Australian voters can’t trust the Coalition on climate and energy

Comment: The current government has only shown contempt for meaningful climate policy and renewable energy – why would they change now?

Scott Morrison, then treasurer, now prime minister, with a lump of coal in parliament in 2017 (Photo: Commons)


As the federal election draws near – the poll is set for this Saturday but more than two million people have already cast their vote – some polls tell us that climate change and energy rate as the most important issues for many voters.

Given that, it would seem astonishing that anyone remotely concerned about the efforts on climate change and energy policy would even consider voting for the Coalition, given the complete hash they made of the issues over the last six years.

What is most remarkable is that through three different prime ministers – Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison – the policies have barely changed from those set out under Abbott, the man who admitted that he thought climate science is crap.

The Coalition has agreed only to low-ball targets, and still has no plan to get there. It has sown confusion and chaos in the electricity market, and remains absurdly hostile to new technologies and the very idea of making serious efforts to reduce emissions.

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The Coalition is still in love with coal

Any party whose leader (Scott Morrison) and deputy leader (Josh Frydenberg) were proud to wave and cradle a lump of coal in parliament can’t hide the fact that the party is, well, pro-coal, and ignoring climate.

It may have become a bit of an embarrassment in the current election campaign, but many in the junior Coalition partner the Nationals, are openly touting new coal-fired generators in north Queensland.

This is despite the fact that every serious analysis finds that new coal is more expensive than renewables and storage, even without counting emissions costs.

That support has come from the likes of Barnaby Joyce, resources Minister Matt Canavan (whose Twitter account has him wearing a coal company hard hat), and local MPs George Christensen and Michelle Landry, who last week suggested the government should not just underwrite a new coal generator, it should indemnify it from emissions reduction targets.

They have struck down, or tried to strike down, all meaningful climate policies and institutions

Rarely has there been such joy among Coalition ministers as there was just after the repeal of the carbon price had been confirmed in parliament.

And do remember that, at the time, three of these ministers – Greg Hunt, Kelly O’Dwyer and Christopher Pyne, were portrayed as moderates.

Hunt, the then environment minister, has since revealed his true stripes by teaming up with another member of the Coalition, Dutton, in an attempt to lead the Liberals even further to the right.

The carbon price was not the only Coalition victim.

The Climate Change Commission was the first to go – replaced by the privately funded Climate Council – the Climate Change Authority was defenestrated, and attempts were made to kill the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and the renewable energy target.

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They still don’t like renewables, and won’t be photographed with any

One of the most galling claims of the election campaign has been Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison’s repeated assertion that the recent $25 billion of investment in wind and solar was the result of the Coalition’s policies.

Even on Tuesday, Morrison claimed, “Australia is going through a renewable energy investment boom, and that is happening under the policies that we’ve been pursuing, as a government,” Morrison said.

Let’s be clear: the investment in renewables is despite the Coalition policies.

The 20% RET was legislated by Labor, with the support of the Coalition, and then Abbott spent several years trying to have it scrapped, succeeding only in slashing its scope by around a third and engineering a three-year investment drought while doing so.

Energy minister Angus Taylor, a long term anti-wind activist, spent the first few months of his tenure saying there was already too much wind and solar in the system, before then also trying to claim credit for them through a policy that he and the Coalition tried to destroy.

How to explain then that no federal Coalition minister has attended the opening of any of the dozens of new wind and solar farms they are trying to champion now, and we can’t see any evidence they have even visited one?

The only visit we have seen photographed is Barnaby Joyce’s participation in a soil-turning event for the White Rock solar farm in his own electorate.

Which at least is better than the long time anti-wind campaigner Taylor, who did not attend the opening of the Crookwell 2 wind farm earlier this year, even though it is in his electorate of Hume, and he is the energy minister.

The Coalition’s only climate policy is a scare campaign

If you were to believe the Coalition, Labor’s climate, energy and EV targets will kill the economy, bring an end to meat raffles, the sausage sizzle and perhaps even the weekend itself. Not only that, it will take more than one day to drive from Sydney to the Gold Coast and it will take five days to charge an EV with rooftop solar.

The absurdity of the claims is only matched by the modelling produced by Brian Fisher of BAEconomics that puts a cost of Labor’s 45% emissions reduction targets at up to $542 billion by 2030, based around out-dated pricing of renewables and storage and abatement costs that are 10 times higher than elsewhere.

These figures have been unanimously slammed by respected economists and academics, and the Australia Institute has released a report pointing out just how far wide of the mark that Fisher, and his Coalition boosters, are on the subject.

There has also been a succession of laughable claims – delivered through Murdoch media and usually through unsourced “exclusive modelling” – about the performance and charging of electric vehicles.

They don’t like new technologies

The Coalition’s response to EVs has been extraordinary, egged on by stories in the Murdoch media so ridiculous they look to have been made up.

But the Coalition has form. From the moment the Tesla big battery has been proposed and installed, the Coalition has been saying the dumbest things about the technology, comparing it to the Big Banana, the Big Prawn, and the Kardashians.

Which is a pity, because as demand for thermal coal, and maybe even LNG, decline in future years, Australia would be well advised to embrace these new technologies. And go big on hydrogen, to underline a potential new export industry.

Australia also has all the minerals needed for the storage and EV sectors, and many of the technology smarts. But it won’t get far as long as its policy makers are troglodytes.

They still don’t believe the science

The Coalition’s official line is that they accept the science of climate change, but their policies suggest nothing more than lip service.

That’s not surprising, given that Tony Abbott famously said that the science of climate change is crap, and even in a tough electoral struggle with independent Zali Steggall is still holding the same line.

When Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister, his efforts to try and do something more on climate and energy were throttled by his devil’s bargain with the Nationals, who clearly don’t accept the science.

Backbenchers such as Craig Kelly are also still going crazy on Facebook (he hasn’t been allowed in non Sky public during the election campaign). It’s really quite mind boggling.

And of course, its not difficult to point to Morrison’s attitude towards coal, who as then treasurer under Turnbull, chaperoned a piece of coal in to the House of Representatives, provided to him by the Minerals Council. (His chief of staff is the former long-serving deputy CEO of the MCA)

“This is coal” he exclaimed, “don’t be afraid, don’t be scared”.

Was he talking to the opposition or to the lump of coal?

The-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, right, introduces Peter Dutton as his home affairs minister in 2017 (Photo: Commons)

They think the climate impacts on other nations are very funny

This was one of the more embarrassing moments for the Coalition, involving former leader Abbott, would-be leader Peter Dutton and current leader Scott Morrison.

Dutton had been talking with Abbott and Morrison ahead of a conference on refugees. Abbott had just returned from Port Moresby for discussions that included climate change, and clearly they weren’t happy about having to wait around.

“Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door,” Dutton said, before the conversation was brought to a sudden halt when Morrison pointed out there was a boom mike and their quotes were being recorded.

They are not interested in the environment

How else to explain the actions, or the lack of action, of environment minister Melissa Price, and the apparent approval of the leadership?

Price controversially approved the Adani coal mine and the uranium mine in the two days before the election was called, and failed to respond adequately to recent UN reports, particularly the warning of major species loss that was released last week.

Price’s performance has earned her the near-unanimous assessment of the worst environment minister ever.

Her performance has been so bad, and has been such an embarrassment, that Price was not even present when the Coalition’s environment policy was released during the campaign.

The Greens put out a missing person’s notice to see if Price had been seen. Apparently, the former mining industry lawyer was too busy electioneering in her safe seat of Durack in W.A.

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The right wing will still be in control

Some targeted campaigns against some of the main agitators are likely to thin out some of the conservative ranks. Dutton is on a wafer-thin margin in Dickson, and Abbott is facing arguably the most formidable campaign ever waged in Warringah.

There are however some hard-right coalition members in some very safe seats. These include members of the Monash Forum, including Barnaby Joyce, Ian Goodenough, Kevin Andrews and Craig Kelly. Senators Eric Abetz and Matt Canavan are not up for re-election in 2019, by virtue of winning six-year terms in 2016.

Many younger members of the Coalition are also from the right faction – and let’s not forget the influence of those MPs who cut their teeth at the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs – including James Patterson and Tim Wilson.

The “moderate” side of the Coalition has also been depleted. The exit of the more “reasonable” Coalition members in Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Julia Banks and Kelly O’Dwyer, will likely leave the conservative wing with considerable influence over whoever leads the party after the election.

This election

After the 2013 election, it seemed almost unthinkable that climate change could register as a serious political topic. But after going through a dark period, and some concerted campaigning on the issue of climate change and support for renewable energy, it has re-emerged as the issue of the 2019 campaign.

Labor leader Bill Shorten expressed it succinctly during the leadership debates: “Scott Morrison wants three more years of the last six”. The renewables sector can’t afford this, nor can households afford three more years of energy policy chaos.

This article was originally published on Renew Economy.

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