The Liberals are revolting!

The revolt by some Liberal backbenchers against the latest anti-refugee laws has led to the legislation being shelved until the parliament resumes in August. At the same time, legislation making changes to fuel tax procedures is up for debate in the Senate today, with a lot of concern that it will harm the biodiesel and ethanol industry. It is possible that Barnaby Joyce and maybe one or two others may support amendments to this.

(In addition to watching proceedings live online by clicking here, you can also follow the progress of business through the day by clicking on this link, which will take you to the “Dynamic Red” which continually updates what business has transpired through the day.)

In regard to the anti-refugee legislation, the Prime Minister has said “major changes” have been offered to those Liberals concerned about the legislation, while simultaneously insisting that “the proposed changes do not alter the thrust of the bill or the fundamental principles (sic) of the Government’s offshore processing system.” The apparent contradiction between these two statements did not seem to be commented on in the media.

Not only does John Howard have some backbenchers revolting against the new anti-refugee law, he has other backbenchers revolting against those who are revolting!

The apparent Cabinet decision to reject any further changes to the law regarding stem cells, despite the recommendations of the government initiated Lockhart Review, is also causing a lot of unrest amongst some Liberal backbenchers. There is certainly a strong lobby amongst some conservative MPs to prevent any further changes to the laws adopted by Parliament in a conscience vote in 2002.

The conservative’s case is being strengthened by a lack of awareness about the terminology and details involved. A practice of creating embryonic stem cells through transferring a cell nucleus into a human egg is unhelpfully referred to by the shorthand label of ‘therapeutic cloning’. This understandably leads many people to confuse it with human cloning, which is already banned and no one is proposing to un-ban.

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7 Comments

  1. Andrew, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the whole ethanol thing. So far as I understand (which is not particularly far…), without the massive subsidies our government hands out to the sugar industry, ethanol would be dead in the water anyway, and if you factor in the amount of money that spent subsidising it, it would be a heinously expensive form of biofuel, nor a particularly postive environmental one (cane farming not being the most environmentally friendly, or water-conserving practices).

  2. patrickg

    Not all biofuels are fabulous. Clearing of forests to grow palm oil for biofuel is causing a big environmental problem in parts of South-East Asia.

    A lot of ethanol in Australia is made from wheat rather than sugar. Although any crop has its environmental impact, renewable fuel is usually lower impact than fossil fuel, both in the initial impact and aspects like greenhouse emissions.

    I don’t believe ethanol per se is heavily subsidised compared to oil, although certainly there has been a lot putting into ‘rescuing’ the sugar industry (over and over again it would seem). If more value adding or diversification of cane product could happen, it would increase the chances of cane being viable. I guess you’d have to look at what the alternatives are or what might replace it if it wasn’t there.

    I have read a lot of contradictory things about the inherent economic viability of ethanol, so it’s hard to have a definitive view. However, BP has been expanding its production capacity, which I presume they wouldn’t do if they didn’t think it was economically viable.

  3. Thanks for replying so speedily, Andrew. Perhaps it’s a matter of time and scale of production to viable ethanol, rather than a matter of inherentness.

    I have a quite an interest in fuel cells, but that’s something which will take decades, rather than years. A diversification of fuel sources in general would be a great thing, I think.

    PS I agree, the liberals are revolting.

  4. On biofuels, no one in Australia has thought of converting surplus wine grapes into ethanol. I have done some research on this. Apparently the French are using ethanol production to ease their oversupply of grapes. The problem with making ethanol from grapes is that it might not be economic as the ethanol yield can be quite low.

    The best crops to make ethanol from is silverbeet or sugar cane. The US is building many new ethanol production plants every month. Australia only has a handful of ethanol plants. Development is slow because the federal government has decided to break a deal with the Democrats as part of the GST deal not to put an excise on biofuels.

    Over the past year or two we have seen the price of sugar as a commodity trading at some of the highest levels we have seen in a while. This is due to it being traded as an energy commodity rather than an agricultural commodity. I guess this could be a drawback.

  5. The US is building ethanol plants because it was mandated 10%. However the price of ethanol fuels has now reached the price of Crude Oil – it is no longer any cheaper to buy ethanol than oil because of a (temporary) supply shortage caused by mandatory levels being required in fuel.

  6. Andrew Bartlett, patrickg, Max Baumann, alphacoward:

    Ethanol and other byproducts from Australian sugarcane are amazing for their relative absence.

    It was the crazy overdependence on crystal sucrose sugar alone (and on some raw “waste” C-grade molasses) that has led to almost every financial problem in the Australian sugar industry. Apart from excess boiler-house electricity put into the grid, the extraction of a small quantity of high-grade wax at only one sugar-mill and medium-sized ethanol distilleries next to only two sugar-mills and a small building-insulation material plant using bagasse, there have been NO other byproduct industries associated with sugar-mills. The Australian sugar industry doesn’t want them; they’re too much trouble; they’re too different; they’re (wait for it…)”uneconomic”. The last excuse is a real bobby-dazzler for two reasons – 1. If you don’t develop a market how on earth are you going to sell your products in that market? 2. If anyone finds out where, after installing new plant, you can get a full return on investment in under three years, let me know and I’ll make a fortune. Meanwhile, the raw material for several products in widespread demand still goes into the boiler-house fires or still gets shipped out without any value-adding.

    Then, whenever there is a crisis in the sugar industry, the taxpayers are the ones who have to fork out. This is only rewarding laziness, entrepreneurial cowardice and the irrational resistance to necessary change. An ethanol industry using, among other raw materials, sugar cane might drag the Australian sugar industry out of the 19th Century and into the 20th (they’re not ready for the 21st just yet). Yep, this surely is The Clever Country ….. isn’t it?

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