Party room heats up over en­ergy Bill

The Courier-Mail - - NEWS - RE­NEE VIELLARIS re­nee.viellaris@news.com.au

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

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