Why back the car industry, when you could back the future
17 January 2012
“Yes, you’re right”, said Jesse the Dingo. “The silly season has been a real circuit-breaker”.
We were ambling around the park and I hadn’t said a thing. Unnerving. Dingoes always seem to know what a possum is thinking. I was thankful I was a very big brushtail and he was a very civilised dingo.
Cool and wet, miserable and grey, Christmas had been like a huge natural disaster – a flood or a bushfire, say – in the aftermath of which old obsessions assumed their rightful proportion in the great scheme of things and were all-but forgotten.
“Do you remember Tony Abbott?” I asked. Jesse looked blank and lifted his leg on a tree trunk.
“Vaguely recognise the name. Wasn’t he the ugly loudmouthed bloke with big ears who was always doing advertisements for industrial safety gear on TV?”
That pretty well summed it up. For that matter, I thought, post-christmas, people look blank when you mention what’s-her-name, the prime minister person.
And I guess it doesn’t help Abbott that the first issue up for this year is propping up the car industry. It’s one that’s really going to divide the Coalition. I mean, on the face of it political conservatives are supposed to stand for free enterprise untrammelled by government intervention or support. That’s supposed to be an article of faith for market fundamentalists. But here’s the Coalition’s sponsors in big business and they’re demanding support so what’s a pollie to do? And every fibre of Abbott’s reactionary populist soul is telling him that he wants to buy a few blue-collar votes by rescuing manufacturing jobs. And all that is going to come into headlong collision with Jolly Joe Hockey and the market fundamentalists and fiscal rectitudinalists. It’s no wonder Abbott hasn’t launched into the New Year like one of Clover Moore’s fireworks extravaganzas.
“But this is what gets me –”, said Joadja, when Jesse and I arrived back at the Brushtail Café for lunch, “I’ve got no problem with the government backing an industry with assistance, subsidies and so on, but if we’re going to back a manufacturing industry, why the car industry? The bugger is facing a long lingering decline.
“Why don’t we back the solar power industry in a big way, and I’m not just talking about rooftop panels, I’m talking about big installations – hectares of panels that can power whole towns.”
“Yeah, and they could get behind wind power in a big way. So far it’s just been a lot of tokenism. And then silly old Barry O’Farrell caves into a fake grass-roots anti wind-farm movement organised by the coal industry. We do need manufacturing jobs so we should be developing a specialised wind farm industry – building the turbines ourselves.”
“At least they’re subsidising the biofuel industry”, said Old Stan, the retired colonel.
“Ah, but that’s also a dead end” said Old Possum. “It’s just a way of topping up the petroleum fuels inventory with a low-grade fuel made from agricultural ‘waste’ or even from grain. It costs over 40 cents a litre in subsidies and it drives up the cost of food.
“There’s nothing new about ethanol, by the way. In the years leading up to World War II, lots of countries mandated 10 per cent ethanol in petrol. It was a self-sufficiency thing. After the war, everyone abandoned ethanol as soon as they could because it was more expensive and the quality was worse than petrol made from crude oil. The only reason it’s come back now is because our politicians don’t want to admit that peak oil is a reality.”
“But what do you do with those car factories? Make electric cars? So far there’s a real problem with them: the range is hopelessly short.”
“True, but there’s also a strongly rising demand for bicycles and electric bicycles and motorbikes. And small electric delivery vans are a great idea for cities. Volkswagen have just unveiled one that will even follow the driver down the street on command!”
“Nothing new about that, either”, said Old Possum. “You know, in Sydney, it’s only been sixty years since bread and milk were delivered by horse-drawn carts, and the horse plodded down the street, from house to house while the bloke ran around putting the delivery on your front step. Very efficient, actually”.