Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let the Sun Shine In

I am often puzzled at the things that politicians pretend to care about.

There are times when parliament seems to be in a constant state of manufactured outrage - ranting and raving about things that we all know they as politicians don't care about, but things they hope will get the public upset.

Such is the political paradigm in Australia today.

The fuss over Andrew Stoner and the solar feed-in tariff is exactly that.

Image from here
I covered the solar issue a few month ago during O'Farrell's aborted attempt to slash the feed-in rate from apparently unsustainable levels.

In short. the Labor government had introduced a tariff of 60c per kilowatt hour for power gathered by solar panels and "fed back" into the network.

The scheme was incredibly generous and, unsurprisingly, massively oversubscribed.

As a result, the Labor government reduced the rate to 20c, but allowed all people who signed up at the 60c to retain that tariff.

The change was announced on 27 October 2010. A Google News Search brought up this article on, purported to have been published at 11:40 on that day, saying:

Hansard shows that sometime around about 17:30 that day a bill was introduced to the Legislative Assembly:

There was a short debate on the bill between 20:00 and 21:20 and the bill was passed with support from both sides of the chamber.

It is interesting to note that, during her speech in support of the bill, Catherine Cusack (Lib) said the following:

There was outrage from the Coalition a few days later when it was revealed that Keneally had signed up to the scheme before the rate was reduced. She was revealed to have signed up 5 days after the government flagged an intention to review the sceme and less than 2 months before the changes were announced.

Keneally was asked this question by Donald Page (Nat):

In any event, Keneally managed to arrange things such that she missed out on the 60c rate regardless.

The issue sprang to life again today when the ALP released this statement:

Now, I'm as enthusiastic as the next person when it comes to highlighting hypocrisy. In fact, few things give me more joy than seeing a hypocrite being revealed for who he or she really is.

But I'm not sure that the mud here sticks.

Firstly - i've had a cursory search of the internet and I cannot find any statement made by Stoner directly in support of the changes. 

That said, when the tariff was reduced he, along with his party, supported the change.

I've also posted the question above asked by one of his Coalition colleagues.

I've searched Hansard for 27 October for any mention of Stoner, and there is none.  In his press release John Robertson says that he was granted a pair for a portion of that day - presumably the parties keep some record of these things, so I've no reason to doubt that he did indeed pop out of parliament to get the application in. 

A search for his name and the word solar brings up three entries:

  • A question on 28 October (the day after the change) where he asks the then Minister for Energy Paul Lynch, when he was first advised about the blow-out in cost of the scheme
  • A dixer from Leslie Williams (Nat) to Stoner on 24 May 2011 (after O'Farrell announced the change in the tariff but before the backdown) about the effect of Labor's Solar Bonus Scheme, and 
  • A question from Linda Burney (ALP) on 24 May 2011 challenging Stoner in relation to a written guarantee he gave to a constituent that the bonus scheme would not be amended retrospectively.
At the end of the day, the criticism from Labor appears to be that he signed up to the scheme that his party (at the very least, if not Stoner himself) has called a massive waste of government money.

The fact that he signed up for the program on the last possible day is thrown in, almost as if to suggest he had some sort of insider knowledge.

I have a little trouble getting outraged about that.

He didn't break any laws.  He didn't lie, cheat or steal.  He took advantage of a scheme put in place by Labor that was about to be brought to an end.

True, his party did then and has since coming into power criticised Labor's decision to set the tariff at 60c.

That said, there are some taxes that I think are too low - but I'm not going to pay extra in (even if I could) because there are other taxes that I think are too high, and I don't expect that excuse to carry much weight with the State Debt Recovery Office.

I thought the "metro" train systems proposed by the Labor government were a terrible idea - but had they been built I would see no hypocrisy in using them, given that I as a taxpayer would have funded their construction.

I agree that the 60c tariff was far too high - but if I owned a house rather than an apartment you can bet every dollar you have that I would have jumped all over that 60c tariff, and been pretty pleased about the result.

Being opposed to a policy doesn't mean you have to be self-righteous about it and refuse the benefit accrued.

Look, Stoner was pretty stupid in the way he went about it.  Everyone in parliament surely must have known that the amendment was coming, and to wait til the last day and then go about it in the way he did was asking for trouble,

But he has taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by a particularly stupid Labor policy, as did thousands and thousands of of NSW residents.

And that doesn't make him a hypocrite.

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