Bowen climbs to the top of the incompetence ladder

But it’s a tight competition

Features Australia

Judith Sloan

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Judith Sloan

29 April 2023

9:00 AM

I’ve had a bit of pushback about my nomination of our trainee Treasurer, Jimbo, as leader of the pack of incompetent/dangerous ministers. I agree that assistant treasurer, Stephen Jones, is a stand-out when it comes to being out of his depth. I particularly loved his assertion a while back that there are no farms in self-managed superannuation funds and if there are, it’s illegal. Wrong and wrong.

But the point is that Jonesy doesn’t really count. He’s the equivalent of the water boy or tea lady (take your pick), not making any really independent decisions and completely subservient to the Prime Minister and Treasurer. In other words, he’s not really competing in the premier league.

Some avid readers felt that I’d let Plibbers off lightly, particularly in relation to her redrawing the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef to encompass parts of the coast which are a great distance from the actual reef and with no coral. Her grand plan is obvious enough: the larger the protected area, the greater her scope to impose all sorts of restrictions on legitimate economic activity. Don’t worry, she’s on my watch list.

I’m pretty sure that Tony Burke – the guitar-playing Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and the yarts – will shoot to the top of the ladder when his next substantial piece of legislation is revealed. He will declare war on the gig economy and anyone who makes money (mainly in addition to their other jobs) by using one of the platforms (think here Uber, Airtasker, Menulog) will risk losing that income source. In the context of rising mortgage rates and cost-of-living pressures more generally, his timing will be appalling.

Part of the legislative amendments will also tick off a key demand of the trade unions euphemistically called ‘same job, same pay’. The aim is to rein in – perhaps destroy – labour hire companies, particularly those operating in mining. Notwithstanding the fact that the workers who take short-term contracts with labour hire companies to work in the coal fields in Queensland, for instance, do very well, they are disinclined to join the union. Let’s face it, that has to change and Burke will cooperate in any way he can.

Watch this space for the reaction of some of the resource companies to the changes and the potential for investments to be put on hold. There is a lot of money at stake. The fact is that the ideal employment arrangement for many resource companies is a combination of permanent workers and contractors or labour hire employees, the latter providing considerable flexibility depending on market conditions and technical considerations at the mines or wells.

The position of the unions, most particularly the CFMEU, is that all workers on site should be permanent and covered by ultra-generous union-negotiated enterprise agreements. It might sound simple, albeit inflationary, enough. But the reality is that it cuts across long-standing practices in a number of industries and it’s not clear that the Australian economy is well placed to bear this body-blow to its competitiveness.

But until the guitar player reveals his full legislative intentions to destroy the workings of the Australian labour market, I think the current gong goes to PM-hopeful, Chris Bowen, Climate Change and Energy Minister. He’s been very busy lately, removing our last chance of having reliable and affordable energy as well as notifying all emissions-intensive enterprises – think here smelters, brickworks, fertiliser manufacturers and the like – that Australia doesn’t really want them to continue, at least on Australian soil.

And let’s not forget his pledge to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 over the 2005 figure as well as hit net zero by 2050.  These targets have been legislated, not that it means they will be achieved. The electricity grid will, according to ever-hopeful Bowen, be powered by over 80 per cent renewable sources by the end of the decade. He made the mistake of actually specifying what that means in terms of additional turbines and solar panels between now and then.

The trouble is the numbers look completely unrealistic: 40 seven-megawatt wind turbines every month and 22,000 500-watt solar panels every day. Notwithstanding the recent surge of investment in renewable energy installations – subsidies have the habit of doing this – it’s already clear that the targets will be missed.

And this is not even accounting for the inevitable – and hopefully lengthy – delays in commissioning the needed additional transmission lines to connect up the renewable energy. A refreshing pushback from regional communities, which are expected to bear the external costs for the warm and fuzzy feelings that inner-city voters have about more renewable energy, will significantly slow down the roll-out of these unsightly pylons and cables.

Some genius, who must have been hiding in a cupboard, has also now pointed out that the land size of Victoria could not accommodate sufficient wind and solar power to meet the targets. Wind turbines require 2,000 square metres per megawatt compared with only 25 for coal-fired plants.

Short of expropriating private farmland, Dan the Man of Victoria has no option other than to locate new turbines offshore, at a cost of at least four times onshore turbines and having a considerably shorter lifespan. There is also a major issue of a shortage of vessels needed to install offshore turbines.

For Bowen, all this stuff is mere detail. He now wants to use the revised Safeguard Mechanism to place the 215 largest emitters under extreme commercial pressure unless they (unrealistically) reduce their emissions by five per cent per year, every year, until the end of the decade. Failure to do so will involve very substantial penalties.

Given that the overseas competitors of these firms are not facing the same sorts of restrictions, it’s odds-on to a dollar that many of them will simply shut down their facilities in due course. The irony is that these facilities provide high wages to unionised workers often located in the regions. Will Bowen be blamed? If so, the whingeing will be drowned out by all the congratulatory shouting of the inner-city luvvies.

Like a fidgety toddler, Bowen has now moved on to pushing all of us – OK, rich people – to buy electric vehicles by providing direct and indirect subsidies. The change to the fuel emissions standards is really about providing a further leg-up to EVs at the expense of normal cars.

Jimbo’s complementary decision to remove the fringe benefits tax on EVs is a straight-out and substantial gift to high-income earners. Well done, Jimbo: you are still close to the top of the ladder.

In what is a tight competition, Bowen has sufficiently ‘lifted’ his game to be top of the leader board. For sheer busyness, crazy and ill-considered decisions, cosying up to the creepiest of green rent-seekers, he now deserves this spot.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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