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 firstname.lastname@example.org