On renewables and water tanks
This is a particularly poor policy. I am interested to see how some of Rudd's leftwing supporters (who do know better) will comment on it. The proposal is to give $10,000 interest free loans to households earning up to $250,000 to fund the installation of solar panels, solar heaters and water tanks. This is part of Labor's commitment to Australian climate change issues.
The interest subsidies are not means-tested In response to criticisms of this Mr. Rudd made comments that made me think twice about my earlier suggestions that this man has intelligence. I quote a number of his statements because they equally provide a good Sunday night laugh:
‘In some parts of Sydney, families were struggling on $200,000’.
‘Our policy includes all working families… We don't have some sort of class enemy basis upon which we do this - that's the old politics of the past’.
‘… he assumed that families who were having trouble making ends meet would be the ones who took up the offer’.
‘Families were struggling with four interest rate rises and a crisis in housing affordability… (to) find the extra available funds to go out there and stump up at commercial interest rates the extra money necessary to whack on the solar panels, it's a real challenge’.
‘We're also on about the great spread of Australia - that is, a whole people from diverse income backgrounds and our message is reflected in terms of what we're doing for small business, what we're doing for families through the industrial relations policy, what we're doing for the education revolution, what we're doing in terms of broadband.’
‘ the solar, green energy and water renovations plan, outlined at the ALP national conference today, had the potential to cut 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions - the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road for a year or planting 15 million trees.’
‘This is practical bread-and-butter stuff that the Labor Party is so good at’. (My bold, what a corker!)
Yes this is the man who is leading in the opinion polls! Mr. Rudd must know that, irrespective of its distributional implications, this is a totally uneconomic proposal that even supporters of Labor see as crazy – even if, for example, the solar technologies were implemented on a much larger commercial scale. There are cheaper and effective ways of saving both water and energy than relying on backyard technologies.
I doubt even Rudd believes this lunacy – its just vote-buying populism based on community ignorance. But on the basis of such lunacy can one take Labor’s views on uranium seriously?
I am grateful that, yesterday the Labor Party at its National Conference abolished its 3 mines uranium policy. This was the obviously confused policy, that has prevailed since 1982, and which recognized the right of Australia to mine uranium in 3 locations but not in others. One of the locations (Roxby Downs) has massively expanded its planned outputs over this time to make it the largest producer on the planet - but that's fine, just keep production at those 3 locations.
It was also a plainly ridiculous policy and destructive of the national interest since nuclear fuels are a major source of electrical energy in the world today – about 16% of the total - with Australia possessing 38% of low cost recoverable reserves. The old debate about whether the world should switch to nuclear power ended decades ago.
That the abolition of the three mines policy caused overwhelming controversy at the National Conference says much about the Labor Party and its fitness to govern federally – 205 votes for getting rid of this piece of stupidity versus 190 for retaining it does not confirm much a balance of sanity. This is a Luna Labor Party.
But the companion decision to retain bans on developing an Australian uranium industry displays even deeper illogic.
I am not convinced of the economic case for developing a dependence on nuclear fuels - as the Switkowski report emphasizes, the case seems to require that carbon emissions be taxed at a hefty rate. They should be taxed if one believes (as I do) that global warming is a real problem that we must urgently address - the issue is how ‘hefty’ is hefty?
But ruling out uranium use on the grounds of its economics is quite different from banning it at a Labor Party National Conference because a bunch of unionist hacks have confused priorities in addressing energy supply and greenhouse problems. How can use of uranium in Australia be a priori unjustified if we export it for use elsewhere? Processing nuclear fuels in Australia will involve waste disposal issues that can be addressed in Australia. If there is concern about waste disposal then why not create waste where it can be appropriately dealt with - Australia has the wealth, the regulatory framework and the physical environment to deal dsafely with the waste.
John Howard is on sound ground in pointing out the hypocrisy of Labor’s moves. Yes it is politics but fair politics. Howard too should be careful about the underlying economics. Unfortunately too he needs to watch the politics - Rudd will run a scare campaign up to the next election on whether voters want a nuclear power station in their backyard. Not many votes in the policy even if it is sensible.
I assume Labor will eventually come to its senses and get rid of its ban on a local nuclear industry. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 20+ years.
It is deeply worrying to me that Labor says it will be a 'business friendly' party and will 'talk to business'. The worry is that a party contemplating assuming federal office in this country needs to make such statements. One wonders how it would otherwise ever hope to govern.
The difficult feature of Labor’s IR policy is that the policy seeks to come to the rescue of a fading trade union movement when Australia is currently enjoying the lowest unemployment rate, 4.5%, that it has experienced for 32 years. Wages are increasing and even unskilled workers are rejoining the workforce. Wages are growing strongly in resource sectors but are not flowing through to less productive parts of the workforce thereby increasing inflation.
The basic fallacy in the Labor Party’s IR policy centers on the notion that one can legislate in a voluntary employment situation, to guarantee minimum wages and conditions for labour, without affecting the demand for labour. You cannot - at least once the restrictions are known to those doing the employing.
The union movement in Australia now represents only 20% of Australian workers and they are very much concentrated in the public sector. Furthermore, this role will diminish further particularly if the Coialition is reelected. The Australian economy is driven largely by service industries not manufacturing and this trend will continue. Workers in these industries do not see themselves as downtrodden section of the proletariat who will inevitably vote Labor. Most see the union movement as a negative social institution that causes unemployment and pursues a political agenda that they want no part off. The main asset the union movement in Australia possesses is substantial control of the Labor Party.
Until this changes and until union leaders like, Combet and Shorten. are seen not as leading lights but as dinosaurs representing narrow, unrepresentative sectional interests, it will be difficult to get much of sense on IR from the ALP. We do not need a return to trade union-driven AIRC rulings and that’s what the new structures envisaged by Rudd will become if Labor is elected.
Prior to winning Rudd has enormous clout with the unions – back me or we will lose is his battle cry. But after winning - a great transformation will occur - and he will have no clout. The Labor Party longs for power after more than a decade in the political wilderness but the major interest group driving policy, as well as determining ALP funding, is the trade union movement.
This is a structural feature of the Labor Party that limits Labor's options to take Australia forward. To say that the policy is ‘fair to families’ or that they guarantee ‘a fair’s day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ is weasel-word nonsense. It is not a sensible basis for IR policy where 80% of workers are not in trade unions and where flexibility not a heavy-handed revamp of the AIRC is called for.
Update 1: The Business Council of Australia response to Labor's IR policy is here.
Update 2: At both Andrew Leigh's and Joshua Gan's blog my post on the subsidy proposal is represented as a criticism of its distributional implications. I think a careful reading of the text above does not support this though, I agree, I could have expressed myself better. I simply found Rudd's defence of his position comic. If the subsidy is to provide a 'second-best' substitute for a carbon tax to encourage less carbon emissions then, on efficiency grounds, there is no case for 'means testing'. My case against the subsidy is it is an expensive alternative to using fossil fuels. The extra cost would swamp any external costs saved. The best proposal is to levy a carbon tax and let consumers choose their mix of conservation and use of alternative technologies.