Schadenfreude

Just returned from an evening at the central tallyroom in Darwin. I confess that I failed to disguise a quietly malicious joy at the crestfallen pain of all the old CLP apparatchiks who used to gloat without restraint during Labor’s many dark nights of the soul through the 1980s and 90s.

Latest figures suggest that Labor will probably end up with 18 seats (out of 25), with the CLP retaining just 6 and 1 Independent (although this is still fairly fluid at the time of writing). And CLP leader Denis Burke lost his seat as well as the election! I must admit that Pollbludger’s prediction, which I regarded as wildly optimistic for Labor, was much closer than mine.

In most senses, it’s humble pie I’m happy to swallow. And in any event, the CLP debacle was exacerbated by a major fiscal cockup in the last two days of the campaign, when Treasury unearthed a $60 million mathematical error in Burke’s calculation of the cost of his election promises, not to mention highlighting the fact that he refused to reveal where he would make $218 million worth of spending cuts that he claimed would pay for those promises. It just added to the picture of chaotic incompetence whose most egregious symbol was the $1.3 billion mythical power line from southern Queensland to Darwin.

Even so, such a smashing victory isn’t necessarily unalloyed good news even for NT Labor, let alone democracy in the Territory. Clare Martin will certainly end up with a large and fractious back bench which will include a substantial proportion of dead wood MLAs who wouldn’t normally have had a snowball’s chance in the tropics of getting elected.

The Party rank and file is also going to take a lot of convincing that there’s no choice but to persist in the cautious-to-the-point-of-intertia brand of semi-compassionate conservatism that has characterised the last 4 years of the Martin government. It’s an identical approach to the tried and true template of ALP state governments throughout Australia, but with extremes of poverty in a population that is 30% indigenous it’s rather more difficult to persuade impatient ALP members that a glacial pace of reform and a policy stance only marginally distinguishable from the Coalition is the only viable approach. Martin has managed (through ruthless factional manoeuvring) to avoid holding a Party Conference in the last couple of years, but it seems unlikely she’ll be able to stave off internal democracy for much longer. Still, with the budget already slightly in deficit and the highest per capita state debt in Australia, the grim fiscal reality is that there probably isn’t much room for bold social justice measures even if Clare and her minders were so minded (and they’re not).

The Martin government’s “lock up serial drunks” policy also creates a significant cloud on the horizon for the ALP. It certainly played well in Darwin’s northrn suburbs and undoubtedly contributed to the big swing to Labor, but there’s a fairly high probability that a significant number of indigenous leaders will now conclude that Labor in government is merely a whiter-shade-of-pale CLP, and decide as a result that the only sensible option for gaining some meaningful leverage in the political process is to establish a specifically indigenous political party and aim at achieving a balance of power situation in the Territory Parliament.

But still, any politician would much rather be Clare Martin right now than Denis Burke. And despite my silent bout of schadenfreude, I can’t help feeling just a little sorry for two time loser Denis Burke. Even though he’s a boofhead who ran a hopeless campaign, he doesn’t seem like a bad bloke and he mostly resisted the temptation to play the race card despite the fact that he would certainly have been well aware of the desperation of his party’s plight and would have been surrounded by minders telling him that a traditional black bash was the only way of salvaging something from the wreckage. There are worse political epitaphs.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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John Morhall
John Morhall
2022 years ago

There must be a manual or guide book for L/CLP State and Territory leaders that suggests that mega – infrstructure projects (Barnett’s water pipeline, Burke’s power line), are the key to electoral salvation. Can I suggest that these pages be immediately removed?

Burke is to be commended for his restraint as you point out. I remember a former State Minister commenting on the size of his office, and the contents of its bar, with the statement that “being in oppostion sucks”. I guess that Burke can contemplate neither.

Schadenfreud at 1.30 AM – it was a dictionary job at 7.30!!

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2022 years ago

The following page in the manual must say “Having undermined your credibility in this way, ram the lesson home with an undeniable costing error”. Barnett did exactly the same thing.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

What is it with this fear of infrastructure projects?

To use a leftist argument here, I think those lined up against the CLP played the Greenist card. You see, it’s all just a fear of ‘The Other’. It’s been so long since we’ve seen any major projects in this country (rail line excepted) that weak-minded, ignorant, prejudiced, anti-development Australian lumpen-proles are now fearful of infrastructure. These fearful, ignorant types are easily led by those unscrupled individuals who promote sitting on our arse leaving great clumps of the country totally undeveloped as the rest of the world marches on. I mean, let’s look at the basic arguments –

“Aieeeeee!!!! There’ll be cost blow-outs.” Well d’uh. Given that this argument often comes from those who still shed a nostalgic tear for the days of Gough, I find that pretty rich.

“It’s all a cosy deal between industry and the Party.” Again, d’uh. To keep people employed, contractors have to push their wares – fact of life. The bottom line is that it keeps people employed and off the poisonous teat of welfare. I realise this is a particularly difficult concept for socialists (oh, sorry, I mean ‘social democrats’ as the currently fashionable euphemism goes) to grasp.

“It’ll damage the environment.” My face is cramping from the sneering that I always get when I hear this mung-bean-munching, soap-free, McDonalds-window-smashing, fear-of-the-future nonsense. It never ceases to amaze me how closely the environmenatlist mentality aligns with that of Pol Pot’s Year 0 program.

Oh, and sitting around the street getting pissed and making a nuisance of yourself is unacceptable behaviour. Or it should be. It doesn’t make personal discomfort with being accosted by drunken trouble-makers a form of racism.

My suspicion is that the laws to deal with this aberrant behaviour have always been there; it’s just that their application has become so watered down they’re now almost useless.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

(Wipes spittle flecks off screen and reads back) – ‘environmentalist’ dammit.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Strewth, I agree with Al.

The infrastructure timidity is a bugger. Victoria filled up with Big Projects under Jeff, including moving the museum which was a sad and horrid mistake. But it went with selling a lot of government real estate, which of course limits future Big Projects.

And Jeff only accepted the things within a narrow ideological framework which created tollways, and institutions like ACMI and the museum which were supposed to pay for themselves. So successor governments of any persuasion are faced with the real costs.

In fact, a government comfortably in power has to push the envelope of consensus a bit, so the electorate understands that Melbourne cultural, environmental and educational institutions do cost money, but are there for good reason.

The timidity/lack of vision thang has two obvious bad consequences: we can’t sell a project in the national good to the electorate, and governments dont create bold visions of themselves for fear of scaring the horses. Small targets, grey governments, reduced to paying off a host of separate constituencies to keep them sweet.

Ken’s description of the NT govt is pretty close to how the Vic ALP seems from the outside. Meanwhile, branch stacking has turned into a cancer, and Bracks seems powerless.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2022 years ago

The problem isn’t infrastructure projects, it’s absurdly uneconomic infrastructure projects. There are plenty of projects under way that yield a substantial economic return, and plenty more we could identify, particularly when you include social infrastructure (schools, hospitals etc).

Among the silliest reasons for supporting transport and utility infrastructure spending, though, is job creation. In both construction and operation, modern infrastructure is hugely capital-intensive. The image of thousands of men swinging picks and shovels might have been valid in the 1930s, but not today.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

the museum.

where is it?

and the building?

signed nostalgic panic

jen
jen
2022 years ago

the museum.

where is it?

and the building?

signed nostalgic panic

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

I’m not arguing for job creation through ill targeted projects, JQ. That would be as silly as the idea of building more schools and hospitals, making the already unsustainable revenue-sinks of health and education more of a strain on state budgets.

What I am saying is that water, power and transport infrastructure is vital to opening up the GAFA for development. Projects like the ill fated canal in WA wouldn’t just have benefited the south western corner; it would have opened up a corridor of development opportunities along its whole length. Same, same with the power infrastructure.

I’ll agree not all infrastructure is worth the cost; for example, stupidity like ensuring that every farmer is able to use his mobile phone from any corner of any paddock on his spread, no matter how remote.

Nor would I want to see this idea of government encouraged development to be confused with the sickening corporate welfarism that sees taxpayers dollars going to the propping of uncompetitive manufacturers in traditional blue collar industry.

No, I’m talking about opening up the country with a bit of nation-building. One set of powerlines and a decent pipeline will do more for that than a 100 new university course on Culture, Environment and Urban Design.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Al

Burke’s power line idea was a stupid one even on your criteria. The operator of the huge Alcan Gove bauxite mine and alumina refinery is about to make a final decision on piping gas onshore from a field in the Timor Sea and then across the NT to Nhulunbuy. The pipeline will almost pass by the door of an existing unused power station at the mothballed Mount Todd goldmine, and there is an existing high tension power line available to get the power to Darwin. So why spend $1.3 billion on a power line from Queensland? The gas pipeline will open up a much wider range of development opportunities than just power generation, and at a much more reasonable cost.

Similarly with Mount Isa and the Macarthur River Mine, which appeared to be Burke’s other main target markets for his power line. Neither was interested, because they too have fairly advanced plans to pipe gas from PNG. The line would service not only Mount Isa and Macarthur River, but much of north Queensland (potentially including Cairns and Townsville). This project too makes vastly more sense than Burke’s half-baked, ill-considered idea. Moreover, it isn’t at all clear that existing power generators in South-East Queensland will even HAVE a significant excess generating capacity on an ongoing basis (as I pointed out in a previous post).

As John Quiggin commented, it isn’t a matter of “lefties” opposing infrastructure per se, including infrastructure that is publicly funded or subsidised. It’s simply a question of rational, cool-headed cost-benefit evaluation. This has nothing to do with political ideology. Why are you so obsessed with seeing every conceivable question through a “left-right” prism? The vast majority of conservatives and classical liberals would be equally opposed to Burke’s idea, because it simply doesn’t make sense. I agree that there may sometimes be powerful arguments in favour of funding large “nation-building” projects that might not stack up commercially in the short term, but we equally mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that simply spouting the magical incantation “nation-building” should exempt a project from any need for rigorous evaluation. Burke’s power line just didn’t make sense, even as an exercise in “nation-building”.

I didn’t look quite as closely at Barnett’s WA canal idea, but it certainly had distinctly similar pie in the sky overtones. I’m not too sure how it “would have opened up a corridor of development opportunities along its whole length”, given that most of that length consists of hot, arid desert where no-one in their right mind would choose to live even WITH the benefit of extravagantly expensive canal-delivered water. I would be open to be convinced that either project (Burke’s or Barnett’s) was worth pursuing, but so far I’ve seen nothing to suggest any such conclusion could rationally be reached.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Well the N/T is no different to anywhere else.
A very predictable result!

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Ken, you’re right; this isn’t a left/right argument at all. Many of my colleagues in the VRWC would cheerfully sack me for such heresy. I just employed some classic leftist dogma to disparage those whose objection to these projects reflects nothing more than the fact they are axiomatically anti-development.

But lets return to the question at hand; that is, tapping the vast tracts of unexploited land going to waste west of the narrow strip of green on the east coast. It is abundantly clear that simply having readily available water, electricity and a decent road (or rail line even) is not enough to encourage people to cut their umbilical connection to the big smoke. Otherwise country towns would not be dying. I’m not so naive as to believe in the ‘build it, and they will come’ theory. But it’s simple logic to note that such infrastructure is a vital enabler, if not a catalyst in itself.

Take the canal to Perth. The whole debate seemed to obsess over the question of how many tenths of a cent per litre was it going to cost consumers in the south western tip of WA.

The correct answer is: Who cares. I don’t care whether the water for the canal comes from Lake Argyle or from a string of nuclear powered desalination plants along its length. The important point is that, suddenly, the vast coastal run up the west coast will have readily available water – and you don’t reckon there’s a market for coastal property? Try and buy anything within a mile of the coast from Portsea east round to Mackay. Combine that water with power and roads, and you could have a silver haired gold rush of retirees from the east coast driving an economic boom in WA for the next couple of decades.

Similarly, I don’t actually give a rat’s how they put electricity into those power lines. Whether it’s from the gas fired plant at Mt Todd, or the rickety things in SE QLD. The important point is that the power is available along a corridor stretching from Darwin to SE QLD.

Both ideas got beaten like a red headed step-child by the left as an excuse to take a swipe at Barnett and Burke. They got pummelled by the right, who might, every now and again, ask themselves what on Earth His Majesty’s Government was doing funding Captain Cook to look for new lands in the south. The answer is ‘investing in the future’.

There are any number of perfectly sound reasons to start thinking outside of the existing paradigm. For example, no one in their right mind would choose to spend three to four hours of every working day traveling to and from work either…except that many people in the big capitals do precisely that. If government and business can get rid of the CBD mentality that has so miserably choked Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth – and actually start thinking of the savings to be had by leasing office space in country towns – we’d be on our way to some decent expansion. Hell, isn’t that one of the wonders the telecommunications age was supposed to bring us?

Carr has even said that Sydney can take no more. You’ve said why don’t they come to Darwin. Crikey, I think there’s a heap of consensus here about the need to alleviate the stress on the eastern seaboard. But you’re not going to do that without water and power in your target areas.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Now that I’m conscious again, I’ve seen the figures. Crikey, what a rout!

The biggest loss to the CLP in my estimation is Sue Carter, who had the understanding of the health portfolio they really needed. She’s also a really nice person. It’s a pity.

Losing Burke to Burke is a mixed bag, he does seem like a genuine bloke, but perhaps the wrong type of genuine bloke. Even Darwin is seeing a creeping rise in professional tone, and with it comes voter favouritism for professional sounding parties.

Where to for the CLP? I have no idea.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

It’s amazing to compare the political landscapes of the States and territories with the Federal scene. There is no way a Kerin Opposition will get up against Rann Labor in SA at the next election also. Typically the Rann Govt is a better Liberal govt than the Libs, although that’s not saying much. Perhaps comfortable govt is what it’s all about and the ALP is best at managing the day to day demands of public servants and doling out the GST largesse. I guess most of the heat has gone out of State politics now that balanced budgets are entrenched bipartisan politics. Just leaves them arguing over a few pennies really, given the ongoing demands of health and education. Perhaps Coalitinists are Big Picture macro types, which largely lends itself to national govt. The ALP are left to the face to face people business which they prefer.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

Al Bundy wrote:

“I’m not arguing for job creation through ill targeted projects . . . That would be as silly as the idea of building more schools and hospitals, making the already unsustainable revenue-sinks of health and education more of a strain on state budgets . . . No, I’m talking about opening up the country with a bit of nation-building. One set of powerlines and a decent pipeline will do more for that than a 100 new university course on Culture, Environment and Urban Design.”

Oh, *I* see what you mean now, Al. Your definition of “infrastructure” is mutually exclusive of anything designed and/or then staffed by anyone who’s been university educated (or possibly has even had any education at all in the public system).

When future historians look at where did all the GenX white-collar jobs go in the 90s and 00s, they’ll be amazed at the callous, planned regressiveness of it. Assuming that there will be any future historians, that is.

Either way, and in the meantime, the payback’s gonna be a bitch for your generation and your ilk, Al.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Eh?

StephenL
StephenL
2022 years ago

Al bundy just couldn’t resist blaming opposition to Burke’s proposal on Greenies.

Interesting really, when you consider two of the largest projects that are being considered for the areas he says need to be opened up.

On the one hand you have the solar tower, proposed for near Mildura. This will heat air under a huge glass or plastic skirt and funnel it up to a tower a kilometer high, driving turbines as it rises.

On the other you have the hot dry rocks technology, which involves pumping water down to very hot ricks lying beneat the surface, letting it turn to steam and drive turbines as it shoots back up. There are two locations in Australia really suited to this, one is near Newcastle (not much good from Al’s point of view) but the other is in central Australia, near where NT, Queensland and SA meet – its a much larger resource but obviously further from the demand.

Now both of these have overwhelming support from the environment movement – in the one case it is largely being funded by environmentally minded investors. However, federal government support is almost non-existent, and in fact the hot dry rocks idea was set back for years as the proponents were sent on a ring around of bureacracy to get approval to even investigate it’s viablity. I’m not sure what the states are doing about Hot Dry rocks, but Carr has shown some support for the solar tower – Bracks showed none, so the planned location has hopped across the Murray even though most power would go to Vic.

If the federal government had agree to raise the Mandatory Renewable Energy requirements both of these would be definite starters. As it is, both teeter on the brink as to whether they would go ahead.

The single solar tower at Mildura won’t make a huge contribution to opening up the centre, but if it is a success, it would spawn dramatic growth in clean energy. The location requirements are the it be where the climate is warm and dry and land is cheap – pretty much a description of where Al wants growth. The construction would create quite a few jobs, and there would be some in maintanence, and power nearby would be cheap.

It’s not environmentalists who are blocking these things, its Howard.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Blue sky technologies are fine and good, StephenL, so long as they don’t leach my precious lucre from its cosy wallet. Spare me any tortured reasoning putting the onus on long suffering taxpayers to prop up some fatuous ‘triple bottom line’ (God, doesn’t that sound so nineties, man).

I’m all for geothermal power, but the problem is that it produces peanuts in terms of MWh. Nonetheless, the market is cautiously embracing this renewable, and all power to it (‘scuse the pun).

As for the ‘Solar Tower’ – spare me. The concept is not new, and the technology hasn’t seen enthusiastic uptake around the globe. Ever thought there might be a reason for that?

Like the wonderful promises of Pacific Hydro to build wind-farms all over the shop, it all seems to hang on the government’s dime.

Just because it’s dressed in a shiny green suit doesn’t make corporate welfarism any less crudulous. In the real world, StephenL, ‘sustainability’ means delivering a product that can pay for itself.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Hmm, actually, Pacific Hydro seems to be doing alright. I’ll retract that last comment. Seems they are producing wind farms all over the place.

http://www.pacifichydro.com.au/projects.asp?articleZoneID=113

Good on ’em. If the market will stump up the ponies for wind power, there’s no problem with that.

If, however, a power plant can only be justified in terms of annual tonnes reduction CO2, then all the AGWophiles can pay for it. I’ll take dirty old coal any day.

Stephen L
Stephen L
2022 years ago

So let me get this straight Al,

Utterly financially unviable projects like the canal and the powerline are worth subsidising because they are nation building, but something like the solar tower, which will probably only need small subsidies relative to its size are “corporate welfarism”? I think I follow.

As for hot dry rocks, the amount of power it could potentially produce is hardly peanuts – 600 times Australia’s annual consumption. In many places the amounts are peanuts because the resource is small. Australia has an enormous amount of the heat, but no water at the right level so that needs to be added, which will increase the cost. We don’t really know whether the cost of pushing the water down there will be such that the thing is totally unviable, viable with small subsidies, or able to operate without subsidies.

This is where it is the job of the government to put up a bit of cash to support the research so we can find out how much it will cost. No state or federal government has been keen, but we have two opposition parties committing themselves to putting up amounts 100 times larger for things that cannot possibly be made to make financial sense no matter how hard you twist the figures.

Oh and as to your point about no one else having adopted the solar tower – did you read the bit about it only being suitable where the climate was hot and dry and land was cheap? This limits us to the developing world, Australia and parts of the US. Maybe some bits of Spain, but no other developed country.

The developing world is unlikely to be the first to try a technology like this, so basically what you are saying is “The Americans haven’t built one so it’s not worth building”. It may be that the cost won’t justify the power produced, but it’s not going to be a major white elephant, which is more than can be said for the canal or the powerline.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

“…something like the solar tower, which will probably only need small subsidies relative to its size”

Well, Stephen, using figures from The Bulletin back in 2001

http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/eddesk.nsf/printing/A7BD712D34AE25B3CA256B12001BA833

the estimated cost of the solar tower at Mildura was reckoned to be in the vicinity of $670million. Translate that into 2005 dollars, and we’ll call it 3/4 of a billion between friends.

So when we talk about a 2 billion dollar canal, we are not talking about “putting up amounts 100 times larger” than that required for your tower of power. Try 2.67 times larger.

Plus, it seems to me that the only working example of this technology was a 200m tall 50kW unit built in Spain in 1982. Note – that was kW, not MW. This would be a typical power output for a large motorbike. It seems an awfully big jump to go from a motorbike powering 50kW for a 200m tall unit, to a city-powering 200MW for a 1km high unit.

“As for hot dry rocks, the amount of power it could potentially produce is hardly peanuts – 600 times Australia’s annual consumption.”

This is a spurious argument, Stephen. It is akin to noting that a solar farm situated in the Sahara Desert and covering a mere 3% of its area could theoretically supply 100% of the worlds power needs. Clearly this is not practical nor economical. The relevant question here is:

How many MWh can we obtain at the demand end for how much money by spending it on ‘hot rocks’?

Sadly, the fact that the energy from ‘hot rocks’ is ‘free’ does not necessarily have much bearing on the cost of electricity production. Indeed, the fossil fuel involved accounts for only about 16% of the total cost of traditional coal fired production. Much of the cost lies in the attendant infrastructure, such as the power grid you reckon is a profligate and foolhardy waste of money.

But, like I said before, geothermal power is showing promising results. I’m not going to bag it for the sake of an argument.

At the end of the cliche, the feasability or otherwise of your favourite green power schemes has nothing to do with this thread. The issue, as I saw it, was the political will to do something about the vast tracts of reasonably good land that lie unexploited in the far west and far north of this great country. Supplying water and power to those areas won’t open them up for development overnight, but infrastructure like the ill fated canal and the power line would have removed some of the major obstacles.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago
Stephen L
Stephen L
2022 years ago

The difference between the solar tower and the canal is 2.67 times, but the subsidy is much smaller, because even in a worst case scenario most of the cost would be paid for in power produced. Not so the canal.

Of course it is true that we don’t really know how well the tower will work. The experiment in Spain didn’t produce much power, but as I understand it the production was higher than had been expected for a tower of that height (memory may be wrong on that). The point is given the non-linear connection between height and power produced we won’t really know until we try it.

If we build the tower and it produces as much power as expected, or more, it will be a success and we can build many more. If it produces less then it becomes a one-off, which recoups some portion of its losses as a tourist attraction.
It is worth it for us, as a society, to invest in gaining this knowledge. Not sure what we were going to learn from the canal and the powerline that we haven’t learnt from the railway, Ord river etc.