Distributive policy

Campaign launches more branding exercises than political platform

The Labor and Liberal campaign launches we saw on Sunday ahead of Victoria’s November 26 state election showed us a bit of razzmatazz and a lot of bluster. There were few references to the blizzard of spending pledges we’ve seen before from Daniel Andrews and Matthew Guy during this campaign.

Perhaps the two party leaders are wary of voter reaction to Victoria’s debt burden, which has fallen from just under $12billion in 2010-11 to a figure forecast by the government itself to $165 billion by 2025-26. We know this is a growing problem: many of those interviewed for age in August, managing the economy, cost overruns and poor project management were flagged as major concerns.

Matthew Guy addresses the crowd of Coalition supporters at the Liberal campaign launch this weekend.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Perhaps that’s why no new megaprojects were announced on Sunday. Instead, the two leaders have largely focused on their competing energy policies: Andrews on renewable electricity, Guy on gas.

The Prime Minister has revised his previously announced plan to revive the National Electricity Commission, which he says would create some 59,000 jobs, accelerate our transition to renewable energy and provide trade-related work experience opportunities for secondary school students. Guy has pledged to ‘turbocharge’ gas production in Victoria, ostensibly to make energy more affordable as we make the difficult ‘transition to a clean energy future’.

This masthead has – with reservations – backed Labour’s ambitious SEC scheme. If it can help us wean ourselves off anthrax more quickly, so much the better. But we are concerned about the lack of detail and the cost, and whether the SEC is the right mechanism to make the transition. Andrews says renewables will eventually produce electricity at a lower cost than fossil fuels. “It will reduce the cost of electricity for Victoria and her families,” he said on Sunday.

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In the meantime, it will cost billions of dollars to overhaul production and distribution systems. The first step alone – creating enough power from wind and solar projects to replace the Loy Yang A coal-fired power station – is expected to cost $1 billion. And as environment editor Nick O’Malley explained, the government will also have to help Victorians switch off their gas-fired appliances and equipment for electricity. Andrews’ policy is heading in the right direction, but it’s unlikely to be a straightforward process.

Experts say Guy’s plan to quarantine new onshore gas supplies for Victorian use is unlikely to work. It might have parochial appeal, but in reality would be extremely expensive, might not produce much gas, and could undermine the stability of the national gas market and discourage investment in exploration. The IPCC said we should no longer develop fossil fuel projects and the International Energy Agency said more gas was incompatible with the Paris climate goals.

Local experts also think it wouldn’t work. “I have a hard time seeing that it would actually do anything good, and I can think of reasons why it’s borderline silly,” said Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood. “It makes no sense,” said Bruce Mountain, director of the Victoria Energy Policy Centre. On Monday, Guy insisted his gas plan was achievable, saying he was “very confident” companies would provide the necessary investment. The companies weren’t quite as scathing as the pundits, but neither did they give a ringing endorsement of the opposition’s signature policy.