Is there anything that can stop the Coalition from encouraging conspiracy theories and misinformation?
We get so used to the bonkers shit that goes on in the Australian Senate that it starts to seem unremarkable. Frustrating, exasperating, eye-rolling, but also just the way it is, with its cast of zany characters making illogical, fantastical claims with their publicly funded platforms. So it was with the debate over Labor’s gas price caps in the Senate yesterday, as Opposition senators lined up to take stands against the legislation – legislation that was bold, but not particularly out there by international standards. Chris Bowen and Adam Bandt were going to come to your door “spanners in hand” and take your gas stovetop, said Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie, after referring to the Greens as “socialists”. The Opposition would “not cease and rest until we get justice for the Australian people”, pledged LNP senator Matt Canavan, promising inquiries and falsely claiming that Labor had tried to cancel Senate estimates. It wasn’t until after the debate had ended that it struck me just how deranged all this was. How is it that these senators can continue to make conspiratorial claims from the floor of parliament, just days after a shooting clearly linked to anti-government conspiracies, and just hours after their leaders’ choked up condolence motions in the House of Reps?
The insanity has continued this morning, with the News Corp front pages declaring Labor had enacted a “Soviet” policy, based on a quote from Santos chief Kevin Gallagher. “BACK IN THE USSR”, screamed The Daily Tele; “Blast for PM’s ‘Soviet-style’ plan”, warned The Australian. “Anti-socialist” Canavan jumped on board, unsurprisingly, with an unsubtle meme about “Komrade Albanese”, tweeting that the LNP would “fight against socialism in all its forms” and implying that Labor was implementing communism by stealth. The entire thing is, as Bowen put it today, “laughable”, with the right embarrassing themselves with their “shrill response” to what is a rather mainstream policy. But on the other hand, it’s also not funny at all, with the Murdoch media and the LNP continuing to beat the right-wing anti-facts drum, paying absolutely no heed to the ominous wake-up call of Wieambilla and the dangers of a public square riddled with misinformation.
Scaremongering about the energy minister coming to your house with tools to take away your barbecue isn’t exactly the same as saying the Port Arthur massacre was a “false flag”. Describing a policy less radical than that put in place by UK conservatives is “Soviet-style” is not quite as bad as saying that the government is running “re-education camps”. But the rhetorical nonsense being spouted by Canavan and McKenzie (among others) is on the same spectrum as what the Wieambilla murderer Gareth Train was putting forward, existing in the same anti-government, conspiratorial universe that experts are warning about, signalling to the same groups of paranoid people. Canavan et al know what they are doing here; they, along with the Murdoch media, have been winking at these groups all through the pandemic, saying whatever will get them clicks and follows, even as many warned they were playing with fire. But what is astounding is that they aren’t willing or able to stop, even now, as the nation grapples in horror with where anti-government misinformation can lead.
Are these people stupid? Or do they simply not care? As I wrote on Wednesday, the right is not directly responsible for the wild path the Train family went down. But it’s blindingly obvious to anyone with any sense or care that it’s time for conservative politicians to stop dabbling in this stuff; to stop encouraging the mentally ill to believe that the government is out to get them and wants to control their lives and take their stuff; to stop making up outrageous bullshit as a substitute for real policy arguments. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, a former cop, sounded genuinely emotional as he delivered his condolence motion for the slain police officers in parliament on Thursday, as did David Littleproud, the member for the area affected. But perhaps they would like to do their part to prevent this from happening again, and rein in the misinformation pouring from the party they now lead.
|“This Abbott era decision to classify burning native forest as a renewable source of energy was beyond irresponsible … Now to end the fact that Regional Forestry Agreements are exempted from our national environmental laws.”
Labor’s omnibus gas plan – capping gas prices, imposing a mandatory code of conduct, and authorising $1.5 billion in consumer subsidies – is soon due to pass parliament. The gas industry’s tantrums do not appear to have gotten them anywhere; it’s curious, some have noted, that the resources companies did not directly lobby the crossbench, instead focusing their efforts on government ministers, who shrugged off their concerns. The Coalition had wanted the bill split so that it could vote for the consumer rebates without voting for the gas market interventions that had sent the industry into meltdown. But it did not get its wish, and ultimately decided to vote against the package, railing against renewable energy and spouting gas lobby talking points. It was a pathetic end to the year for the Coalition, a group that has learnt nothing and has no idea how pigheaded it looks.
It didn’t matter which way the Opposition MPs voted on this, of course: once again, their votes meant nada. But it was nevertheless shocking to see them vote against the “price relief” package, knowing that this was the test the government had set for it. Labor ministers taunted the Coalition with this fact all day. “Today the Opposition will vote against lower energy prices,” said Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen. “They will vote against the impact of the price rises being mitigated by this bill … And they will be reminded of it constantly.” Treasurer Jim Chalmers was clearly enjoying himself. “The Australian people expect us to act in their interest here and they are watching,” he said. “And they will know who stood up for them, and who sold them out.”
“I remember hearing Greta Thunberg saying, ‘I want you to act as if our house is on fire’ – and it is.”
Peter Dutton and co have tried to explain that they didn’t mean to vote against the $1.5 billion in household rebates, and that it’s not fair to say that they did, with the Opposition having been offered a take-it-or-leave-it package here (wedge politics remain extremely uncool). But it remains the case that it voted against gas price caps, which most of the country can see are plainly necessary. In doing so, it stood firmly with the gas lobby, a group that it’s quite clear wanted to hang onto their skyrocketing profits at the expense of Australian consumers. As ABC Radio’s Thomas Oriti pointed out, shadow treasurer Angus Taylor was spouting the exact same arguments as the gas industry this morning, what with his hysterical claims that price caps would disincentivise investment and lead to supply shortages (never mind, as has been repeatedly pointed out, that $12 a gigajoule is well above historical standards).
Dutton, too, appeared to have swapped notes with the resources industry, dramatically claiming that this market intervention would create a disincentive to investment in all sectors, just as analyst Saul Kavonic claimed. “Do you actually care about gas prices for households, or are you lobbying for the gas industry?” Oriti asked Taylor pointedly. The question that didn’t really need an answer.
It’s not just that the Coalition voted against the package. It’s the immature way they behaved today, putting forward ludicrous arguments that made little sense, and often containing more than a hint of climate denialism. They ripped into Labor for failing to deliver on its promise to reduce power bills, even as they themselves voted against a plan to reduce power prices. They talked up the fact that they had brought down prices, ignoring, as ever, the fact that they had concealed rises before the election – the fact that we are in this mess because of the market they left us with. Shadow energy minister Ted O’Brien accused Labor of having an “ideological zeal” to destroy the gas industry; Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie claimed Chris Bowen and Adam Bandt would be coming to your house to take away your gas barbecues and cooktops; LNP senator Matt Canavan raved about getting justice for the Australian people. They behaved, in other words, like the Coalition of old, unable to engage constructively in any debate.
There’s no doubt everybody had a touch of December brain today, with the recalled session of parliament having more “last day of school” vibes than usual. But can the Opposition really, truly not see how it looked, voting against a plan to cap gas prices, repeating the talking points of the highly profitable industry holding the nation to ransom, standing with the gas lobby over the Australian taxpayers, and all the while talking absolute rubbish about stovetops and justice? It’s not entirely clear that it can.
Disaster scenarios raise the stakes for Colorado River negotiations
Disaster scenarios raise the stakes for Colorado River negotiationsAt Colorado River conference in Las Vegas, water managers debate how to make historic cuts
LAS VEGAS — The water managers responsible for divvying up the Colorado River’s dwindling supply are painting a bleak portrait of a river in crisis, warning that unprecedented shortages could be coming to farms and cities in the West and that old rules governing how water is shared will have to change. State and federal authorities say that years of overconsumption are colliding with the stark realities of climate change, pushing Colorado River reservoirs to such dangerously low levels that the major dams on the river could soon become obstacles to delivering water to millions in the Southwest.
The federal government has called on the seven Western states that rely on Colorado River water to cut usage by 2 to 4 million acre-feet — up to a third of the river’s annual average flow — to try to avoid such dire outcomes. But the states have so far failed to reach a voluntary agreement on how to make that happen, and the Interior Department may impose unilateral cuts in coming months.
“Without immediate and decisive actions, elevations at Lake Powell and Mead could force the system to stop functioning,” Tommy Beaudreau, the Interior Department’s deputy secretary, told a conference of Colorado River officials here Friday. “That’s an intolerable condition that we won’t allow to happen.”
Many state water officials fear they are already running out of time.
Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which delivers Colorado River water to central Arizona, said that “there’s a real possibility of an effective dead pool” within the next two years. That means water levels could fall so far that the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams — which created the reservoirs at Lake Powell and Lake Mead — would become an obstacle to delivering water to cities and farms in Arizona, California and Mexico.
“We may not be able to get water past either of the two dams in the major reservoirs for certain parts of the year,” Cooke said. “This is on our doorstep.”
The looming crisis has energized this annual gathering of water bureaucrats, the occasional cowboy hat visible among the standing-room-only crowd inside Caesars Palace. It’s the first time the conference has sold out, organizers said, and the specter of mass shortages looms as state water managers, tribes and the federal government meet to hash out how to cut usage on an unprecedented scale.
“I can feel the anxiety and the uncertainty in this room and in the basin,” said Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.
The negotiations will ultimately have to weigh cuts in rapidly growing urban areas against those in farming communities that produce much of the country’s supply of winter vegetables. In the complex world of water rights, farms often have priority over cities because they’ve been using river water longer. Unlike in past negotiations, water managers now expect that cuts will affect even the most senior water users.
The states of the Upper Colorado River Basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — say it is difficult to specify how much they can cut because they are less dependent on allocations from reservoirs and more on variable flows of the river. The lower basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — also consume far more water.
“In the Upper Basin, we can say we’ll take 80 percent, and Mother Nature gives us 30,” said Gene Shawcroft, chair of the Colorado River Authority of Utah. “Those are some of the challenges we’re wrestling with.”
The federal government set an August deadline for the states to reach a voluntary agreement on cuts, but that deadline passed with no deal. Some state officials here blame the Biden administration. When it became clear this summer that the federal government wasn’t ready to impose unilateral cuts, the urgency for a deal evaporated, they said.
Now the Biden administration has launched a new environmental review for distributing Colorado River supplies in low-water scenarios. Water managers hope to have more clarity on what states can offer by the end of January. By summer, the federal government is expected to define its authority to impose unilateral cuts.
“Unfortunately, it’s a year later than we need it,” Cooke said in an interview.
Across the West, drought has already led to a record number of wells running dry in California, forced huge swaths of farmland to lie fallow and required homeowners to limit how much they water their lawns. This week, a major water provider in Southern California declared a regional drought emergency and called on those areas that rely on Colorado River water to reduce their imported supplies.
The problems on the river have been building for years. Over the past two decades, during the most severe drought for the region in centuries, Colorado River basin states have taken more water out of the river than it has produced, draining the reservoirs that act as a buffer during hard times. The average annual flow of the river during that period has been 13.4 million acre-feet — while users are pulling out an average of 15 million acre-feet per year, said James Prairie, research and modeling group chief at the Bureau of Reclamation.
In 1999, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two largest reservoirs in the country, held 47.6 million acre-feet of water. That has fallen to about 13.1 million acre-feet, or 26 percent of their capacity. An acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, or enough to cover an acre of land in a foot of water.
Federal officials have projected that, as soon as July, the level in Lake Powell could fall to the point where the hydroelectric plant inside the Glen Canyon Dam could no longer produce power, and then keep falling so that it would become impossible to deliver the quantities of water that Southwest states rely on. Water managers say such a “dead pool” is also possible on Lake Mead within two years.
“These reservoirs have served us for 23 years, but we’re now pushing them to their limits,” Prairie said.
David Palumbo, the Bureau of Reclamation’s deputy commissioner of operations, stressed that the effects of climate change — a hotter and drier West, where the ground absorbs more runoff from mountain snow before it reaches the reservoirs — means the past is no longer a useful guide to the future of the river. Even high snow years are now seeing low runoff, he said.
“That runoff efficiency is critical to be aware of and, frankly, to be afraid of,” he said.
Water managers say cuts are likely to hit hard in Arizona and California, where major farming regions consume big portions of the available supply. These states, which get water after it passes through Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, also face the greatest risk if the reservoirs fall to dangerous levels, said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“If you can’t get water through Hoover Dam, that’s the water supply for 25 million Americans,” he said.