Michael Pascoe: The IPA is taking Gina Rinehart for a ride down the garden path

Gina Rinehart is taking her advice from the wrong people, writes Michael Pascoe.

Gina Rinehart is taking her advice from the wrong people, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: Getty

It looks like Gina Rinehart is getting very poor value for the millions of dollars she has paid the Institute of Public Affairs. Or maybe not. It would depend on whether she wants the right-wing “think tank” to produce credible research or misleading rubbish.

The Australian public faces no such quandary – we are being ripped off by the tax-deductible status afforded the IPA’s culture warriors and political campaigns.

The IPA, something of a finishing school for Liberal Party candidates, enjoys “deductible gift recipient” status as an “Approved Research Institute” on the grounds that it engages in “scientific research which is, or may prove to be, of value to Australia”.

On the basis of the latest codswallop it calls a “research paper”, the alleged research is neither scientific or of any value.

Worse than that, it is of negative value, spreading misinformation, potentially alarming simple souls, retarding our transition to renewable energy.

Trolling for fun and tax breaks

In my opinion, that must be the point of the exercise.

The institute has been promoting its “Analysis Of Land Use By Variable Renewable Energy Production By 2050” publication on social media. Cue Twitter (oh all right, “X”):

My immediate wonder was whether the IPA had thrown the switch to vaudeville, was just trolling for the hell of it, or was following the advice of Trump strategist Steve Bannon to “flood the zone with s***”.

Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest person, the world’s 52nd richest, according to Forbes, was running the IPA line when she accepted the Australian Financial Review’s Business Person of the Year award a week ago.

“Rinehart said that renewable energy projects could see one-third of Australia’s agricultural land ‘taken over’ and suggested that ‘eyesore’ solar panels should be placed in ‘city parks and rivers’ rather than in rural areas,” the AFR reported.

“Rinehart said that her New Year’s wish was for the media to provide ‘more common sense’ and to ‘not ignore what Blind Freddie can see’.”

(She also “demanded” red tape and taxes, including the “nasty” fuel excise, be cut, but that’s standard palaver for the AFR’s Business Person of the Year.)

It’s tempting to dismiss the claim by Ms Rinehart and her IPA out of hand, but a couple of Australia Institute economists had a quick look at the “research” – it only took a quick look – and found it had all the credibility of, well, the IPA.

Scare tactics

Matt Saunders and Mark Ogge were struck by the heroic assumptions the IPA used to reach its scary headline.

Just for openers, there’s one that wouldn’t pass a Year 7 science exam, let alone being worthy of tax deductibility: The IPA assumes renewables need to replace the total primary energy from fossil fuel use instead of the actual delivered energy – the stuff that counts, what we get to use.

“Most of the energy from fossil fuels is lost as heat,” explain Messrs Saunders and Ogge. “For instance, for coal at least 60 per cent of the primary energy from coal in coal power is lost as heat, at least 40 per cent from gas.

“Renewables do not have to replace the waste heat from fossil fuels, just the delivered energy, which is significantly less than half the primary energy figure which includes waste heat.

“This is a very basic error,” they conclude – with considerable understatement.

But that is just the start of the holes you could drive a supertanker through.

The IPA forecasts growth in energy production in the counterfactual business-as-usual scenario that is indeed amazing: thermal coal is projected to increase from 216 million tonnes today to 665 MT in 2050 – growth of 208 per cent. The IPA projects natural gas production to jump 207 per cent.

Well that might please Ms Rinehart, but it compares with the Federal Government forecasts of four per cent more natural gas production in 2050 and 19 per cent less coal.

Making the huge BAU fossil fuel projects massively increases the amount of energy that would need to be converted to renewables – especially given that primary-v-deliverable energy mistake.

“No one would consider their BAU forecast plausible,” say Saunders and Ogge.

And then there’s the kindergarten-level folly:

“Just because they estimate renewables need 119 million hectares doesn’t mean that is 119 million hectares of prime agricultural land. Nowhere do they ever attempt to work out how much agricultural land will be needed. Importantly, wind farming is dual use land with other farming.”

Sheep love solar

I’d add there are growing examples of agriculture and grazing continuing under solar farms anyway, but, hey, don’t let inconvenient examples get in the way of a climate scepticism spray. Ignore fossil fuel giant BP reckoning solar farms make great grazing.

But wait, there’s more:

“They assume the worst-case scenario for land needed per MWh for solar. Convenient.

“They assume zero offshore wind farming, because suddenly they are hard-core Greenies when it comes to this technology. Convenient.

“I can’t see any productivity assumptions in either technology, or energy efficiency improvements in general. Convenient.”

In stark comparison, the CSIRO’s latest research – including the full costs of more than $30 billion of required new transmission lines – finds that renewable electricity is indeed cheaper than both fossil and nuclear fuels.

The IPA is placing itself in the same space as those spreading lies about wind-farms killing whales without ever worrying about the impact of seismic blasting on them.

For that matter, it is bemusing that the IPA is trying to whip up concern among farmers about wind-farms and solar panels when it didn’t care much about farmers not wanting fracking or coal mines on their land.

But it really doesn’t seem to be about the science, does it? The IPA has long been a supporter of climate denialists and sceptics.

“Of all the serious sceptics in Australia, we have helped and supported just about all of them in their work one way or another,” former executive director John Roskham boasted to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Your taxes at work

In a four-part series in 2019, Crikey argued that one of the IPA’s greatest successes had been to stitch climate denialism into the very fabric of the conservative political identity.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the IPA has been well funded – as a tax deduction – by mining profits.

Which is where the suspicion about motive arises. In my opinion, it’s hard to believe the IPA was seriously interested in working out how much land is likely to be used in our transition to renewable energy, given the pathetic quality of its “research”.

The Bannon call to “flood the zone” makes more sense. A CNN report on a court appearance by the former (and perhaps future) Trump advisor put the tactic in context:

“His quote is like a compass that orients this crazy era of American politics. ‘The Democrats don’t matter,’ Bannon told (author Michael) Lewis. ‘The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.’

“That’s the Bannon business model: Flood the zone. Stink up the joint. As Jonathan Rauch once said, citing Bannon’s infamous quote, ‘This is not about persuasion: This is about disorientation.’”

At the time of writing, there had been 176,000 views of just that one silly IPA tweet. Some people gullible enough to be taken in by it including, going by her AFR awards night speech, Australia’s richest person.

Yet the rubbish circulates and finds supporters among those who want to believe it. It is reliably and uncritically regurgitated by denialists, turning up in comics like the Spectator  and spread in the echo chambers of the deluded or self-interested.

And it is tax deductible, costing the rest of us money.

Merry Christmas.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.