Well, that turned out well didn’t it. Despite prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s desperate attempts to appease the conservative faction of his Coalition government by compromising everything he ever stood for on climate and clean energy, it’s clearly not enough.
His predecessor Tony Abbott effectively dialled back the climate and energy debate to 2009 by announcing that he would cross the floor and vote against anything that looked remotely like a climate change policy, or represented even the smallest subsidy for renewable energy.
In doing so, Abbott has done what Turnbull dared not in the past two years: jettison Abbott-era policies. While Turnbull was too afraid to make those policies more ambitious, Abbott has now come out and effectively dumped the very policies he put in place: its Paris climate commitment, and the much-reduced renewable energy target.
Abbott has reinforced his assertion that climate science is “crap”. In an interview on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News with climate denier and renewables hater Alan Jones and his former chief of staff Peta Credlin, Abbott rates climate changes as “a third order” issue.
He blames the blackout in South Australia on renewables and, reinforcing his own distaste for renewables apparently formulated from riding his bicycle past a single turbine on Rottnest Island, he says the party doesn’t want to see any increase in wind or solar.
In other words, to hell with the science, and let’s put a stop to modern technology.
“It would be unconscionable, I underline that word unconscionable, for a government that was originally elected promising to abolish the carbon tax and end Labor’s climate change obsessions to go further down the renewables path,” Abbott said.
And he followed that with an opinion piece in The Australian claiming that – despite what the CSIRO, the network owners, Transgrid, the AEMO, the other big utilities and any number of energy experts contend – you can’t keep the lights on AND save the planet.
The whole article is a horror-show of ignorance, bias, conservative ideology and political dogma. Read it if you will.
It picks up on claims made in The Australian about the level of renewable energy subsidies, which are demonstrably untrue. Even the Murdoch flagship admitted its claims were fabricated, if you read far enough down a new article with more confected outrage about revenue received by solar farms.
“No one is against renewable energy, just the $3 billion-a-year subsidies that give it an unfair advantage,” Abbott writes.
“Thanks to political interference with normal market forces, wind generators get a double bonus: high prices for their power when the wind is blowing, plus extra payments via the renewable energy certificates that power companies have to buy but that consumers pay for. “
Crucially, the Abbott article says this:
“Even a clean energy target that notionally permits new coal-fired power stations while still subsidising renewables is not going to get baseload capacity built. This is where the Liberal and National backbench might need to save the government from itself.”
In other words, he will cross the floor, and he has a small battalion of what are becoming widely known as RWNJs (right-wing nut jobs) to follow him. There is no polite way to describe this idiocy and destructive behaviour.
Turnbull now has a choice. He can completely fold and do Abbott’s bidding, or he can seek a bipartisan approach with Labor, as he did in 2009 when negotiating the details of the CPRS – a move that cost him his job.
Any such move would require Turnbull to cede ground to the party he has been harassing with Abbott-era slogans such as “blackout Bill (Shorten) and “Brownout Butler”.
And it would represent an about-face over Turnbull’s increasingly absurd campaign to have the Liddell coal generator kept open for more years – a move that would reduce competition, push up prices, and leave the grid more exposed to a catastrophic failure of an ageing, decrepit generator.
Abbott’s declaration of war on just about everything puts him back into the role he played so well – on behalf of the Institute of Public Affairs, the coal lobby, and conservative ideologues – for the six years of his Coalition leadership.
But it also returns Australian industry and the energy sector to the miserable realisation that nothing has changed.
Despite the efforts of the CSIRO, of the Finkel Review, of the patient and detailed explanations of the Australian Energy Market Operator, Abbott won’t accept climate science, and he won’t accept the reality that coal is dying and renewables are cheaper.
The result is an ongoing policy deadlock and higher costs for households and business.
Meanwhile, business thinks otherwise, with the new owners of the Whyalla Steelworks announcing on Wednesday they are buying a stake in Ross Garnaut’s Zen Energy, and will commit to powering the plant with solar, storage and pumped hydro, making a mockery of Abbott’s claim that renewables can’t power steel plants.
And let’s not pretend that Abbott’s intractability is isolated.
The head of the LNP, Tim Nicholls, on Tuesday vowed a Coalition state government would build a new coal-fired generator in the place in the world where it is least needed, north Queensland, while the Victorian Coalition is fighting the state renewable energy target in debate in parliament this week.
This stupidity has other impacts. The Investor Group on Climate Change on Wednesday released a report that found 100 per cent of investors surveyed wanted to increase their green investment, but found policy uncertainty to be a major barrier.
“We are seeing capital continuing to go overseas in the hunt for low-carbon opportunities, with investors strongly signalling that international markets are where they are most active,” says IGCC chief executive Emma Herd.
“This would appear to indicate that those counties that have credible and effective climate change policy are attracting investment from Australian investors”.
And that’s just a small snapshot of the damage being done by Abbott’s unconscionable conduct.