Who’s the socialist, Maurice Newman?

The PM's business adviser accuses me of renewables rent-seeking, yet he espouses socialist state protectionism as well as a brutal investor-confidence crushing political cycle.

Maurice Newman recently listed me as his public enemy No.2 behind the newly elected Victorian premier Dan Andrews.

Matthew Wright, executive director of Zero Emissions Australia, has raised his hand for the rent-seeking renewable energy sector, to 'get the industry back on its feet'. He wants to do away with 'ridiculous red tape' health safeguards and recommends Victorian electricity consumers underwrite unviable projects through a levy. Forget that last fin­ancial year 40,000 poor Victorians had their power disconnected for failing to pay their bills.” (The Australian newspaper ‘We need to bust socialist myths’, December 10)

Maurice is referring to my recent article on Climate Spectator 'Three things Vic Labor should do to kick-start renewable energy construction', in which I argued for the removal of the anti-business, anti-development, 2km exclusion zone around renewable energy facilities. The removal of this policy, when enacted, will get the wheels of business moving again. Newman has, however, represented my view inaccurately, suggesting that I favour the removal of “health safeguards” put in place to protect members of our community.

Put simply, unlike his mates, who have rural getaway properties running livestock for a hobby and have decided they don’t like the sight of wind turbines, I am basing the call for buffer zones in-line with those in Europe, which take into account the numerous health studies associated with wind turbines which show no effects.

It was over 10 years ago that these false beliefs about wind turbines first surfaced. At that time, interested in understanding the situation more I camped under a turbine on a lovely hillside not far from swimming and kayaking at Wilson’s Promontory for two weeks – I have to say that I never had a better night sleep in my life, the swoosh was in fact soothing, but only when I could hear it above the noise of the wind, which shook my tent wildly some evenings.

Newman is also indirectly suggesting that I am calling in an IOU from Victorian Labor, and I want to clarify that such an arrangement does not exist. It would be great if such an arrangement existed because the Victorian Labor party would then be guaranteed to quickly cease Newman’s drive to spread non-factual claims and false theories about renewable energy, and the opportunities and benefits of employment, cleaner air, downstream and upstream research and innovation opportunities and much more.

Furthermore, it is strongly implied that I’m a socialist, through listing my name in his article 'Busting socialists myths'.

But could it, in fact, be that Maurice Newman is the one closer to socialist thinking:

1) Newman’s support is for state-owned, or at least recently state-owned, polluting power generators and network owners over entrepreneurial businesses and individuals who are taking a more libertarian approach in providing their own power needs (responding to price signals that show solar to be a cheaper option than power from a regulated monopoly infrastructure provider).  

Newman’s socialist state protectionism comes at an additional cost and that is that the old, outdated, inefficient assets that he is so desperate to protect in his ideological jihad against renewables and climate action comes at a cost of health and high technology jobs in research, education, design and manufacturing.

He deliberately ignored my call for emissions intensity targets on coal-fired power plants, which would protect communities from the worst carbon emitting facilities that are also the worst for local pollution: read cadmium, arsenic, thorium, radon, mercury, PM5, PM10, etc.

2) Newman’s attack on bank and private capital that has been securely invested in Australian-based infrastructure assets could be setting a precedent for a loss of confidence and trust to invest in new projects beyond the energy sector. Will Newman’s hatred of renewable energy – wind power in particular – translate into uncertainty for investors in a new port facility, railway for freight or high speed rail line? If Newman gets his way then it will be open slather, with the change of government every three years. The Australian Labor Party will institute its priorities and the Liberals will just reverse them. The Liberals will try to get one of its long-term infrastructure priorities happening and Labor will return the favour by knocking that down. This vicious cycle is being encouraged by Newman, a man who is being positioned  as a “friend of business”.   

Maurice Newman, I put forward this challenge to you, reassess your motives, your understanding of the renewables sector and its benefits and your behaviour.

Stop calling other people socialists and instead dump your socialist protectionist ideology, disconnect the wrecking ball and become a nation builder. Get behind renewable energy, high-speed trains, new rail freight connections and urban public transport (trains and trams). We can create an exciting future for businesses to invest and rejuvenate our infrastructure while allowing individuals to take greater control over their energy supply.   

Matthew Wright is executive director of Zero Emissions Australia, technical director at Efficiency Matrix and resident columnist at Climate Spectator.