The hard-line conservatives in the Morrison Coalition government are brushing aside calls for a moderate approach to climate and energy policy, and are preparing to do what they know best – prepare another carbon tax scare campaign against Labor.
The intentions were made clear as prime minister Scott Morrison flagged an early budget in May, all but confirming that the Coalition will “go the distance” and put off the next federal election until the latest it can, in mid May.
The announcement came as the Liberal Party suffered further disarray, with disaffected MP Julia Banks announcing her immediate resignation from the party, and continue as an independent, further reducing the government’s already minority position in the House of Representatives.
Banks decision to shift to the cross-bench came just days after the wipe-out of the Victoria Coalition in that state’s poll on Saturday, and after it became clear that the Far Right would not heed moderate calls to shift their politics.
“My sensible centrist values, belief in economic responsibility and focus on always putting the people first and acting in the nation’s interest have not changed,” Banks said. “The Liberal party has changed. Largely due to the actions of the reactionary and regressive right-wing who talk to themselves rather than listening to the people.”
As if on cue, energy minister Angus Taylor, one of the key players behind the removal of former PM Malcolm Turnbull that so horrified Banks and others, issued a statement on Tuesday indicating a roll-back to the Tony Abbott years of carbon tax scare campaigns.
His statement was prompted by Labor’s unveiling of its energy policy last week, which includes trying to pick up the mess of the National Energy Guarantee dumped by the Coalition, and using it to help meet its own targets of a 45 per cent cut in emissions and a 50 per cent target for renewables.
Labor also flagged that – in response to the calls from one time carbon price opponents Woodside, Rio Tinto and BHP for a carbon price to be re-installed – that it would consider sector-specific schemes.
The three big resources groups – along with the main business lobbies – campaign vigorously against the Labor/Greens carbon price that was in place from 2012 to 2015, and supported Abbott’s repeal.
They now concede that that wasn’t such a bright idea. But while they may get some engagement with Labor and the Greens on this issue, there is a long way to go before Coalition hardliners – attached to climate science denial and the coal industry – come to the party.
Taylor rushed out a statement on Tuesday morning highlighting comments on SKY’s AM Agenda program by Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who failed to rule out a carbon price.
JAYES: Are you ruling [a carbon tax] out though?
DREYFUS: I’m not going to rule in or rule out.
“Mr Dreyfus joins a long list of Labor MPs who have hinted at Labor’s plan to again whack Australian families and businesses with a carbon tax that will take a wrecking ball to the economy,” Taylor said in his statement.
“Labor’s reckless 45% Emissions Reduction Target and 50% Renewable Energy Target strike at the heart of middle Australia …. Bill Shorten needs to come clean and tell Australians how much will his Carbon Tax 2.0 cost families, businesses and the economy.”
The last carbon tax scare campaign saw some ridiculous claims by the Coalition, including Barnaby Joyce’s prediction of $100 roasts and Tony Abbott’s claim that the lights would go out in Whyalla.
As it happens, the Whyalla steelworks, and the local economy, have been saved by a UK billionaire, Sanjeev Gupta, who says its only hope is to turn to renewables and storage, a recipe he says is key to bringing back Australia’s energy cost advantage in manufacturing.
Taylor said in his statement that “only the Morrison Government has a balanced, achievable set of policies to support Australia’s energy needs with a price safety net, taking a big stick to the energy companies and backing investment in reliable power.”
That policy involves calling on the big utilities to lower their standing offers, threatening to force the sale of coal assets that any big utility might want to close, and pushing through a government tender to try and encourage new investment in coal generators.
The overwhelming response to the government proposal is that – tipped to favour “base-load generators with no regard to emissions, it makes no economic or environmental sense.
As for retail bills, AGL has already announced it will reduce the price for some of its customers on standing offers, which was followed by an EnergyAustralia announcement on Tuesday that it would no longer screw pensioners quite as badly as they had, and would reduce prices for pensioners on standing offers by 15 per cent.
EnergyAustralia said the standing offer would not change for other customers.
Taylor said: “We are committed to lowering power prices while keeping the lights on for hardworking Australian families and small businesses.”
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.