Blast from the past: Dutton’s nuclear plan is Rex Connor’s redux

Peter Dutton’s nuclear power ambitions are reminiscent of the big government, nation building agendas of the Whitlam era, writes Greg Hallam

Jun 21, 2024, updated Jun 21, 2024
Whitlam government energy minister Rex Connor pictured in 1973. Image: National Archives

Whitlam government energy minister Rex Connor pictured in 1973. Image: National Archives

While the focus of the bombshell Dutton LNP Opposition plan to build, own and operate seven nuclear facilities across Australia is on the cost and delivery time, it misses one fact.

This bold plan reprises the attempt way back in 1975 by Whitlam government resources and energy minister, Rex Connor, to build a national energy grid using foreign finance – the Khemlani Affair .

The world has gone full circle in 50 years, for now it’s the turn of the opposite side of politics to propose the nationalisation of energy. Remember that it’s not just building nuclear power stations. Dutton is proposing to use the Commonwealth’s export powers to limit the sale of Australia’s LNG to overseas counter parties. Whitlam and Connor all over again.

It’s certainly a bold political strategy to set the terms of the next federal election. Some commentators are likening it to John Hewson’s ill-fated Fightback policies of the early 90s. But I reject that comparison, as Fightback was the ultimate expression of the free market working in the nation’s interests

Nationalising the key energy sector is the antithesis of the Hewson blueprint. Its about larger, not smaller, government.

It’s also a massive signpost saying that the 40 year market liberalisation epoch in Australia is ending. Smaller government and laissez faire markets kicked to the curb in one big drop punt.

Yes, Turnbull initiated Snowy 2.0, but that’s a long way short of what Dutton is proposing. It’s the repudiation of a generation of liberal economic policy .

I’ve coined the phrase cross-over politics or “ glocalisation” to describe the new order of things . It encapsulates the dynamics of globalisation versus nationalism. It’s also where left and right wing ideology and practice meet up, if not cross over.

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Make no mistake: many centre right or alt right governments and parties are pulling up the draw bridge on globalisation, ushering in a new era of tariffs and hard economic borders.

Donald Trump, if re-elected to the White House, is floating eliminating all taxation in America and financing government through greatly increased tariffs on all goods and services imported into the USA . Cop that, Sonny Jim.

Not to be outdone the Albanese Government has its own version of nationalisation or on-shoring via its Made in Australia initiative , investing directly in new manufacturing capability, quantum computing and critical minerals . It’s game on as Australia and the Western world hurtle down a new economic road.

Break out the popcorn it’s going to be riveting to watch.


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