Weathering the political storm

| October 6, 2016

Recent wild and stormy weather caused widespread power outages in South Australia. Max Thomas comments on the ensuing political storm from both sides of the renewables debate.

Power workers did a great job in dreadful conditions to so quickly restore electricity supply to most of South Australia during the recent extreme weather event, despite the unhelpful and disgraceful posturing of politicians.

Albeit clumsy, belated and mistimed, the Prime Minister has drawn attention to the need for a more coordinated approach to investment in renewable energy to ensure efficient resource allocation matching development of the national grid. Greens Federal MP Adam Bandt saying that the PM should be condemned for his alleged attempt to take political advantage of the emergency in South Australia seems a little too precious. Mr Bandt went on to say that “global warming is doing massive damage to the infrastructure of this country, including electricity infrastructure.” This was political opportunism designed to influence public opinion and gain support based on spurious supposition at best. Attributing the SA weather event to climate change at the height of an emergency without scientific analysis not only damages Mr Bandt’s own credibility, but it undermines serious attempts by climatologists to inform the public. The Greens’ habit of marginalizing themselves precludes their becoming a political force capable of leading the nation. They need to broaden their outlook beyond politically motivated and irresponsible dogma. They should take notice of “what matters” to the people they aspire to represent.

Despite alarmist propaganda, there is plenty of well-documented evidence that South Australia is no stranger to extreme weather. Media reports have been generally more circumspect, describing last week’s weather as a once-in-50-years event. A more informative and useful description is that, on average, the chance of such a weather event happening in any given year is about 2%. Shifts in the geographic and seasonal distribution of rainfall are potential climate change effects that could seriously impact food security and cause major social and economic dislocation. The apparent southward creep of ‘Goyder’s Line’ in South Australia is an example; it isn’t fashionable or politically advantageous but it’s a “wake-up call” for all of us, especially politicians.

Our adversarial and tribal party-political system is already proving incapable of dealing with many complex economic, social and environmental issues. We are in a transition phase that requires careful thought and planning. The national power grid was not designed to do what we now expect and the ‘market’ isn’t renowned for proactivity beyond chasing the next windfall. Major infrastructure cannot be produced or replaced with the flick of a switch. Economic and social adjustments can’t be made overnight or by any amount of wishful thinking.

Australians take pride in our willingness to set aside differences and work together in a crisis. But at one of those moments when leadership and cohesion are vital, division was created over matters which politicians would be best advised to offer assistance and leadership, deferring comment until all the facts are known. We have to make our democratic federation work better or face the prospect of extreme ‘political climate change’.