Democracy has an ugly virtue. It makes the problems of government our fault.
Electricity prices are ridiculously high and there is a real prospect of blackouts each summer and winter for the foreseeable future. Politicians are to blame, but so too are voters. Voters want low electricity prices as well as lower greenhouse gas emissions. The lie that they can have both has been sold by politicians, but voters have lapped it up.
I want lower electricity prices and I don’t really care about Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, given what other countries are doing.
For my goal of lower electricity prices to be achieved we need to drop Australia’s commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent over the 25 years to 2030.
But for this to occur, voters also need to be convinced of its wisdom. Otherwise, a party sticking with the emissions reduction commitment will win government and we will be stuck with both the commitment and high electricity prices.
So here’s my pitch, direct to voters, asking them to agree to drop the commitment to cut Australia’s emissions by 26 to 28 per cent.
We are not succeeding in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions are rising rapidly, with countries that make up more than half of global emissions increasing their output each year at a bewildering pace.
If the climatologists are correct, we’re screwed, and we need to get ready. We need to take every opportunity to make our economy more efficient, so that with stronger production, incomes and wealth we can leave the next generation with assets rather than debts, and maximise our capacity to help people around the world.
A key efficiency we must grasp is the generation of electricity at the lowest cost. This involves removing constraints on coal and gas fired electricity generation and accepting that Australian greenhouse emissions will rise.
Only with least cost electricity will Australian businesses thrive, invest in new assets, and create jobs. And only with least-cost electricity and strong employment will households have the wherewithal to start saving for the next generation and consider extending a helping hand to people in need overseas.
Governments around Australia can also prepare for a new climate future by paying off their debts, to ensure that future generations are not faced with a double burden of a new climate and heavy public debt. Government spending and lending programs seeking to contribute to the 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction commitment are a luxury we can no longer afford.
Despite this pitch, I don’t expect the Coalition will drop its emissions reduction commitment anytime soon, or abandon the associated renewable energy target. In my opinion, this will cost the Coalition the next election.
There will be blackouts this summer and next, electricity prices will remain painfully high, and no new coal fired power stations will be built, so no promise of relief.
Voters would punish whatever party was in power under these conditions, and the Coalition will lose votes to parties opposed to the renewable energy target, such as my Liberal Democrats, and also to Labor.
Despite my pitch, I also don’t expect Labor to drop the emissions reduction commitment or its ruinous policy for renewables to provide 50 per cent of electricity generation by 2030, up from the currently mandated 17 per cent.
Labor fears losing votes to the Greens more than they fear mainstream voters waking up to the conflict between low electricity prices and a high market share for renewables.
So an incoming Labor Government would continue to face an electricity price crisis, would stick to its mantra on renewables, would be unable to avoid blackouts, and would be voted out after one term.
Eventually, enough voters will see the conflict between low electricity prices and too many renewables, and a major party will respond by dumping emission reduction commitments and mandates for renewables. When it does, it will win government.
Good electricity policy need not be bipartisan. If one party sticks with a crazy electricity policy, the best recipe for certainty is a contest of policies leading to the long term consignment of the party with the crazy policy to the opposition benches.
We will eventually get a government that relieves us of high electricity prices, but it might take a while. First, voters need to be convinced.
David Leyonhjelm is a Senator for the Liberal Democrats