MISSING from the deluge of more than 300 reports tabled in this last week of parliament before the state election were two key documents the Bracks Government has chosen to keep secret.
Both would shed important new light on big government election initiatives and allow voters to make a clearer assessment of them, but it appears that for political reasons they will be kept under wraps.
The first report concerns the economic impact of the Government’s wind farms policy and calculates the effect on the average power bill.
The Labor Government recently announced rules forcing retailers to buy 10 per cent of their power from renewable sources.
The change will bring many new wind farms to regional Victoria and has created a key point of difference between the two main parties in the lead-up to the November 25 state poll.
The Opposition under Liberal leader Ted Baillieu effectively opposes wind farms, saying they divide communities, and condemns the Bracks Government’s subsidy that the mandated 10 per cent renewable-energy target provides for them.
Community views on wind farms differ widely. Wind farms are welcomed in communities where jobs and money are scarce, while the not-in-my-back-yard attitude is more prevalent in regions where more of the properties are coastal weekenders for the wealthy.
But the one thing almost all voters are interested in is the increase in their power bills that the Government’s renewable-energy target policy will produce.
Wind power is about twice as costly to produce as coal power and the Government acknowledges retailers will pass on the costs to the consumer.
Premier Steve Bracks and his ministers claim the increase will be just $10 on the average annual power bill, but they refuse to release the research that underpins this claim. The Opposition claims the increase will be more like $80 a year, but without seeing the research both figures are effectively just unsupported claims of politicians.
Voters don’t know if the Government’s estimate is part of a range – say, between $10 and $30 a year – and the Opposition has had to produce its figure without the detail required for precise calculation.
It’s believed that the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission and consultants McLennan Magasanik have researched this topic for the Government, but neither’s work has been released and you can bet the Government has plucked its figure from the most favourable of the two assessments.
Without seeing this research, voters cannot assess the credibility of these estimates and will not know if there are otherunforeseen economic consequences of the policy.
The other report is the feasibility study into a landmark $1 billion scheme to pipe Melbourne’s treated sewage to the Latrobe Valley to cool the region’s huge coal-fired power stations.
The venture has the potential to boost Melbourne’s water supply by 20 per cent and cut sewage outfalls at Gunnamatta Beach by 85 per cent. The Australian recently revealed that the feasibility study had been broadly supportive of the proposal, but without seeing the detail voters don’t know if there are any caveats or unforeseen costs, which might reshape their opinion of the venture.
Sitting on information such as this allows the Government to keep the debate within its own parameters.
It also means voters don’t find out the whole truth until the decisions are made.
The oft-heard excuse of maintaining commercial confidences wears thin when, as in the case of the renewable-energy target, the Government is perfectly happy to publicise a favourable element of the report while keeping the bulk of it secret.
The belief seems to be that voters, like mushrooms, function best when they are kept in the dark and fed manure.
By Rick Wallace
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