Headless Chicken Chalmers crashes into everything


Treasurer Jim “Chicken” Chalmers is a major liability for the government.

We already know he is the worst modern treasurer for living standards in record time (and that’s saying something).

Now, he is swooping into energy transformation:


There’s a general recognition Australia is not on track to achieve the government’s commitment to have renewables deliver 82 per cent of electricity by 2030.

Mr Chalmers was blunt in a major speech on Thursday, declaring: “We know further action is required to meet our targets … It’s important for me to acknowledge that without more decisive action across all levels of government, working with investors, industry and communities, the energy transition could fall short of what the country needs.”

In his address, titled “Energy, the Economy and This Defining Decade”, to the 2023 Economic and Social Outlook Conference, Mr Chalmers said he will put work on the energy transition at the centre of the agenda of the reformed Productivity Commission (PC), which comes under his portfolio.

He is providing the commission with a “Statement of Expectations” – the first in its quarter-century history. This will be agreed to with the PC’s new head, Danielle Wood, and will be released by the time she starts on November 13.

The statement “will make clear that guiding our country towards a successful net-zero transformation will be one of the key focus areas for a revamped and renewed Productivity Commission”, which Mr Chalmers wants to have a more influential role.

He said “more practical and relevant advice” would complement advice from bodies such as the Climate Change Authority, “to ensure we realise the economic potential presented by the net-zero transition”.

This intervention carries all the hallmarks of previous Chicken Chalmers debacles – ivory tower thinking, ham-fisted execution, virtue-signalling politics ahead of utilitarian outcomes.

This is precisely the same method that botched the government’s response to the Ukraine energy shock, resulted in an immigration overshoot, delivered Alboflation, nobbled the RBA, and killed Voice.

It will add nothing but paperwork, cluttered thinking, misdirection, confusion and empty spaces where energy resources might have been.


The one thing that Chicken Chalmers could do to impact the energy transition favourably is to reserve cheap Australian gas resources for firming power, but he is too cowardly.

Even without that, he could push for a nation-building plan to mobilise vast energy storage resources. This is where the real problem is for the transition. Renewables will come, whatever happens now.

But that’s a schmozzle as well:


Treasurer Jim Chalmers not only conceded this week that the government’s climate goals are in trouble – particularly Chris Bowen’s target of 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030 – but that Labor’s much-anticipated response to a global wave of neo-green industry policy is being pushed back until the May budget.

That setback dashed expectations fuelled by the government six months ago for a big-bang announcement before year-end.

…A more obvious problem is that Albanese’s promise to Joe Biden in May to develop an Australian Inflation Reduction Act-style package of industry policy and support has too many chefs and not enough cooks.

No fewer than six ministers – Chalmers, Bowen, Ed Husic, Madeleine King, Tanya Plibersek and Don Farrell – are involved in developing the strategy, which has the soaring ambition of revitalising Australian manufacturing and turning the country into a “green energy exporting superpower”.

But wait, there’s more crashing into stuff. Even as he moves to confuse and confound the energy transformation, Chicken Chamlers is trying to unscramble his RBA egg:

Governor Michele Bullock will oversee the Reserve Bank’s new governance board, as well as the monetary policy board, as the Albanese government prepares to legislate reforms of the central bank’s operations.


Treasurer Jim Chalmers announced on Sunday Ms Bullock would lead the governance board for at least the first five years, despite an “on balance” recommendation for the governor to chair only the monetary policy board and an external independent chair be appointed for governance.

Dr Chalmers said he was close to naming a new deputy governor for the central bank, with a recruitment process considering internal and external candidates. An overseas appointment is a strong possibility.

Facing allegations he had sought to pressure Ms Bullock into keeping interest rates on hold at Tuesday’s meeting – saying last week surging petrol prices and rents that drove an acceleration in inflation did not amount to a “material change” in the outlook – Dr Chalmers said it was ridiculous to suggest the treasurer would not comment on Treasury forecasts.

So, to repair RBA credibility wrecked by himself, Chicken Chalmers is now making policy on the run in contravention of his review, literally on the eve of the RBA meeting. You go, Chook!

And there’s more:

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has conceded that the government needs to cut back on infrastructure spending to take some heat out of the economy and bring inflation under control, ahead of a widely anticipated interest rate increase by the Reserve Bank on Tuesday.

Yes, that’s right, the infrastructure spending defended so fiercely by Captain Bullock of the RBA in parliament last week is now wrong and inflationary, begging a series of questions:

  • Why wasn’t it factored into the budget?
  • How is the supply side going to cope with out-of-control immigration without a lot more infrastructure, which is also inflationary?
  • How is blaming the states and Morrison going to help anything?
  • How is Captain Bullock’s credibility supposed to be saved by contradicting her one weekend after she put her neck on the Chalmer’s chopping block?

Chicken Chamlers is a headless chook crashing into Australian macro policy. The truncated corpse has no vision or values, policy goals or process.

Where it is going next is anybody’s guess.

About the author
David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal. He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.