Tuesday, July 31, 2018   

NICK CATER                    

GetUp! receives kickbacks for its campaigning, but who
are its paymasters? A little honesty would not go amiss.

Environmentalism has never been a beauty contest. Who can forget those unkempt figures in the 1980s prostrating themselves before bulldozers to save a reptile of equally ghastly appearance?

The ugliness of today’s campaigners, however, is more than skin-deep. In their high-minded defence of clean energy, they are not afraid to get down and dirty.

Take the $2.4 million in kickbacks GetUp! cheerfully admits receiving from a subsidiary of Meridian, New Zealand’s largest energy producer, majority owned by the New Zealand government. Could that financial inducement be driving GetUp!’s rabid campaign against Josh Frydenberg’s energy plan, which will put an end to the subsidies Meridian has been milking for years?

Meridian owns two wind farms, at Mount Millar in South Australia and Mount Mercer in Victoria. They receive subsidies in the form of large-scale generation certificates, something akin to a Woolworths rewards card except that they can be sold for serious money. It sells LGCs when the price is high to coal generators, jacking up their costs and so hastening their demise. And your granny gets to pay for it through her electricity bill.

Meridian, this paragon of green corporate virtue, trousered $65 million from selling LGCs in the past two financial years which, after deducting expenses, netted it $49m in straight profit, a windfall for New Zealand taxpayers who own 51 per cent of the company.

The smug people from GetUp!, who say they support economic fairness, seem to think this socially unjust arrangement is fair and are campaigning to keep the scam going. GetUp! is fighting a rearguard action to defend the renewable energy targets that Fryd­enberg pledges to abolish when the present round ends in 2020.

Slick TV ads, funded by GetUp! and Greenpeace, have been screening in Labor states and territories in the hope of persuading them to block Frydenberg’s proposal and his national energy guarantee, which will low­er the profits of speculators who trade LGCs and force the likes of

Meridian to provide power 24 hours a day, not just when it feels like it.

If Labor gets in, it will be game over for common sense. Bill Shorten has pledged a target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2050, which would turbocharge the market in certificates to the benefit of Kiwi carpetbaggers and others who make a mint out of these pernicious financial instruments.

GetUp!, meanwhile, is urging its supporters to stop buying electricity from the “Dirty Three” — AGL, EnergyAustralia and Origin — and take their business to Powershop, “the only energy company actively campaigning to save the RET”, and by extension the subsidies. Powershop is an offshoot of Meridian. It boasts of being Australia’s only carbon-neutral energy provider, a claim invalidated by the small print that notes Powershop “cannot guarantee that the electricity every customer receives is renewably sourced”.

The cracks in its green facade are papered over with UN certificates pegged to “renewable energy projects in developing countries”. It may not be the most trustworthy eco currency but it allows Powershop’s customers to buy the same electrons from the grid sold by their old retailer without having to ask where they came from.

“Switch in 5 minutes!” GetUp! urges. “Feel good that you’ve changed your energy provider to one that cares about the environment!” Feel good too, one presumes, about Powershop’s back­hander to GetUp! for every cus­tomer who comes across. It’s about $120 a customer, if GetUp!’s figures can be trusted. Should this glaring conflict of interest be declared by GetUp! in its TV campaign in favour of renewable energy subsidies? Why, of course.

A little honesty from these hired advocates wouldn’t go amiss, as it wouldn’t from Greenpeace, which leases its brand to Powerhouse for an undisclosed sum, and shares the cost of a pro-subsidy TV campaign. It’s a marriage of convenience; Greenpeace has tax-deductible charity status while GetUp! does not. Should any reader of The Australian be inclined to contribute, here’s a little tax advice: give your donation to Greenpeace and get half of it back.

GetUp!’s foray into the cash-for-ethics market doesn’t stop with demonising the Dirty Three. GetUp!’s Brighter Banks campaign invites us to register our disdain for the big four and the $70 billion they supposedly have lent to “climate-destroying fossil fuel projects”. One click on GetUp!’s website links supporters to Bank Australia, which claims to “share their values” and will do so by flicking $50 to GetUp! if they move their account across.

Bank Australia has much to lose if Frydenberg’s proposal gets through, having entered into a 10-year agreement to buy power and LGCs from Pacific Hydro’s Crowlands wind farm. Futures contracts for LGCs for 2020 and beyond were selling for less than $25 a megawatt hour last week, a fraction of the price they commanded when the RET was in full swing. If GetUp! succeeds in retaining the RET with its campaign of disinformation and backing for Labor, Bank Australia, along with Meridian, will be in clover.

Self-interest and crude hyperbole are the ties that bind the coalition of rent-seekers, working to destabilise the government’s energy market reforms.

Former national director of GetUp! Simon Sheikh now runs Future Super with $240m under management, invested in environmentally friendly causes “to produce a world worth retiring in”. No prizes for guessing where they stand on the RET.

GetUp!’s pro-Labor presence at last weekend’s by-elections, when it paid people to don cheap orange T-shirts, stand outside polling booths and take potshots against the government, removes any doubt that GetUp! qualifies as an associated entity under the Australian Electoral Commission rules. It might not stop GetUp!’s insidious campaigns but it would force it to reveal the identity of its paymasters. The activists who complain so long and hard about the vested interests of others seem strangely reluctant to have the spotlight cast on themselves.


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2019 by Menzies Research Centre