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April 06th 2018 print

Roger Franklin

What’s Latin for ‘Dill’?

The Fairfax press casts a monocular green eye over the Monash Forum and finds something both sinister and hollow in the ambition to see a stable grid and power prices reduced. Reading the group's manifesto before misrepresenting it was, apparently, just too much trouble

caesarOne of the embraced deficiencies of modern education – one of many – is Latin’s withering in the secondary curriculum. What benefit, ask teachers, in walking young minds through, say, Caesar’s account of his Gallic triumphs? As far as is known, he introduced no known policy of penis-tucking to the Thirteenth Legion, boosted carbon emissions by burning the villages of Nervii, Mandubii, Suebians and others, and never promoted, again so far as if known, a single centurion who worshipped at the temple of Hermaphroditus. What possible benefit could such a man and his dead language bestow on the children of today?

Well there is one: when journalists of the modern kind invoke the classics to make points and add the gloss of apparent scholarship to their writings, a little Latin might see them more alert to the unintentional ironia of airing sentiments and sources which, far from establishing their erudition, actually demonstrate an educational impoverishment. Such is the example set today by The Age’s David Crowe, who quite clearly skipped his delerare, delerandi, delerando.

In a longish piece which seeks to paint the insurgent Monash Group as a paper tiger within the Coalition – no real threat whatsoever to our trigintiphobic Prime Minister — Crowe garnishes his prose with a pointer to Caesar’s insight that, as he puts it, “men willingly believe what they wish.”

Well Caesar was right about that, and Crowe’s ramble, despite his less than felicitous translation,  is the proof. As Caesar actually wrote in recounting how a surfeit of optimism led the Gauls to attack a fortified Roman encampment from which they were beaten back amid horrendous losses, “what men desire they are generally prone to believe“.

The key word, the missing word, is “desire” and it is Crowe’s apparent desire to poo-hoo the discord that has increasingly riven the Coalition as the failure of the Turnbull Experiment becomes evermore apparent.

Crowe asks his readers to accept that the founding document of the pro-coal Monash Forum ginger group is a bill of goods, “a single sheet of A4 paper with some vague principles on energy policy and an impressive picture of one of Australia’s greatest military leaders.” Those who signed up, Crowe would have us believe, were “gulled”, never realising their signatures were underwriting what he dismisses as a hyped but unlikely challenge to the leadership when Monday’s dreaded thirtieth Newspoll lynches Mr Turnbull by his own petard.

“Vague principles”, eh?

Below is the document itself, a small part of which is helpfully embedded in the body of Crowe’s text, it’s appearance quite possibly prompted by what must be Fairfax editors’ low and no doubt accurate estimation of their few remaining readers’ intelligence. Black isn’t black, apparently, if a Fairfax correspondent with a hotline to the PM’s office writes that it as white. The document is reproduced below. See if you can find anything at all “vague” in its explicit call for coal-fired generation to stabilise an electricity grid laid low by green myths, carpetbaggers and an proactive idiocy seldom seen since those deluded Gauls threw themselves against against Caesar’s palisades.

To help any Fairfax readers (or senior journalists) who might find their way to Quadrant Online, the passages Crowe would have you believe are “vague” have been highlighted.

The Monash Forum is named in honour of our greatest general who was also one of our greatest engineers. Sir John Monash is best remembered for his work as the commander of the Australian Army Corps in the Great War and his contribution to “all arms” warfare: coordinating infantry, artillery and armour to break the deadlock created by trenches, barbed wire and machine guns.

But he was also the man who brought reinforced concrete to Australia, the designer of some of Melbourne’s early bridges; and, post war, the man who turned the La Trobe Valley into an electrical powerhouse that made Victoria Australia’s industrial capital.

Our country today is more in need than ever of reliable, affordable electricity. That’s what Monash gave Australia in the 1920s and that’s what the Monash Forum wants to promote almost a century on.

We’re not opposed to renewable energy provided it’s economic without grants or mandatory targets and provided it doesn’t prejudice the reliability of supply. We accept that, in time, coupled with more efficient and larger scale batteries, renewable power is likely to form a bigger proportion of Australia’s power generation. But that time has not yet come, and we’re sceptical of any claims made for the viability of renewables that requires continued mandatory use or taxpayer grants.

As well, we want to see our country’s resources put to good use. For the best part of a century. Victoria’s vast reserves of brown coal have powered much of southern Australia and should continue to do so. The coal that we gladly export and that generates much of the electricity used in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and India should continue to generate power here too. If it’s right for other countries to use our coal, how can it be wrong for us to do so?

Yet the political risk caused by emissions reduction policies, especially the extreme ones implemented or proposed by the Labor Party, means that no private company is likely to build another coal-fired power station here in Australia, even though coal continues to be our lowest cost source of reliable base-load power. This is not so much market failure as government failure.

Although well-regulated markets are normally the best way to optimise the production of goods and services, they sometimes fail: because the task is beyond private investors or because investors have lost confidence in a particular market’s stability. Once, government intervened to give our country the generating capacity that the private sector was reluctant to build; now, government needs to intervene to overcome the political risk that has frightened investors away or driven them into profitable (because subsidised) but unreliable renewables.

We support the Turnbull government’s decision to explore the construction of Snowy 2.0, a pumped hydro scheme to generate 2000 megawatts of power. It makes sense to use cheap off-peak power to pump water uphill that can then flow downhill to generate peak power. Even so, cost estimates are $4billion and climbing and that’s before the extra transmission capacity is built to get this extra power where it’s needed.

If the government can intervene to build Snowy 2.0, why not intervene to build Hazelwood 2.0 on the site of the coal-fired power station in Victoria that’s now being dismantled? All the transmission infrastructure already exists; all the environmental permits have already been obtained; and a new, low emissions coal fired power station can certainly be built for no more than $4billion.

There may be other good sites for new, expanded or refurbished coal-fired power stations. There is a strong case for keeping NSW’s Liddell power station open beyond its current closure date of 2022, as the Turnbull government has recognised. But nothing is going to happen without government intervention, as AGL’s rebuff to the government over Liddell clearly indicates.

On Anzac Day 2018, Sir John Monash will be honoured by the opening of the Monash Centre behind the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France. His part in winning the Great War (and that of the soldiers he commanded) should never be forgotten. Generations of Australians will henceforth be reminded of this on their pilgrimages to the World War One battlefields.

But his peacetime legacy is scarcely less important and even more relevant given the challenges we now face just to keep the lights on. This Forum is dedicated to honouring his work as an engineer and, in particular, to building on his legacy of coal-fired power stations to generate jobs and industries here in Australia. Cheap power was once Australia’s chief comparative advantage in the manufacturing sector and we can’t abandon it if we are to remain a country that makes things. That’s why all Australian governments must overcome their current coal-phobia and ensure that coal-fired power stations continue to be built.

We, the undersigned, agree to be foundation members of the Monash Forum and we invite our Liberal and National parliamentary colleagues to join us: in seeking to give today’s Australians the affordable and reliable power that our parents and grandparents had, largely thanks to Sir John Monash.”

To Crowe, who evidently has as much trouble comprehending clear English as he does with Latin translations, the document is the founding charter for “a Potemkin village of coal power agitators – all facade, no substance. It is hard to be sure which of them looks like the biggest Potemkin village idiot.”

On this point, one aspect of it at any rate, Crowe’s view is to be respected. When it comes to idiocy, he’s an expert.

Roger Franklin is the editor at Quadrant Online