquification plants in Gladstone with the specific goal of increasing the domestic price to Asian levels,” he says.

The gas industry is frustrated prices aren’t even higher. Once local prices were linked to international prices, global prices fell. Turnbull’s meeting agrees to another meeting. It’s difficult to see any more productive outcome.

Luckily Turnbull has some crack troops in the rear. Tea party crackpot James McGrath on ABC Lateline witters on about how state issues caused the Liberal rout in West Australia despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

It would foolhardy for the Federal Government to imagine national factors had no bearing on the vote at least in marginal seats. Apart from his energy fiasco, these include lame-duck PM’s accelerating unpopularity, his capture by party reactionaries, the Centrelink Robo-claw extortion, the PHON deal and weekend penalty rate cuts.

... alienate the hard right ...

As for the PM, terminal Turnbull is wedged by a fatal trend which Bernard Keane and Josh Taylor delineate. A parliamentary leader reflecting the party’s base will lose touch with voters as Tony Abbott discovered; while a leader even briefly popular with voters, as in Turnbull’s case, is likely to alienate the hard right in the party base.

Yet again there’s help from the crack troops behind the leader. Never to be deterred by research, former dud Health Minister, Peter Dutton, a Minister only nominally in charge of Immigration, boosts his leadership stakes, or so he calculates, by attacking Alan Joyce and thirty other CEOs for daring to exercise their right to free speech in a letter urging government to act on same sex marriage.

Dutton argues that businesses best leave such issues to our elected political representatives. We’ve all noticed how well that’s working.

Yet all eyes remain on plucky little South Australia, the giant-killer as it shapes up against its oppressor and tormentor.  It is a thrilling new twist in the faction-riven Federal government’s Energy Wars, an electrifying series which pits big business against the powerless, miners against allcomers -  and ministers against each other.

Resources Minister Matt King Coal Canavan, for example, departs his Coalition team plan, the bogus clean coal staging horse for prohibitively overpriced gas in favour of reverting to a mythical “cheap coal”. The cost of pollution and the un-investible cost of building new plant, mean that cheap coal is just as much of a myth as clean coal.

No-one seems to have told Canavan that the coal advocacy part of the cunning plan was yesterday. Gas is today. The nonsense with the lump of coal; the PM’s Press Club carbon fuel vision were all devices to make gas madly attractive. Except that it’s not working. The Coalition’s team plan is every man for himself.

Immune to empiricism, impervious to fact, as coal-lobbyists invariably are, Canavan appears on ABC Insiders Sunday to bag South Australia and peddle dangerous nonsense about how coal-fired electricity is more stable, cheaper and a vast source of safe, clean jobs. How it’s manufacturing’s saviour. It’s an alarming demonstration of a narrow mind closed tighter by ideology. Equally disturbing is the extent to which he is feted by the media.

... asinine assertions about clean coal ...

One of the beaut things about Insiders, the 7:30 Report, The Drum or ABC 24 is that a government minister knows he’ll be indulged. On the couch. After an obligatory time-waster about gay marriage, broad-brush Canavan gets a quarter of the program to regurgitate as many asinine assertions about clean coal as he can remember from Peabody Coal’s press kit. He even gets to repeat the lie that his government will act to lower energy prices.

University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College, recently reported that the average wholesale electricity price soared to $134 a megawatt hour last summer, compared with $65-$67 in the two summers the carbon price was in place. The biggest rise has been in Queensland and in NSW, states which rely heavily upon coal power.

“High prices have nothing to do with renewables or state government [renewable energy] targets and everything to do with the Liberals’ failure to properly run our national energy network,” says Adam Bandt but the fiction of a Coalition standing for lower energy prices is unassailable if you say it on ABC or on MSM generally. 

“We need to act to keep power prices down”. A straight faced Canavan gets a nod and a wink from Barrie. What Canavan has in mind is a beaut artisanal, low-emission boutique coal mine industry boosting Queensland’s tourism potential.

If only he could get his head out of his coal pit and look at the vast solar farms setting up in North Queensland, he would realise that there is simply no business case for investment in coal-fired baseload power generation.

No bank will invest in it. Clean coal is nothing but an industry fiction. “Wanna maintain a manufacturing industry in this country,” he bleats. As we’ve seen with the car industry. But it’s way too late. The bird has flown.

In brief, frantically, up against this Monday’s Newspoll, Turnbull over invests in a rushed competitive bid: a nation-building stunt, he dubs Snowy Mountain 2.0, in a move worthy of the ABC satire Utopia.  NBN 2.0 would be closer. The PM’s announcement has every sign of haste. NSW and Victoria, both shareholders in Snowy Hydro, didn’t know about it, while the company itself has no proposal for pumped hydro in its Finkel submission.

... the plan is a thought bubble ...

Newspoll does reflect a Snowy improvement. Labor’s lead is now 52 to 48 per cent in two-party terms and the Prime Minister’s personal ratings are up but the government is perilously below its July election support levels. There is a big risk that the hastily assembled promo will fall to bits as voters discover the plan is a thought bubble.

The government has had a study by ANU academic Andrew Blakers for some time, which accounts for the persistence of “pumped hydro” in the government’s energy lexicon in recent months. It seems to have swept its announcement forward to compete with Jay Weatherill’s initiative, a master of practicality by contrast.

“I am a nation-building Prime Minister and this is a nation-building project,” grins the Mal from Snowy River. “This is the next step in a great story of engineering in the Snowy Mountains and the courageous men and women who are confident and committed to Australia’s future.”

Yet only a few weeks before he was all for clean coal at the Press Club. His Treasurer was even more dramatic.

Like Morrison’s lump of coal, Turnbull’s announcement is a stunt. The project would take too long, cost too much and deliver too little to solve immediate generation challenges. Snowy 2.0’s business model is to buy cheap and sell dear. It won’t increase capacity but could become an expensive backup. The government is evasive on costs, funding and completion date.

Yet the Coalition puts maximum spin behind it. It has blasted SA for its unstable energy policy now it is gazumped when Weatherill acts to build capacity and stability. Its response is hasty and vague, a sketch of a feasibility study drawn with a very big brush and some loopy strokes.

The government has only itself to blame. Not only has it wasted years failing to come up with a successful energy policy, it’s backed SA into a corner.

... an orchestrated bullying campaign ...

Bullied, publicly pilloried for its reckless, “ideological” embrace of renewable power, South Australia is victim of an orchestrated bullying campaign by federal government as its mining backers label wind and solar as expensive and unreliable, spinning the colossal lie that fossil fuel-powered generation is stable clean, cheap and job generating.

Mouth that roars, Christopher Pyne, helpfully lies about the Australian Submarine Corp being forced to build a $20 million diesel plant to make sure the lights stay on in risky renewable South Australia.

When asked, however, its CEO says “I don’t know anything about that.” Jay Weatherill’s stand is not so easily assailed. The risk for the government is that its anti-renewable propaganda and bagging of South Australia’s ideological fix on renewables will backfire. The Coalition’s lies are more easily exposed now and the nation has sympathy for the underdog.

As luck would have it there is another distraction. Look over there. Sally McManus, newly elected ACTU secretary, and the first woman to head the organisation says she will break unjust laws if she has to.

“I believe in the rule of law where the law is fair and the law is right but when it is unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it,” she tells Leigh Sales who is out for a gotcha moment on the CFMEU’s fabled thuggish disregard for the rule of law.

Exposed for a rare moment is the monumental hypocrisy of those who attack Sally from the Business Council with its tax sharp practices and in the case of News Corp UK, illegal industrial action to Malcolm Turnbull himself whose Liberal Party received millions of dollars of illegal donations. And would Spycatcher have seen the light of day without laws being broken?

There is also a pretence that the law is some inviolate, separate body of holy writ immune from human affairs. Or, as Sally herself, puts it. “Australia has been built by working people who have had the courage to stand up to unfair and unjust rules and demand something better.”

Now we can’t have that, can we? It’s just as crazy as expecting a Commonwealth government to nurture its dependent states rather than bully or exploit or defame them. Or a Federal Government to be above petty politicking and scapegoating, dishonesty and manifest hypocrisy on something as vital as energy provision.

Yet the week has seen a line drawn in the sand with regard to energy if not states’ rights while Jay Weatherill has used the national stage to dramatically re-enact the need to speak truth to power. All the Snowy 2.0 or NBN in Australia can’t put that genie back in the bottle.

*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.