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How one man hopes to reclaim Australia’s energy policy

Published 12-DEC-2018 15:52 P.M.


6 minute read

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Australian software billionaire, Mike Cannon-Brookes, is well and truly running with his ‘fair dinkum power’ campaign.

Cannon-Brookes’ most recent opportunity to preach his message came during an interview with Al Gore, on the former US vice-president's 24 hours of Reality broadcast.

Not only did Cannon-Brookes announce his intention to take ‘fair dinkum power’ to the NSW state election in March and the federal election in May; he also made sure to point the finger at the current government over energy policy.

"We have a huge problem with the fossil fuel [industry] and the government in Australia combining in various nefarious ways and so what we set out to do was to create a movement to reclaim the term 'fair dinkum' to what most Aussies would think is fair dinkum, which is clean energy, which is cheap energy, and it's an economic opportunity for the country," he told Gore.

"But I guess the great thing about Australia is that our prime ministers don't last very long,” he said, adding cheekily: “I’m pretty sure we are going to have one pretty soon who'll be much more committed to renewables”.

Cannon-Brookes is co-founder and CEO of Atlassian, the software company that continues to go from strength to strength. Just a fortnight ago, Atlassian was added to Morgan Stanley’s ‘Secular Growth Stocks’ list of 25 companies — stocks that are expected to grow strongly, independent of global economic conditions.

On the same day that one of the country’s top tech success stories was talking to the former VP of America about Scott Morrison’s ‘fair dinkum power’ eff-up, former PM and NLP leader, Malcolm Turnbull, was addressing the NSW Smart Energy Summit and similarly pulling no punches.

“There are a significant number of [NLP] members who do not believe in climate change, who would like to get out of Paris and who would rather build a new coal-fired power station,” he said. He went on, mocking those pushing for coal-fired power stations as being driven by "ideology and idiocy".

“It has to be grounded in economics and engineering. We know that we need to decarbonise,” Turnbull told the Summit.

Those are harsh words coming from the man who led the party just months ago. Yet it’s not surprising, as the NLP’s official stance on energy and renewables has become so fraught that businesses are speaking out about the risks of not straightening these policies out.

Origin Energy CEO, Frank Calabria, has criticised Scott Morrison’s proposed ‘big stick’ legislation to bring down inflated power prices, warning that the position Morrison is taking will make it challenging for Origin to justify any investment in energy generation whatsoever.

Regardless of your views on how Australia should tackle climate change, when one of our biggest power companies says they can’t risk investing in power generation, you know there is a policy problem.

Calabria stated that the company wasn’t willing to risk shareholder funds in new projects, like the $250 million expansion of the Shoalhaven pumped hydro venture in NSW, while there’s such uncertainty around energy and climate change legislation.

That might be why several energy producers and investors are looking favourably at a possible shift to a Labor government in May — because they are hoping it will bring an end to the current ‘un-investable’ situation.

What would George HW Bush do?

Only a few days ago, we were inundated with press coverage of the funeral of former US President, George HW Bush, which included not only Trump but many others singing Bush’s praises.

What we didn’t hear in all the eulogising was much mention of Bush’s views on climate change. Back when he was on the campaign trail in 1988, the one that lead to his election, Bush said:

“Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the ‘greenhouse effect’ are forgetting about the ‘White House effect’. In my first year in office, I will convene a global conference on the environment at the White House... The agenda will be clear. We will talk about global warming.”

After winning the election on this promise, among others, Bush did host the Summit; however, he failed to turn these promises into effective action – in the estimation of most commentators, anyway.

That said, in 1989, he achieved the passing of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 which used a market-based approach to halve sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. He also created the US Global Change Research Program, which produces expert reports on how climate change is impacting the US; and he signed onto the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was designed to help countries work together on the problem.

‘The greenhouse effect’ and ‘global warming’ phrases seem outdated today. But in terms of actually acknowledging the validity of climate science, and having an intention towards cutting carbon emissions, Bush’s words and actions seem extraordinarily advanced in comparison to the views of the two men in charge of the US and Australia today.

Both are leaders who, in the face of rising emissions, extreme weather events, and catastrophic predictions by climate scientists, are more likely to demonstrate an amused ambivalence towards the topic – at best.

It’s no wonder there’s a growing list of people taking issue with this. The current dog's-breakfast excuse for policy is the result of a divided party with a leader seemingly unwilling to invest in green energy.

One commentator went so far as to describe Scott Morrison as ‘Bad Santa’ yesterday. Brad Chilcott wrote in The Guardian: “Morrison’s oft-repeated catchphrase 'a fair go for those who have a go' reminds all that he is 'making a list and checking it twice' as he prepares to distribute funding to the stockings of those he believes are 'having a go.'"

And included in the lucky ones on Morrison’s ‘nice’ list?

“Coal barons plying a finite resource at diminishing returns are nice and smart,” Chilcott quips. And meanwhile: “Renewable energy innovators investing in an infinite resource that’s increasingly cost-effective believe a nasty fantasy.”

The real kicker comes towards the end:

“Even those who by their own admission haven’t had a go have been delivered early Christmas presents. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation received a $443m grant – in what must be the most lucrative game of secret Santa ever conducted – during Morrison’s time as treasurer.”

So, perhaps the word ‘ambivalence’ isn’t quite correct. Perhaps, in the tradition of Bad Santa, the attitude is more one of outright scorn. Whatever it is, almost nobody in Australia seems to like it, with the Morrison government recording its third successive 10-point deficit in the latest Newspoll.

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