Party room heats up over energy Bill
FEDERAL Parliament returns today after a long winter break and Malcolm Turnbull is not as worried about red on blue attacks but the internal machinations in his broad church.
Government MPs are not returning to Parliament with wind in their sails because they know today and tomorrow will be gruelling. And some Nationals MPs could be the surprise recalcitrants.
While Barnaby Joyce has made noises about some policy issues, Queenslander and Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien could also throw a bomb of his own.
And it’s mostly because of the NEG – an acronym some in Government have been told not to use because few people in the real world have any idea what the National Energy Guarantee is or does.
The NEG aims to bring power prices down, lock in reliability so there’s fewer blackouts and help Australia meet its international climate change commitments by having an emissions guarantee.
The reliability guarantee will force retailers to invest in enough dispatchable energy, such as hydro, gas and coal. While the emissions guarantee will mandate that energy retailers meet a defined emissions level for the electricity they buy from the wholesale market.
Sounds simple? It’s not because the policy is complicated and once again politics is getting in the way. Feel like you’ve seen this movie before?
Well, you have but 11 years ago the energy wars centred on former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
It helped kill-off Rudd’s leadership and led to the dumping of then Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull (pictured).
The Labor states on Friday gave Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg political heartburn when they withheld final approval of the NEG but agreed to allow for draft legislation to be released in the next step.
Victoria made some surprise demands ahead of last Friday’s meeting, such as three-yearly reviews of carbon emissions targets (currently set at a reduction of 26 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030) and the ability to ratchet up those targets by regulation and not legislation.
It caught Frydenberg slightly off guard. But the Andrews Government is in a world of pain and believes it needs to distract voters by picking a fight with the Federal Government.
It’s a short-sighted political move as it struggles with issues including its resistance to crackdown on African gangs and the fact the Greens are in the hunt for several inner-city seats.
Victoria is also trying to stoke disunity within the Turnbull Government, where a few outspoken MPs argue there’s too much focus on renewable energy, not enough on coal or gas and that Australia should pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, signed by former prime minister Tony Abbott.
Victoria is playing a heightened political game. Privately, it says it wants the issue off the table before its November 24 election but publicly, it has not revealed whether it will support the NEG before it goes into caretaker mode from October 30.
Queensland supported Victoria because that’s generally what the Palaszczuk Government does.
The Nationals will hold their party-room meeting today in Canberra and will determine formally what its position on the NEG will be.
While Resources Minister Matt Canavan expects the Nationals will support the NEG, there are those in the party room who are not convinced of the policy merits.
It is understood O’Brien has not ruled out crossing the floor on the NEG because he holds concerns about the level of emissions targets and believes too much taxpayer subsidies will continue to prop up renewable energy.
It is understood he believes the Government should have the ability to scale down the emissions target of 26 per cent, especially if Australia’s economy falls off a cliff.
And if US President Donald Trump manages to pull out of the Paris Agreement, it’s likely that O’Brien and several others will start demanding Australia follow suit because without the US the pact becomes meaningless.
At 8am tomorrow, outspoken proponent for coal, NSW MP Craig Kelly will chair an energy backbench committee.
Then at 9am the Liberals will meet in the party room before the Nationals join them for what is not expected to be a love-in.
Those familiar with the issue are quietly warning that it would not be fair for Frydenberg to dump 200 pages of draft legislation on the party room and expect it to sign-off on it without giving MPs time to digest the Bill, which will focus on emissions targets.
Frydenberg has made it clear the Government will not budge on the 26 per cent target and will invoke the words of former prime minister John Howard that the NEG is the best offer on the table to help reduce power prices and lock-in reliability. This will be a direct play to Abbott and Kelly, who revere Howard.
He will also remind the room that the 26 per cent target was Abbott’s policy when he was PM.
If the party room signs off on the draft legislation tomorrow, it is likely Frydenberg tomorrow night will hold a hook-up with Energy COAG state ministers to get approval to release the draft legislation.
Whether Frydenberg gets his wish will be dependent on whether there are enough voices in the party room who argue they need time to digest the information. Some say it would be “beyond the pale” to dump pages of complex draft legislation on them and expect a tick and flick.
Frustration is building between the pragmatists, the policy purists and MPs who were around 11 years ago when the Coalition haemorrhaged over climate change policy.
The political scars are being unpicked.
But Australians and businesses deserve certainty about their power prices and climate change policy, and a Band-Aid solution will not work to cover a wound that has failed to heal from a decade ago.
The political scars from 11 years ago are being unpicked