James Morrow The Daily Telegraph March 29, 2023
Unless you were there in the room with them, there is no way of knowing what Anthony Albanese discussed with Barack Obama when the former president popped in to Kirribilli House this past rainy Monday morning. While the pair jauntily posed up with umbrellas on the lawn like they were shooting a promo for a new Netflix version of Singin’ In The Rain, Mr Albanese’s staffers would not be drawn on the nature of their chat, saying only that it was private.
Well, fair enough.
But one can imagine because, after all, the two men do have a lot in common.
Barack Obama famously said that he wanted to “fundamentally transform” his nation but managed only to divide the US so much that Donald Trump was able to swing in and become president.
Anthony Albanese, too, pledged to “change the country” when he was elected.
And as this column has discussed, the PM has borrowed more than a few pages from the Obama playbook.
But while we are unlikely to end up with a Trump at the end of Mr Albanese’s time in office – Australian property developers never seem to make it much past local government – we may very well wind up just as deep in the weeds.
Not 24 hours after the Kirribilli bromance broke up, Energy Minister Chris Bowen was out on ABC radio spruiking energy policy.
Asked whether the government’s proposed Aboriginal Voice to Parliament would be able to make representations about the economic suicide note better known as the “safety mechanism”, Mr Bowen said that “of course the Voice will be able to interact with government on matters that they regard as important to Indigenous people”.
Now, earlier, the PM called the whole idea of the Voice offering advice on energy policy a “distraction” and “strange”, but nevermind.
Because the implications of what Mr Bowen said are incredible.
We already know that in caving to the Greens on a whole slew of demands, the safeguard mechanism is going to be a knife through the heart of the coal and gas industry – which is exactly what the Greens want. In NSW alone there are now between $2 and $3 billion worth of publicly announced projects at risk, with another $15 to $23 billion worth of projects at the feasibility stage that are now likely headed for the scrap heap.
Those in the energy industry responsible for keeping the lights on say the safeguard mechanism will make it that much harder to do their jobs and that the demonisation of the same natural gas that was supposed to be our “transition fuel” will lead to the AEMO’s predictions about energy shortfalls coming true sooner rather than later.
What’s worse, despite hoping that the “safeguard mechanism” would give certainty and “end the climate wars”, the Greens have other ideas.
Soon after the government inked its deal with the Greens, Nick McKim – who remarkably is the party’s treasury spokesman – unleashed on Twitter.
“Australia’s emissions will be significantly less than they would have been,” he conceded, but apparently this wasn’t enough.
“The fight against the psychopaths running the big corporate polluters, and their political puppets, goes on,” he said, adding for good measure: “We have been in negotiations with the corrupt, ecocidal government of a petro-state that was prepared to hold a gun to the head of future generations.”
But please, Mr McKim, tell us how you really feel.
Which brings us back to Mr Bowen’s concession to the fact that the proposed “Voice to Parliament” will also be able to have its say on energy policy.
These comments came just a few days after Attorney General Mark Dreyfus conceded that, oh yeah, the Voice’s advice could wind up in the High Court, despite the referendum’s backers spending months swearing up hill and down dale that such a thought was preposterous.
And it won’t just be energy policy.
As Greg Craven, one of the Voice’s biggest backers, conceded last week after seeing the wording offered up by the Albanese government, the Voice as it is proposed will be able to advise on everything from traffic laws to submarines.
Add to this the confusion whereby public servants will not be required to consult with the Voice but at the same time must still show they have listened to it and it is not hard to see how messy the whole thing has become and why in the polls it is drifting towards defeat.
Yet on both the safeguard mechanism and the Voice, rather than go back to the drawing board, the PM is going full steam ahead.
A cynic might say that only thing worse than a politician who doesn’t keep his promises is one who does.
Be careful what you wish for.
1/ Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with former US President Barack Obama on Monday.
2/ Energy Minister Chris Bowen. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
3/ Greens Senator Nick McKim. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage