There’s one born every minute


Jeff Angel gets his thanks from Morris Iemma and Mick Costa

Ed Lewis

Usually governments wait a decent time before, as quietly as possible, breaking promises, but the NSW government of Morris Iemma did the Total Environment Centre’s Jeff Angel no such courtesy last week when it made public its lobbying of the federal government for air pollution concessions to the state’s coal-fired power stations that would gut the emissions trading scheme being developed by the federal government.

A few weeks ago, Angel participated in the Unsworth commission, which was set up by the NSW government to okay the privatisation of NSW’s electricity assets. The commission, run by Barrie Unsworth, former Labor premier and more lately consultant to the government, was mainly established to bring down a finding that privatisation of the electricity assets was in line with Labor Party policy, which it duly did.

The Labor state conference, held on May 3-4, strongly disagreed with that finding and reaffirmed that it was Labor policy to retain public ownership of the electricity assets.

The Unsworth commission was stacked with privatisation supporters, with a few token opponents from the union movement to dress it up a bit. The unionists participated to keep an eye on proceedings and make sure the commission’s findings were not unanimous.

As a bit more window dressing, Jeff Angel was invited to participate in the commission as a token environmentalist and Rev Harry Herbert was included to give a bit of social justice cover, to suggest that pensioners and people on low incomes would not be worse of if the electricity system was privately owned.

Of course, it’s inevitable that such people will be worse off, because any agreement between the government and a private owner would almost certainly have a sunset clause, or a change of government would sweep it away.

Angel and Herbert both voted for the Unsworth report and in explaining why, Angel cited four main points, two of which were:

  • That the NSW government should not give indemnities about environmental policy impacts (such as carbon costs), to purchasers.
  • The NSW government should not support free permits for coal generators (to protect them from carbon pricing and insulate the asset price) because this would corrupt federal policy making on emissions trading.
  • Interviewed on ABC television’s Stateline, Angel said his conditions included “absolutely no indemnities or free permits to coal-fired power generators because that simply removes the carbon cost from the new emissions trading scheme”.

    An article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday indicates how highly the government values the promises made to Angel to buy his vote on the Unsworth commission.

    The Herald report reveals that the NSW government’s submission to the national climate change review run by Professor Ross Garnaut “calls for coal-fired electricity generators, including those about to be privatised in NSW, to get substantial compensation, or receive free permits to emit greenhouse gases, under the scheme, despite Professor Garnaut’s strong advice to Mr Rudd to reject this”.

    In other words, the opposite of what Jeff Angel sought in return for his vote, and there’s not much point in Angel trying to change his vote now, since the damage is already done. Unsworth was able to go to the NSW Labor Party conference with Angel’s support and argue for privatisation.

    The pollution concessions that the NSW government seeks for the coal-fired power stations are essential to the privatisation process, because the absence of such concessions would discount heavily the amount any private bidder would pay for the public electricity assets.

    What’s going on in Canberra at the moment is quite clear. In his book Scorcher, Clive Hamilton identifies what he calls a “greenhouse mafia”, consisting of corporate lobbyists who were able to delay Australia’s signature of the Kyoto Protocol for a decade by influencing the Howard government.

    The Rudd government came to office promising to ratify Kyoto, which it did, and the battlefront moved on. Now the aim of the “greenhouse mafia” is to render the Rudd government’s carbon trading regime as nearly ineffective as it can manage.

    Its model is no doubt the early stages of the European Union’s carbon trading scheme, which a BBC report points out: “has had a rough ride. Nations have issued more permits to pollute than required in the first phase, which runs until the end of 2007. This has resulted in carbon prices falling as low as eight euros ($13) per tonne. This means that it has been cheaper for firms to buy spare permits than pay the 40-euro fine, or take steps to reduce their emissions. ”

    Europe is now moving to tighten up its carbon trading system, while Australia’s greenhouse mafia, with the full support of the Iemma-Costa government in NSW, tries to keep Australia at least 10 years behind the game in emissions trading, which it should be remembered is only a form of licensing pollution and a very limited response to the climate change challenge facing all of humanity.

    After their vote for the Unsworth report, Jeff Angel and Harry Herbert sent a fax to Morris Iemma outlining the conditions they set on their vote. Iemma has now told Angel and Herbert exactly what he thought of that.


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