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Dutton’s Upside-down Nuclear Madness v workers' democracy

Ó Don Sutherland


Contending world views

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is the influential local, regional and global champion of democratic public ownership of energy production and supply. Their next meeting is just a few weeks away when their “South” division meets in Bali, Indonesia. We as labour, environmental, feminist and other activists in the global “north” – that is, wealthy capitalist countries based on colonial occupation – can learn much from heeding the deliberations of union reps from the “south”.


It will help us deal with Dutton’s nuclear madness, and Labor’s shortcomings.


The real purpose and “logic” of Dutton’s nuclear power madness is to entrench and expand gas as the main energy supply against the transition to renewable energy supply. He aims to make it impossible to reach the interim targets on the way to 2050s net zero emissions. Thus, he is a true servant of the transnational gas corporations. He maintains the entrenched denialism about climate change within the LNP.


The madness has at least two features. First, global heating worsening in the next ten years or so does not matter; it's a new form of denialism. Second, seeking to destroy a long overdue capitalist shift in investment for a rapid transition to renewables now, especially how Labor’s Future Made in Australia Act (FMAA) tries to invigorate that.


His policy is more about strategy, seeking to destroy the prospects of a fossil-free economy. The policy hook is the increased price of household and small business electricity supply due to the early stages of renewables. There is clear evidence he is wrong about that.


Along the way to his proposed nuclear start in the mid-30s, he will entrench and put worse downward pressure on the standard of living of the majority over the next few years, including by making the poor pay for climate change-induced disasters. (see below) Even without the exponential impact of global heating, we know that LNP governments would impose harsh austerity management of a stagnant economy.

Two truths: investment and ownership

Nevertheless, for the majority, there are 2 truths in Dutton’s upside-down nuclear stupidity.


First, there is a private sector investment problem. There is no point in anyone avoiding this. The opposite is necessary to stop the LNP nuclear “solution”, and to tackle the serious inadequacies of the Labor government’s approach.


Second, the transition out of fossil fuels, including gas, requires public ownership instead of private ownership. That applies to all forms of electricity supply (production and distribution) not just nuclear. The continuing take-up of personal (household) ownership of solar power makes this more logical and possible than ever, despite the emergence of privately-owned solar farms.


Right now, we have 2 forms of ownership of energy supply. Both have their limits. The private mega-corporation ownership and control of fossil fuel power heats and is slowly boiling the atmosphere. Nevertheless, it guarantees a relatively comfortable life for less than 10% of the population although destructive for everyone else.


The other is personal ownership of rooftop solar. Personal or household ownership is a problem for private ownership of energy supply; it is not a problem for public ownership.

The private sector investment problem

That problem applies to nuclear power plant investment, and general private sector investment, including renewables. Dutton says that renewable technologies – in equipment and ongoing supply - are not profitable enough to attract the investment needed. Thus, he justifies extra high to ordinary profits and the decisions of the corporations not to spend more of them on renewables investment, and nuclear.


Instead, the public majority should pay for it through government funding - subsidies and tax breaks.


Left to its own devices capitalist ownership and control have failed miserably. The private sector and its investment dynamic simply cannot be trusted. Here is a snapshot of the Australian figures.

The truth is this problem originated and persisted during LNP governments, and, when they realized it, their solution – quantitative easing Australian-style – did not work.


There must be a massive shift to PUBLIC investment in RENEWABLES to slow and reverse planet boiling that replaces the fossil-fuel-based energy system with new and emerging renewables. That requires, at least, significantly greater taxation on profit-taking and private-sector wealth.


In turn, that requires a more powerful political strategy to protect any government policy that moves in that direction. The gas mega-corporations will lead a capital strike. The policy does require a strategy.


Dutton’s nuclear power plants will be fully funded out of the public purse. That will be a massive hit on the social wage (a la AUKUS!) and, thus, the living standards and the cost of living for the majority, especially those at about or less than the median wage. More so because construction will be delivered and controlled by private construction corporations whose primary interest will NOT be to deliver on time and to budget. That is the international experience. There is nothing in the habits or capacity of Liberal or even ALP majority governments that will prevent that.

“Household investment” … and public ownership

Household investment in and ownership of rooftop solar is the most important development of great significance, even though restricted to those who own a residential dwelling(s), have a dependable wage, and see the cost advantage of making the shift.


Nevertheless, the natural tendency of this form of personal (or household) ownership and its purpose is to bring down the cost of household energy supply. Private sector ownership especially by mega-corporations is the opposite, naturally tending to increase prices. The private gas corporations' profit imperative requires arrangements with governments to dampen and prevent price reductions that flow from personal ownership.


With rapid developments, battery storage of excess household needs is still somewhat a limit to personal ownership of renewables to slow and eventually reverse climate heating. There seem to be 3 options for battery storage of excess to demand solar electricity: personally owned, community/regionally owned, and nationally owned.


However, personal/household ownership dovetails naturally within a framework of public ownership and control of renewable energy supply.

Public ownership

Dutton’s nationalization scheme for nuclear gives public ownership a bad name for 2 reasons.


He will legislate the public nuclear entity as a private sector-controlled public corporation that denies workers’ and community rights in construction, operation and decommissioning.


His “public” ownership will not countenance democratic control under any form of social ownership, by the workers, their communities, through cooperatives, or regional structures.


His privately owned and bureaucratic form of public ownership does not mean public ownership as such should be removed from the green transition agenda. On the contrary, it must stay as a logical dovetail with the new renewable technologies.


The rationale for public ownership starts with a serious understanding of profits, exploitation and investment and, the associated ownership and control of production.

Thus, left activists must learn the economics of production and ownership, not just what could be called the struggle for fairer distribution. The architecture of our problems starts in production.


The essence of production in 21st-century capitalism is the exploitation of nature and the workers by capitalists.  Each employer takes a portion of the value produced by workers they employ as profit; thus, they pay workers less than the value of what the workers have produced. Similarly, in taking from nature employers return zero or less than what they have taken.


Workers should insist on public ownership because through public ownership they own more of the surplus in the value they produce and, establish the base for controlling how that should continue to meet the needs of society, including the regeneration of nature.


Workers’ public ownership must be democratic and is the antithesis of Dutton’s nuclear intentions on behalf of the megacorporations that currently control society.


Private ownership and control must be removed from the system, for productive investment purposes and dynamic social and democratic development.


Within this framework, we can see the inadequacy in the Albanese Labor government’s transition approach through its FMAA framework, even though it is a step in the right direction. As such, continuity of a Labor government shaped by stronger and smarter pressure from the public movements, and in coalition with the Greens is essential.

Technology, history and transitions

The Economist is a staunch capitalist news magazine and has been for over a century. Here it elaborates why solar is the technology at the centre of the future development of capitalist society. Maybe it underestimates tidal and wind.


The formation of capitalism was a revolution: upending mercantile and feudal human relations, a new dominant industrial and financial class socially and in the parliament, and the emergence of a new “working class” that had to learn how to oppose its exploitation. All depended on new fossil fuels – carboning the air - for the new technology of the time, commonly called the “Industrial Revolution”.


There are letters, songs, poems and other writings of those times that worried, at its birth, about its destructiveness.


Capitalism was developed to protect that destruction, wreaked by private ownership and control of the economy and society.


We are reaching the end point of fossil fuel destruction, for worse as in the current trajectory, or maybe for better as in the potentials of solar and other renewables.


Those potentials can only be fully realized if, as a technology revolution, it also becomes an associated revolution in human relations and how humans exist within nature.  Democracy must go way beyond its common parliamentary form. Thus, the alienation of the majority can be reversed.


That is what the transition from fossils to renewables will be all about, socio-political and technological. Inside the trajectory of the transition, there will be convulsions in which the majority will demand what the ruling corporations and their parliamentary servants are not delivering. In those convulsions, renewable progress can accelerate, and new human relations and human-nature symbiosis can leap forward in contest with the dead ends of the past.


The Economist, a champion of capitalism, argues the technical reality of household and community-owned solar is a foundation of these potentials. Who would have thunk it, 40 odd years since it was first promoted?


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