Debt by design: The anatomy of a social policy fiasco – Or was it something worse?

Australian Journal of Public AdministrationRobodebt has been a classic ‘policy fiasco’ in many dimensions. It differs, however, from other failures in that its intention was fundamentally misguided to the extent that it could be considered a case of ‘policy malfeasance’. This interpretation is supported by evidence that the government ignored evidence that the programme was unlawful as early as 2017.

This raises the question whether policy failures more serious when governments choose to behave unlawfully?

Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap

Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap
Thijs Stoop/Unsplash, FAL

The threats of climate change are the direct result of there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So it follows that we must stop emitting more and even remove some of it.

The current consensus is that if we deploy “carbon dioxide removal” techniques at the same time as reducing our burning of fossil fuels, we can more rapidly halt global warming. Hopefully around the middle of this century we will achieve “net zero”.

Unfortunately, in practice this helps perpetuate a belief in technological salvation and diminishes the sense of urgency surrounding the need to curb emissions now. Tthe idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier “burn now, pay later” approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar. It has also hastened the destruction of the natural world by increasing deforestation today, and greatly increases the risk of further devastation in the future.

The Contested Politics of Drought, Water Security and Climate Adaptation in Australia's Murray-Darling Basin

Murray-Darling BasinThis study of the politics of water reforms in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) analyses contrasting discourses of water security during the Millennium Drought (1996-2010). The paper traces the historical evolution, mobilisation and effects of three discourses defined as 'drought-proofing', 'higher value use' and 'river restoration'.

These are broadly aligned with engineering, economics and ecological perspectives, and while all discourses were integrated into government responses to the drought, the resurgence of drought-proofing significantly altered policy settings intended to shift MDB water management onto a more sustainable path.

Five things to know about carbon pricing

IMF carbon pricing paperDeterring the use of fossil fuels—such as coal, fuel oil, petrol and diesel—is crucial to reducing the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Carbon pricing provides across-the-board incentives to reduce energy use and shift to cleaner fuels and is an essential price signal for redirecting new investment to clean technologies.

A new paper from the International Monetary Fund explains why, and lays out five key things to know about carbon pricing. Well, there's actually tons of reasons to implement carbon pricing, but the IMF classifies them under five broad headings.

  1. Carbon pricing can be readily implemented
  2. Carbon pricing is gaining momentum
  3. Carbon pricing should be part of a comprehensive mitigation strategy
  4. Carbon pricing must be coordinated internationally through a carbon price floor
  5. A pragmatically designed price floor is more promising than other regimes

The “Green Hydrogen” myth

Green hydrogenThis is a really interesting article by Nigel Howard which demonstrates how “green” hydrogen really is the fossil fuel industries wet dream – a superficially “green” solution to all our problems that will delay the transition out of fossil fuels for our transport, our electricity grids, our industries and our exports.

As a medium for storage or transmission of renewable energy, hydrogen (and even worse ammonia) would waste significant proportions (26-57%) of the stored energy further delaying decarbonisation.

Much better for us to focus first on replacing all coal-fired electricity power with renewable sources.

Why government reforms often do more harm than good

Why government reforms often do more harm than good
Many reforms have been done well and benefited Australia.

This is a good article from Ross Gittens on why many government reforms since the 1990s have often done more harm than good - electricity generation and ports in NSW being two examples where consumers have been screwed.

In contrast, reforms in the 1980s and 90s were mostly beneficial. Electricity in Victoria, telecommunications, aviation, banking are all examples of beneficial reforms.

“Privatising assets without allowing for competition or regulation creates private monopolies that raise prices, reduce efficiency and harm the economy,” says the head of the ACCC.

Why would governments do such a terrible thing? Because they put short-term budgetary pressures ahead of the best interests of their voters, as consumers, and business-users of essential services. It’s actually part of a trick that buys the appearance of good management at the price of paying more than necessary for essential services from now on.

WA Organics Industry: Opportunities, Challenges and Options for Development

WA organic industry projectThe Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development has commissioned Policy Partners to review the indicators of maturity and quality of the Organic Industry in WA compared with benchmarks in other States.

WA contributes 26 per cent of the total value of Australian agricultural production, but only contributes around 10 per cent to total Australian production of organic livestock, vegetable, fruit and grains. It also contributes around 14 per cent of eggs, 3 per cent of dairy, 10 per cent of sheep, and 5 per cent of beef.

Consequently, organic production could be viewed as significantly underdeveloped in WA, when compared with the rest of Australia.

Furthermore, Australian exports of organic products is growing at around 18 per cent annually. Consequently, WA may be missing out on significant growth potential for its agriculture industries.

Policy Partners will be engaging with industry to consider the opportunities, challenges and options for development of the WA organics industry.

Book review: Dead in the water

Dead in the waterThis great book by Richard Beasley SC is about the failed water reforms in the Murray-Darling Basin. Its funny and frustrating in equal measure. I felt a bit awkward chuckling at the tragic issues covered!

Richard missed the mark a little on the economics. But that miss would only have made Richard's arguments stronger, so its a marginal criticism.

Anyway, this book is a highly recommended read for anyone with an interest in environment policy, how not to do economic reform, and the MDB water reforms!

Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin

Review of  the National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water  Reform in the Murray-Darling BasinPolicy Partners was engaged by ARTD Consultants to provide expert assistance in reviewing the National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin. The expert services we provided were in the areas of:

  • water reforms in the Murray-Darling Basin
  • review of National Partnership Agreements

Is Australia just draining taxpayer money in the Murray-Darling Basin?

MDB infrastructure programs

Infrastructure projects in the Murray-Darling Basin have raised concerns over how taxpayer money is being spent

The government has announced some recent reviews into aspects of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) reforms but has not yet provided a substantive response to the recent Four Corners Cash Splash’ report, which highlighted some problems with the flagship of the Commonwealth’s water recovery programs in the MDB.

Its key message was that around $4 billion of taxpayer money has so far been spent on irrigation infrastructure upgrades, but that these funds underpinned an expansion in irrigation for mostly private gain.

To the casual observer, this might seem an unlikely outcome for a program with an environmental objective. Yet poor transparency around the infrastructure program and a lack of water accounting make it difficult to independently conclude differently.