06 May, 2017
Courtesy of the Herald Sun
JUST a month after the boilers and turbines were switched off at Hazelwood power station, Victoria is facing a crisis in energy security.
Threats of industrial action in the form of “consecutive stoppages” from May 15 resulted in management at the separate Loy Yang A power plant — which produces capacity for two million homes — to counter with the need to shut the plant for safety reasons if workers walked off the job.
Hazelwood was responsible for generating 20 per cent of the state’s electricity supplies and five per cent across the nation.
When French owner Engie ultimately chose to close the coal-fired Hazelwood — which accounted for 14 per cent of Victoria’s greenhouse emissions — critics raised the spectre of secure supply.
As that fear now morphs into real risk, the Andrews Government has been forced to the Fair Work Commission to prevent interruption at Loy Yang and keep the lights on in Victoria.
Hazelwood is gathering dust and as the colder weather sets in, the union movement is looking to capitalise on public ire at the risk of brownouts.
Their bid to strongarm Loy Yang A owner AGL into accepting an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement being sought by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and Electrical Trades Union has turned urgent and ugly.
The state government has been left rattled and will pay a heavy price if power supplies are limited or interrupted.
While it was the private operator Engie’s decision to ultimately close Hazelwood, the Andrews Government had encouraged the company’s exodus by raising the brown coal royalty charges by more than $250 million. Although the plant also faced significant costs in major repairs and WorkSafe notices, being taxed into oblivion and facing rampant anti-coal legislation and sentiment would have been a decisive factor in Engie’s withdrawal.
With Long Yang A now picking up the vacuum in supply responsibility, the threatened industrial action in just nine days time has exposed the fragility of our energy supply and security.
With AGL insisting Loy Yang’s mine would also need to be shut if workers impose rolling stoppages, the Loy Yang B station would also be caught up and multiply the power loss to between 30-50 per cent of the state’s supply.
While Industrial Relations Minister Natalie Hutchins has brought government into the dispute before Fair Work, which is a welcome response, it underscores the insanity of prematurely undermining Victoria’s strength in its natural coal reserves before other technology or cleaner coal is bedded down.
Certainly the AGL-union stand-off on the EBA has been dragging on for two years. Although workers have been offered a generous 20 per cent pay rise over four years, the unions have repeatedly rejected it.
The sticking point is guaranteed job security.
Unfortunately, the reality is job security in any sector, in any industry, is not guaranteed in the modern economy and, as was shown with Hazelwood, where environmental and political factors are all-defining, no employer can set employment levels and conditions in stone.
Fair Work has already ruled allowing AGL to axe the former EBA in January. All parties must now be forced to resolve the dispute and protect this essential service which powers the state.
LIKE TWO OLD PALS
DON and Mal are great mates now. And thankfully so, at least on appearances.
Yesterday’s meeting between US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York was not just symbolic, it was important.
Following the notorious January phone call between the two leaders, little more than a week after Mr Trump assumed office, it was crucial US and Australian relations were seen to get back on solid ground.
Although President Trump was delayed in getting to the event commemorating the US-Australian victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which America played a vital role defending Australia against Japan, itinerary moves were made to accommodate as much time as possible for Mr Turnbull.
Behind closed doors, the strong economic ties between the two countries were underscored.
And crucially — with North Korea continuing down its dangerous nuclear and ballistic path, China’s expansionism in the South China Sea and the continuing fight against Islamic State, the ANZUS alliance and security were featured. Australia hosts 1250 US marines in Darwin, the Pine Gap facility, wide-scale military interoperability and accesses vital intelligence sharing.
Both countries have mutual interests in maintaining a copper-bottomed alliance which surpasses the personality or politics of either national leader.
With Mr Trump describing reports of their first phone encounter as “fake news” and talking up his admiration for Australia, it is a welcome sign the value of the relationship is reciprocated.