AN­NIKA SMETHURST

Sunday Herald Sun - - Opinion -

WHEN Lib­eral MP Craig Kelly last week claimed Aus­tralia’s com­mit­ment to re­new­able en­ergy was killing Aus­tralians, he al­most had it right.

But it’s not just shiv­er­ing grannies at risk of per­ish­ing in their lounge rooms due to a few ex­tra gov­ern­ment-sub­sidised wind tur­bines.

Poli­cies de­signed to re­duce emis­sions have been the lead­ing cause of po­lit­i­cal deaths in Can­berra for the past decade.

It started with Mal­colm Turn­bull in 2009 when he lost his party’s lead­er­ship af­ter com­mit­ting his Lib­eral team to sup­port­ing Kevin Rudd’s emis­sions trad­ing scheme.

Rudd’s po­lit­i­cal cred­i­bil­ity was also linked to ac­tion on cli­mate change.

In 2009, when he re­turned from Copen­hagen un­able to se­cure a bind­ing deal with world lead­ers, La­bor shelved its plans for its ETS. Within months Rudd lost the lead­er­ship. And few lead­ers un­der­stand how mor­tally wound­ing an ag­gres­sive cli­mate change pol­icy can be to a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer than Ju­lia Gil­lard.

Un­like any other pol­icy area, Aus­tralian politi­cians seem in­ca­pable of a rea­son­able and ma­ture de­bate about cli­mate change, en­ergy or the en­vi­ron­ment.

Last week French En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Ni­co­las Hu­lot an­nounced France would ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Mean­while, in Aus­tralia, Lib­eral MP Craig Kelly said the gov­ern­ment’s flir­ta­tion with re­new­able en­ergy had made power so un­af­ford­able that el­derly Aus­tralians would freeze to death in their homes. “It is true, peo­ple will die this win­ter be­cause of poli­cies we have to sub­sidise re­new­able en­ergy,” he said. You could al­most hear the screams com­ing from Kooy­ong.

Kelly is right to point out fam­i­lies and small busi­nesses are strug­gling with ris­ing power costs. There is no deny­ing power bills are go­ing up and wages aren’t keep­ing up with the ris­ing cost of liv­ing. Peo­ple are strug­gling and the gov­ern­ment needs to find a way to help.

But for a politi­cian, rep­re­sent­ing the gov­ern­ment, to sug­gest that Aus­tralia’s mod­est in­vest­ment in re­new­able en­ergy is killing con­stituents was ir­re­spon­si­ble and proved Kelly is in­ca­pable of en­gag­ing in a sen­si­ble de­bate.

Es­pe­cially when his own party is try­ing to scrap the en­ergy sup­ple­ment — an ex­tra bit of money to help pen­sion­ers pay their util­ity bills. The gov­ern­ment read­ily ad­mits the re­new­able en­ergy tar­get does add an ex­tra $63 a year to the av­er­age house­hold power bill.

That is a sig­nif­i­cant cost to many peo­ple and it is im­por­tant we con­tinue to de­bate ways to en­sure Aus­tralians have ac­cess to cheap and re­li­able power.

We ex­pect shock jocks and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists to de­lib­er­ately rouse pub­lic fear about cli­mate poli­cies, but we should ex­pect more from our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon an ashen-faced Josh Fry­den­berg, who was meant to be gear­ing up for a cru­cial COAG meet­ing, had to go on Sky News and de­clare “re­new­able en­ergy is not caus­ing the death of Aus­tralians”. Wel­come to 2017.

Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, when hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity was a hot topic, MPs from both sides re­frained from sug­gest­ing peo­ple would die as a re­sult of gov­ern­ment or Op­po­si­tion poli­cies. Even dur­ing the in­fa­mous Medis­care cam­paign — which used some very ques­tion­able tac­tics — there was never a direct ac­cu­sa­tion that the gov­ern­ment pol­icy would be fa­tal.

De­spite Turn­bull’s and Fry­den­berg’s best ef­forts, the gov­ern­ment seem un­able to have any form of ma­ture de­bate about en­ergy and the en­vi­ron­ment with­out it be­ing de­railed by one of their own. There is still a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Coali­tion MPs un­con­vinced by the gov­ern­ment’s en­ergy pol­icy, but will­ing — for the mo­ment — to try to en­gage in a ma­ture and pri­vate de­bate.

Kelly’s ac­tions just de­lay progress on find­ing a cred­i­ble way to re­duce car­bon emis­sions and en­sure we have cheap and re­li­able power. AN­NIKA SMETHURST IS SUN­DAY HER­ALD SUN NA­TIONAL PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR an­nika.smethurst@news.com.au

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