the vengeful dirty machine...
For Prime Minister Tony Abbott, his was not so much a budget as a settling of old scores.
Cast your mind back to 2010, when Abbott was denied power in a hung Parliament by Labor, the Greens and two country independents who wished to advance policy on climate change and renewable energy. Ever since, Abbott and the right-wing faction that put him there — the people Paul Keating famously described as “right-wing nutcases” — have vowed revenge.
The proposed trashing of the $3.1 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which under various guises has for years backed Australia’s world-leading solar research and demonstration projects for the energy technologies of the future, was the coup de grace.
The budget has provided Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey the opportunity to implement many of the 75-point wish list drawn up by the influential Institute of Public Affairs, which the government attempted to disguise by asking the Commission of Audit to prepare its 86 recommendations in its ham-fisted documents. Hence the attack on education, health funding and welfare payments that will affect the least advantaged, and the tax cuts for corporates.
But it is “green policy” and anything that resembles it that riles this government the most. Consider Hockey’s comments about wind farms being “utterly offensive”. With proposals to repeal the carbon price, dismantle the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the dilution of the Renewable Energy Target already in train, the budget measures, which include the closure of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the dumping of the million solar roofs program (both contrary to election promises) and the research funding cuts at the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology and elsewhere, means that the obliteration of the Clean Energy Future package will be complete — if it can get past the Senate.
The closure of ARENA, which still had $3.1 billion of funds to be invested over the next 10 years, appears the most vindictive, and like the move to pull the CEFC, a case of economic and environmental vandalism. The budget document talks endlessly about the need for “innovation”, for new investment and infrastructure. ARENA, like the CEFC, was able to leverage billions of dollars in private finance — a rate of $2.50 of private funds for every $1 invested.
Chief executive Ivor Frischknecht says that until the Senate decides otherwise, the agency will continue to work through its applications. It has more than 190 proposals worth $7.7 billion (two-thirds private money) on the table. He says that reflects not just the level of disappointment, but the “scale of investment that is unlikely to go ahead because of the proposed closure”.
ARENA has been branded as one of many examples of “corporate welfare”, but in reality more than 150 of its 180 projects already allocated are in support of research and development, a core competency of any advanced economy. Future funding of that research will be lost. Corporate welfare will continue to be doled out to manufacturers in other sectors.
“Instead, according to Abbott and Hockey, we are to build the roads of the 21st century. Welcome to the asphalt economy.”
ARENA was not the only victim of the budget axe. The million solar roofs program, once a $1 billion centrepiece of Direct Action to bring solar to lower-income earners and renters, has sunk without trace — replaced by a derisory $2.1 million program to install solar on RSLs and bowling clubs in seven marginal electorates (yes, really).