Australia news live updates: Queensland on brink of power outage as eastern states battle big chill; WA to shut state-owned coal plants | Australian politics


Energy ministers trade barbs as WA announces state-owned coal power plants to shut

Peter Hannam

There’s a national cabinet planned for Friday, and you can be certain that energy will feature highly, for reasons that may be more acute by week’s end.

Aside from blaming the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government, the Albanese government will need to come up with more of the “way forward”.

Part of that may be the Transition Plan, or even gas storage options floated by the energy minister, Chris Bowen, after energy ministers had their first post-election gathering last week. (It wasn’t the “emergency” meeting as some described.)

To make up for the lack of federal Labor v Coalition stoush at the cabinet meeting, the various states might bring a bit of their own banter to the table.

On Tuesday, NSW energy minister, Matt Kean, seemed to be laying at least some of the blame for the current electricity squeeze on the neighbours to the north.

“Obviously, there’s been some big challenges in Queensland,” Kean told reporters including Guardian Australia’s own Tamsin Rose.

“They’ve had an unusually cold winter and a number of the big generators have gone out of the system. That’s putting increasing pressure on the NSW generators.”

How high are power prices? Federal Minister for climate change and energy Chris Bowen speaks at a press conference in Sydney on Tuesday
How high are power prices? Federal minister for climate change and energy, Chris Bowen, speaks at a press conference in Sydney on Tuesday Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Not surprisingly, his Queensland counterpart, Mick de Brenni, was not overly impressed.

“Queensland has been doing the heavy lifting for the entire east coast, whether it’s on supplying gas to NSW and Victoria, to opening up more gas fields for exploration,” de Brenni told journalists.

(After that riposte, de Brenni wanted to “reassure all Queenslanders that the system is operating … We don’t expect there to be widespread outages.”)

Meanwhile, Victoria’s power pinch is forecast for tomorrow evening at this stage.

In news to darken the soul of Queensland senator and wannabe coalminer Matt Canavan, Western Australia has joined the rush to dump the fossil fuel from its electricity sector.

According to the ABC, the McGowan Labor government will exit coal in its grid before 2030 and pour billions of dollars into renewable energy.

In a “landmark announcement” this afternoon, the premier, Mark McGowan, and energy minister, Bill Johnston, said state-owned power provider Synergy would shut its remaining coal-fired plants by 2029.

Synergy currently owns and runs two coal-fired power stations, the 854Mw Muja plant and the 340Mw Collie plant, both near Collie some 200km south of Perth, ABC said.

Something else to chew over at the national cabinet gathering this week.

Peter Hannam

Western Australia will shut its last coal-fired power unit before the end of the decade and spend an extra half a billion dollars to foster new jobs for displayed workers, the state government said.

Later this year, the first of the 854-megawatt Muja power station’s units near Collie, south of Perth, will close, with the entire plant to be shut by 2029. The nearby 340MW Collie plant will exit the market by the end of 2027, the premier, Mark McGowan, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Georgina Kekea reports from Honiara:

The controversial security deal struck between Solomon Islands and China that caught the western world off guard was needed to maintain internal security and help fight climate change, a leading Solomon Islands official has said, defending his country’s right to choose its allies.

Lovely read from Emma Kemp on Andrew ‘the Grey Wiggle’ Redmayne

The Socceroos goalkeeper’s penalty shootout save made headlines, but his journey to Qatar has not been straightforward.

Andrew Redmayne
Andrew Redmayne makes the winning save against Peru, qualifying Australia for the World Cup finals Photograph: Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty Images

Daniel Hurst

Daniel Hurst

Penny Wong headed to New Zealand on fifth international trip since taking office

The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, is about to embark on her fifth international trip since taking office last month.

Her New Zealand counterpart, Nanaia Mahuta, announced that she would welcome Wong for an in-person meeting this Thursday, saying “deep cooperation and partnerships” would stand both countries in good stead.

Nanaia Mahuta
New Zealand’s foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta. Photograph: Reuters

In a statement reported by New Zealand media, Mahuta said the formal bilateral talks with Wong would provide “an opportunity for new conversations on ways to advance our partnership”. Mahuta said climate change was the “number one security issue” for the Pacific:

I look forward to talking to the new foreign minister in more detail on Australia’s climate change agenda, and further ways we can assist Pacific Island nations on mitigation and adaptation measures.

On broader Pacific challenges, Aotearoa New Zealand seeks to elevate the Pacific Island voice, and support collaboration and partnership through established institutions, especially the Pacific Islands Forum.

As Katharine Murphy observed in this dispatch from Indonesia last week, Wong has hit the ground running. The day she was sworn in as foreign affairs minister, Wong flew with the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to Tokyo for the long-scheduled Quad leaders’ summit.

Her second trip, later in that same week, was to Fiji, where she made Australia’s case to be the region’s parter of choice amid growing competition with China for influence.

Wong’s third trip was to both Samoa and Tonga.

Penny Wong
Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

In her fourth trip, Wong travelled with Albanese to Indonesia last week.

Wong’s forthcoming trip to New Zealand follows Albanese’s meetings with Jacinda Ardern in Sydney on Thursday and Friday.

The new prime minister has promised to consider changing the way the section 501 visa cancellation policy is applied to address New Zealand’s concerns.

Israel UN stance:

“I think it’s an excellent start for the new [Australian] govt to give a very clear message that it’s going to adopt a decent, principled and balanced approach to Middle East issues, which is long overdue,” Gareth Evans told @GuardianAus

— Daniel Hurst (@danielhurstbne) June 14, 2022

Daniel Hurst’s file is here:

NSW to set up fund for environmental offset credits, in part to compensate for state renewable energy projects

A new $106.7m NSW government fund dedicated to buying and selling biodiversity credits in the state’s environmental offset market will be used to help the Perrottet government compensate for habitat clearing for its renewable energy zones.

The NSW treasurer, Matt Kean, and the environment minister, James Griffin, announced the forthcoming state budget would include an investment to establish a biodiversity credits supply fund within the NSW planning and environment department.

Currently, developers looking to offset the environmental impacts of projects can purchase offset credits from private landholders who protect their properties for conservation under an agreement with the state government.

The new fund will see the state government purchase credits and sell them on to developers.

Environment minister James Griffin
Environment minister James Griffin Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

The government says the fund will serve several purposes, including ensuring that there is an “efficient and trusted” source of credits and that there is a supply of credits available to offset projects when they are needed.

Griffin said it was also intended to meet the offset requirements for large infrastructure projects the state government has in the pipeline, including its five planned renewable energy zones.

He said the fund would create a significant increase in the supply of available credits that could be used for projects that were important to the community.

Griffin said:

This means the NSW government will be securing more habitat for threatened species and ecosystems sooner, effectively bringing forward environmental benefits.

Peter Hannam

ASX200 ends trading down 3.6%, the biggest single-day drop in two years

Meanwhile in those other, bigger markets, such as the ASX, it’s been a grim day.

The ASX200 benchmark of (you guessed it) 200 top companies on the stock market lost 3.6%, which apparently is the biggest single-day drop in just over two years.

It could have been worse, though, after the market opened a tad more than 5.2% lower.

Asian markets were down too, but more in the 1-2% range. That’s partly because they were trading on Monday – while Australia was mostly on holiday – and took a chunk of their losses then.

The big Australian banks all had another sour day. Despite some investors saying banks don’t mind higher interest rates, if they rise too fast, there’s more chance of bad debts and, of course, slower overall economic growth.

People watching ASX graphs on monitors
I see red, I see red, I see red … Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

It wasn’t much more than a week ago that CBA, Australia’s biggest bank, was worth $105 a share.

Today it closed at $91.20, denting the values of many a superfund that holds it.

Federal MPs and public officer holders to receive 2.75% pay rise

Federal MPs and public office holders have been granted a 2.75% pay increase from 1 July, with a backbencher set to receive a base salary of $217,060.

The remuneration tribunal, which independently sets the pay of statutory officers and other public officials, ordered the 2.75% pay increase.

It’s an improvement on last year – when no increase was ordered – but still a distance short of inflation, which was already 5.1% in headline terms or 3.7% in underlying terms at the time of the last budget. It has only increased since then, and that means pollies (like many others) have suffered a real pay cut.

In its decision on MPs’ pay, the tribunal said:

While the work performed by the wide variety of offices in the tribunal’s jurisdiction, including members of parliament, is diverse and unique, the tribunal is conscious of ensuring that relativities within the group of offices for which it determines remuneration remain consistent.

Consistent with previous decisions the tribunal maintains the view that the pay of parliamentarians should increase relative to that of other public office holders, and thus the decision to determine an adjustment for the office holders in the tribunal’s jurisdiction generally will also apply to parliamentarians.

For the approximately 2.7 million Australians whose pay is set by the national minimum wage (currently $20.33 an hour) or related award minimums, the Fair Work Commission will announce its decision at 10am on Wednesday.

This is pretty opaque if you’re not part of the energy cognoscenti, but Peter Hannam (who most assuredly is), tells me this is a “warning shot” …

Peter Hannam

Big energy users in Queensland and NSW to cut down use as Aemo warns of energy supply gaps

The Australian Energy Market Operator has several tricks up its regulatory sleeves when it comes to ensuring we don’t get blackouts in a tight market.

One is the daintily named Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (or Rert, NOT Rort), which is a pre-arranged list of big energy users that agree to reduce load in a power pinch – and collect some payment for helping out.

Yesterday, the Rert was activated for Queensland and it’s been done again, for most of the rest of today. Interestingly, the same request is being made in NSW for about the same period.

We learned yesterday that Rio Tinto’s Boyne Smelter was not part of the scheme, but we have to assume other big power users will be.

Some, of course, can’t turn off the power for too long – such as aluminium* smelters, as their potlines turn solid after a couple of hours and are then useless.

(*Not to be confused with aluminum, which is the Yanks’ accidental typo, when Alcoa lodged its company name and left out the ‘i’ by mistake.)

That is a cracking headline …


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