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ENERGY prices go up, fossil fuels are damaging our planet, governments subsidise big coal-mining interests but reduce subsidies to the renewables sector. We pay more. We hear political promises and rhetoric. We get less.
The very worst aspects of Australian politics have played out in energy policy. Energy policy has really been about each political party undermining each other instead of acting in the best interest of the community. A royal commission is needed to separate the chaff from the grain.
When Labor attempted to put a tax on carbon the Greens resisted. It didn’t go far enough. The outcome – no effective carbon tax.
The time is right with crossbench members in the House of Representatives holding the balance of power. All are concerned about energy policy. The political timing is perfect to demand a royal commission.
The coalition government resisted the popular idea of a royal commission into banking. The main argument against such a commission was that there were enough checks and balances and that any fault was a temporary aberration.
On September 1, 2016, current prime minister Scott Morrison told Parliament: “There is nothing more than crass populism seeking to undermine confidence in the banking and financial system, which is key to jobs and growth in this country”.
It was a similar story of resistance to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
As treasurer, Morrison finally folded on the banking royal commission and acknowledged findings about the banks and the regulators “were deeply disturbing”. Previously he had argued against a royal commission: “Politics is doing damage to our banking and financial system, and we are taking control as a government to protect the strength of our banking system”.
A royal commission into energy must address climate change as well as energy prices. It must include, but go beyond short-term issues such as pricing. However, the boiling frog of climate change remains an even more serious issue more than a decade after Kevin Rudd’s “the greatest moral challenge of our time”. The moral challenge is: what kind of a world will be passed on to our children and their children’s children?
Energy prices also need a cold, hard look. There are regulators. But there were also banking-industry regulators who provided an excuse to resist the banking royal commission. These have now been exposed as less than useless.
Would there be a similar finding in the energy markets? Fluctuations in the price of petrol and diesel seem to make no sense to most of us. Supposedly, there is no collusion and no price gouging. However, the price of crude drops and the price at the pump increases.
The price of diesel was 70 per cent less than petrol a couple of decades ago. Have there really been such significant changes in refining processes and access for diesel to be now significantly higher priced than petrol? Or are there just more vehicles using it providing greater profit opportunities for the multinationals? The NRMA refers to the current and previous “price cycles” lasting between three and four weeks. Is this more evidence of collusion?
Natural gas prices have blown through the roof. Homeowners were lured into natural gas decades ago as a much cheaper, cleaner form of energy. What happened? The international sales of compressed natural gas have now pushed the price through the ceiling. It is worse. As Kathryn Diss reported in June for the ABC, emissions from Chevron’s Gorgon Plant off the WA coast in a single year could wipe out greenhouse savings from all solar panels installed by home owners in Australia.
Why has ExxonMobil paid no tax in Australia since 2013 and is unlikely to pay any in the next few years? In 2017, up to 40 per cent (or $62.8 million) in political donations remained secret. This might be a factor.
Secret donations, pricing, subsidies, poor regulation… and so it goes on. Is the real fear of the much needed energy royal commission that it will expose serious issues of fraud, deceit and corruption?
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.