WA Senate re-run may give reprieve to renewables

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Originally posted at RenewEconomy. View the original post here.

The large-scale renewables sector may be the beneficiary of the WA Senate rerun, with a Perth-based electoral analyst and blogger saying a likely even left/right split the most likely outcome – making it more difficult for a Coalition government to scrap or castrate the renewable energy target.

Given the tendency for by-elections to result in a swing against the government, a WA-based electoral expert believes that the WA Senate election will likely result in a three Liberal, two Labor and one Green split. The result would mean that it will be difficult for the Abbott Government to get its legislation through.

The importance of the WA Senate rerun is lost on few within the renewable energy sector or advocates of low-carbon technologies. In a recent visit to WA, economist and principal architect of the former government’s climate mitigation policies Ross Garnaut said that the WA result will “significantly affect” the Abbott Government’s attempts to repeal the carbon tax and dissolve the Climate Change Commission and Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

“The last election result in WA, before it was annulled by the High Court, suggested a four/two split in the WA Senate outcome in favour of the parties that favour a repeal of carbon pricing,” Garnaut told RenewEconomy. “If it was four/two the other way, it would move from the government needing the support of six of the eight independents of the minor parties, to eight of the eight. That would be difficult to achieve. Even seven out of eight is harder than six.”

This latter result is the one being predicted by University of WA doctoral researcher and electoral blogger William Bowe. The electoral analyst believes that while the impact of the micro-parties will be difficult to predict, the likely result will see the Liberal Party pick up three seats, Labor two and the Greens the final place.

“I think that there will be a swing against the government, there usually is in by-elections. That will probably mean that whereas Labor and Greens were fighting it out for a seat at the September 2013 election, that [Greens’ Senator] Scott Ludlam will get elected and there will be two Labor and one Green elected.”

The Australian Solar Council, which has sought to have solar become an election issue, says its Save Solar in WA campaign has been a “fantastic success.” It has launched daily TV advertisements and will step this up in the final week of the campaign.

“If our campaign helps secure the numbers in the Senate, the solar industry will be in a powerful position,” CEO John Grimes said.  ”We will have clearly shown that solar shifts votes – to the voting public as well as in the parliament.”

Bowe, the author the Crikey Poll Bludger blog, added that it is difficult to clearly predict the outcome of the WA Senate result due to a lack of polling information and the complexity of preference deals amongst the micro parties.

“I think there might be a threat to Ludlam in that Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) could gather together all of the preferences of the micro-parties and Ludlam doesn’t get close enough to a quota to make it there on his own right. So I’m not certain that he is going to win, but I think Labor will improve and will have a bit of surplus that will help Ludlam get to the quota.”

Ludlam also looks set to pick up preferences from the Wikileaks party, on the back of his strong stance on Internet freedoms and may benefit from preferences from the Sex Party.

The Palmer United Party (PUP) is also a minor party contender on the WA Senate ballot and the party’s stance of the future of the RET has been the subject of considerable speculation, with candidate Dio Wang coming out it support of the RET, only to have that undermined by party head Clive Palmer only one day later. William Bowe believes that PUP’s chances of picking up a WA Senate seat, despite its big spend on advertising and the publicity it has attracted since the September 2013 poll, are slim.

“If you get three seats on the left, then it becomes difficult to see PUP pinching a third seat off the Liberal Party,” said Bowe. “And when I keep talking about HEMP, what I can conceive happening is that it can gather up all the preferences to get ahead of the PUP and then it ends up getting PUP preferences.”

PUP candidate Wang’s position on the RET appears to have been influenced by the Save Solar campaign, which is being orchestrated by the Australian Solar Council. The solar industry group took out advertising the last weekend’s edition of the West Australian newspaper and has run a television advertising campaign. Bowe says that while the money spent on the campaign has not been wasted, that it will likely change few votes in the Senate race.

“The cut through won’t be great in that I think that the parties of the left already have that vote sewed up. The campaign doesn’t do any harm, it might help keep those issues at the forefront of people’s’ minds. So I guess in terms of renewable energy, what you’re rooting for is that you do get a three right/three left result. On my reckoning that is going to happen with a 3% or 4% swing against the government – which I expect there to be, but it won’t definitely happen.”

The Australian Solar Council will host a WA Senate candidates forum next Monday at the Perth Town Hall.

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