Meet the Small Parties: People Power Victoria – No Smart Meters

I have a confession to make.  I have been looking forward to writing about People Power – No Smart Meters for days.  Days, I tell you.  Not only do they have a name that screams ‘Ludicrous single issue party ahoy!’, but my preliminary glance at their website a couple of weeks back led me to the delicious realisation that they have drunk from the Well of Crazy, and lo, it has become a fountain, raining blessings over the entire Legislative Council Ballot Paper.  Which might explain why so many parties have given them such high preferences.

But, OK, it was only a quick glance, and I don’t want to pre-judge.  Maybe it will turn out that they really do have some sensible policies in the mix.  Maybe there really is something to fear from Smart Meters.  Maybe all my evil, sarcastic hopes are merely a reflection of my bitter, twisted soul.

We shall see.

Let’s start by looking at their Mission:

Our mission is to reclaim our state and set it on a new and better path.

This new political party for Victoria is centred on respect for human rights, the opposition to the mandated roll-out of wireless smart meters for electricity, gas and water, and on the commitment to re-establish a healthy environment for all.

The People Power Victoria – No Smart Meters party (PPV) also stands for fair and affordable delivery of essential services to all Victorians, safe homes and workplaces, consumer protection and a safer, more ethical use of technology.

The privatization and deregulation of the State electricity, gas and water supply has resulted in unaffordable rising costs for customers.

It is time to raise the call for the return of these essential services to public ownership.

You know, if you just took out that sentence about smart meters, that would sound fantastic.  Well, actually, I probably would still be looking a little dubious about ‘safer, more ethical use of technology’ because this sounds a little bit like ‘we don’t trust science’, but never mind that.  Aside from their fixation on Smart Meters, it’s a nice, somewhat left-wing, socially-oriented set of priorities.

Continuing on with the good, I’d also like to note that this is a nice, easy-to-navigate, well-organised website.  I’m learning to appreciate such things.

Yes, yes, I hear you say, but what’s with the Smart Meters?

A good question. Because I’m a tease, I’m not going to answer that quite yet.  Instead, I’m going to look at their Group Voting Tickets, which are an absolute mess.

As far as I can tell, People Power like tiny, libertarian and right wing Christian parties, hate Palmer united, and think that Labor, Liberal and the Greens are basically the same.  They preference in a different order in every electorate, but the Shooters and Fishers, the Animal Justice Party (!), the DLP, the LDP, the Australian Christians, Family First and Rise Up Australia all do very well.  The Cyclists and Country Party also do OK.  Voice for the West is preferenced in the Western Metropolitan Region.  I have to say, this is the only party I’ve seen putting Rise Up Australia as their first preference (in South Eastern Metropolitan, just ahead of the LDP).

They then basically work their way down all the teeny tiny parties in somewhat random order, mix up Labor and Liberal and the Greens (often alternating Labor-Liberal-Green down the ticket, or going two by two), and then put Palmer United at the very bottom.  Sometimes the Sex Party and the Voluntary Euthanasia Party also get a little bit of hate, too.

What’s interesting about this is that People Power have very much adopted the language of the left of politics, but they are definitely preferencing to the right.

OK, so seriously, what is it with the Smart Meters, then?

Smart meters are a device that:

  • Allows power companies to sack thousands of meter readers, increase charges and remotely control electricity supply for their financial advantage.

This is certainly a valid point, particularly the part about jobs.  I’m a little skeptical about the whole remote-control of electricity bit, but then, I’m not the sort of person who feels that Smart Meters have been forced on me by a Big-Brother-style government, which definitely seems to be the feeling emanating from a lot of these policies.

  • Give no real benefits for customers who have paid power companies over $2 billion towards the cost of meter installations.
  • Allows power companies to force peak tariffs charges onto customers, increasing the costs to people who can least afford it.

From what I’ve been able to find out, this is a bit of a swings and roundabouts thing.  Some people have been able to use their smart meters to work out that particular appliances are inefficient.  Others may well be being charged more.  It sounds like bills are going to be more accurate, rather than being estimates.

  • Allows power companies to remotely control home appliances.

According to the Victorian Government’s information page about smart meters, this is technically true. Power companies can now certainly turn power on and off remotely, and we are told that we will be able to switch on smart appliances remotely.  But it’s not going to be a Sorceror’s Apprentice situation, with your vaccuum cleaner and toaster switching themselves on while you are out and going on a rampage.

  • Cause thousands of people who are sensitive to microwave radiation to suffer health ailments including headaches, insomnia, heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, fatigue and other health issues.

The government did, in fact, commission a study testing levels of electromagnetic exposures from Smart Meters, and they were found to be well within safe ranges, with lower emissions than microwave ovens, mobile phones and baby monitors, if one was standing thirty centimetres away from them.  Which one isn’t, very often. Does this mean that some, very sensitive people, might still be affected?  Possibly.  But since we’re talking a level of exposure that is less than one percent of allowable standards for exposure, and even that requires you to be kind of standing there looking right at the meter, I’m doubtful.

There is also a longer FAQ section that goes into more detail and asks some wonderfully loaded questions such as “Authorities say the Smart Meters do not cause fires.  Do they?” (and when did you stop beating your wife?), and there is a Specific Smart Meter Policy, which claims that Smart Meters invade privacy (because they act as a surveillance device on your home), that they are a security risk (because they are vulnerable to hackers and can allow remote disconnection of the whole state), that they may cause fires, and that they are a danger to health (because they emit pulsed  radio frequencies that have been classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a Group 2B carcinogen, meaning they can possibly cause cancer).

Now, that last bit interested me in particular, because People Power actually provided a link to WHO’s report on the matter.  The report does indeed say that these fields are a Group 2B carcinogen, putting it in the same category as other such terrifying substances as coffee, pickled vegetables (Chinese style), gasoline fumes, hormonal contraceptive and hormone replacement therapy, barley grains and argan oil.

Who will join me in founding a Humanists Against Pickled Vegetables Party?  We’re too late to contest this election, but there are more elections to come!

I think, in fact, what this entire policy platform comes down to is this: do you trust the Government – which, admittedly, has an interest in selling us on Smart Meters, but which also does seem to be basing its data on actual scientific evidence – or do you trust a political party which is basing its data on anecdotal evidence, and which definitely uses emotive and slanted arguments to make its point?  Now, I’m not saying that anecdotes may not indicate a situation that requires further investigation, but that investigation simply does not appear to be happening here.

On to their other policies, and here I have to give People Power credit for consistency if nothing else, because they are also against Wi-Fi and mobile devices in schools, because of the class 2B cancer risk.  Wi-Fi and mobile phones use the same sort of radiation as Smart Meters, so points for paying attention.  Of course, there have been quite a few safety studies into mobile phone use, which indicate that they are highly unlikely to damage health in the short or the long term, but the World Health Organisation is cautious so, no, they haven’t ruled out the possibility that mobile phones might possible cause health problems.

Of course, then we head into woo-woo territory, because we are then told that

Short term effects from Wi-Fi include behavioural problems and learning difficulties amongst other issues, which make Wi0Fi in schools an impediment to adequate educational achievement in our schools.  Long term effects include an increased risk of cancer and infertility.

No reference is provided for this, but I’ll note that iPads now include a lot of apps for special education that are widely in use in Victorian special schools.  I’d also note that mobile phones, computers, and other technology are now an important part of our world, and cutting children off from learning about them is probably not going to help with their education, either.

One of People Power’s biggest beefs with Smart Meters, apart from the alleged health effects, is the fact that they feel that these have been forced on them by the government, and People Power is big into individual choice.  So they are concerned about democratic rights and in particular, the rights of consumers to protection.  They feel that consumers are disadvantaged in building legislation (which makes an interesting contrast to Palmer United’s view on the subject), they want more consumer consultation and a firm commitment to regulation.  And they echo the call of all small parties for integrity in government:

New people and a new culture is required for governance agencies, with the administration processes open and transparent.
The highest standards of behavior must be prescribed for all public officials and accountability enforced through a code of conduct, with severe sanctions imposed for misconduct.
People Power also want an independent Occupational Health and Safety Ombudsman, which is actually a pretty good idea.   They want social health and impact studies prior to implementation of any major state government programs and projects, which is also an idea with merit.  So they are capable of coming up with good policies when they are not obsessing about cancer-causing Wi-Fi (I’m doomed).  Finally, People Power is also against coal seam gas mining.  I agree with them on this, but I also want to draw attention to their phrasing:
Fracking has not been proven safe to either the environment or to those living in it.
Here’s the thing.  People Power seem to very, very mistrustful of government, which they think is trying to take away their freedoms. And they also seem to be deeply mistrustful of technology.  There also seems to be a failure here to understand how science works, both in terms of not distinguishing between anecdotal evidence and scientific studies, and in terms of not recognising what ‘risk’ means in the context of scientific studies.  They want not just a minimal level of risk, but proof of safety, and this is not really something that one can guarantee.

Look, you don’t have to trust the Government to look after you, and you certainly don’t have to trust electricity companies to have your best interests at heart.  But I’m fairly sure that the American Cancer Society, which supports medical research into the prevention and treatment of cancer, as well as providing support to patients and families, does not have a vested interest in getting people to install potentially carcinogenic devices into their electricity supply.

Here’s what they have to say about Smart Meters:

RF radiation is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” This is based on the finding of a possible link in at least one study between cell phone use and a specific type of brain tumor. Because RF radiation is a possible carcinogen, and smart meters give off RF radiation, it is possible that smart meters could increase cancer risk. Still, it isn’t clear what risk, if any there might be from living in a home with a smart meter.

It would be nearly impossible to conduct a study to prove or disprove a link between living in a house with smart meters and cancer because people have so many sources of exposure to RF and the level of exposure from this source is so small. Because, the amount of RF radiation you could be exposed to from a smart meter is much less than what you could be exposed to from a cell phone, it is very unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases risk of cancer. The World Health Organization has promised to conduct a formal assessment of the risks from RF exposure but this report is not yet available.

Your Smart Meter is not going to give you cancer, OK?  And seriously, if the Government thought it would, they’d be taking it away pretty fast.  Governments like having a healthy population, because a healthy population is a population that is working, and a working population is a population that they can tax.  They are not out to get you.

I don’t think the members of People Power Victoria are bad people.  I do think they are sincere.  They are, however, wrong. Unfortunately, these things are not mutually exclusive.

(And this post was much less entertaining to write than I anticipated, actually.  It’s no fun watching people being misled into being afraid.)

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5 thoughts on “Meet the Small Parties: People Power Victoria – No Smart Meters

  1. You may not have found this post as entertaining to write as you anticipated, but I sure found it an entertaining read. I got stuck into these guys a bit in my review, even writing a bit longer than I normally aim for, but you absolutely nailed them with some good research.

    I’m genuinely concerned by the great preferences that No Smart Meters have negotiated in Northern Metropolitan – not to mention the lack of media attention. I’m quite busy at present so maybe I haven’t been keeping tabs on things very well, but it surprises me this party is getting so little comment. It’s all too easy for them to score the fifth seat. I’ve never seen a preference flow so good.

    I preference quite deep below the line even when not required to distribute preferences to every candidate, but it’s safe to say this time around I’d rather my vote become exhausted than give even a fraction of support to No Smart Meters in their quest for the fifth seat (or Family First, for that matter).

  2. Loved the hilarity that Labor preferences People Power first above all other parties in the S.E. Metropolitan Region. Um….did Labor did read the WHOLE name of this party? Labor introduced smart meters and forced it on the community. Oh the hilarity when I saw the preference flows!

    • I have a feeling that the two major parties really don’t much care about the policies of the minor parties they preference so long as they aren’t the Greens, sigh. But yes, the name of this party should have been a giveaway…

    • Thanks, Jo! I felt it was really necessary with this one, since they had done the whole but with saying it causes cancer and linking to an official report… Being a suspicious soul, I wanted to see if the report said what they claimed it did!

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