Nationals turn leadership stakes into contest of stupidity about energy

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Nationals turn expected leadership spill into a contest of who can say the most stupid thing about energy. It will be a close call. Just as well it’s scheduled for April Fool’s Day.

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(AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
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The National Party, the junior member of the ruling Coalition government, appears determined to turn an expected leadership spill into a contest of who can say the most stupid thing about energy: fitting, then, that any spill of the leadership is likely to occur on April Fool’s Day.

April 1 is when federal National Party MPs are scheduled to have their next meeting. And if the leadership is to be decided on the level of stupidity and ignorance about energy and climate, it’s going to be a close run thing.

Current leader Michael McCormack, feeling the breath of fire from his former boss Barnaby Joyce last Friday, got the ball rolling, saying it was “not possible” to meet an emissions reduction target of 45 per cent by 2030, as proposed by Labor. And if we tried, it would be end of night-time sports.

“I mean sure, go down that path but forget night footy; forget, night cricket, and you’ll have pensioners turning off their power because they won’t be able to afford it, and they will be shivering all winter, and they’ll be melting all summer”.

McCormack also described the idea that Australia could provide its electricity needs from 100 per cent renewables as “nonsense claptrap”, “rubbish” and “absolute garbage”.

Studies from a wide range of experts, including the CSIRO, the Australian Energy Market Operators, the major network owners and different studies from the UNSW, ANU and others suggest otherwise.

But the Nationals don’t need experts, least of all in the party room, where the major concern seems to be about the need to commit to the building of a new coal-fired power station in the next few weeks.

McCormack’s comments were clearly designed to head off the putch by the Group of Six, abetted by Resources Minister Matt Canavan, another unashamed coal booster.

But if McCormack thought he had a lay-down misere for sheer idiocy, he had another MP coming. Joyce, after all – he of the $100 roasts – has a rich pedigree of stupidity when it comes to energy and climate.

“I’m not a fanatic for any form of power except the one that is proven cheapest,” Joyce declared to The Australian as he sought to appeal to the Queensland MPs call for a new coal-fired power generator in Queensland.

“At this point of time, we live in this mythology that (renewables) are going to get cheaper,” Joyce continued, apparently unaware that every major energy utility, the CSIRO, AEMO, and even the government-owned Snowy Hydro, make clear that wind and solar and storage already beat coal by a country mile.

On Monday, Joyce decided that comment wasn’t quite stupid enough to win the support of his party room, and in an extraordinary interview on RN Breakfast managed to summarise the coal industry’s marketing materials and the climate denier handbook on doing nothing on emissions.

Australians need coal, Joyce claimed, because “they want to keep themselves cool in summer, warm in winter, give their tradesman a future.” He then went on to claim that heavy industry couldn’t run on wind and solar (news to Whyalla Steel, the Sun Metals’ zinc refinery and now even Bluescope Steel).

Remarkably, the Nationals’ rhetoric has become so extreme it has made prime minister Scott Morrison, the man who brandished the lump of coal in parliament and who is now downplaying the prospect of a new coal generator in Queensland, look moderate.

He then questioned how greenhouse gas emissions were measures, claimed that more than 600 coal-fired generators were being built around the world (that is not true), and even suggested Germany was embracing brown coal.

Actually, they have just decided to phase it out by 2038. It will probably happen sooner, and Australia should be putting together a plan to do the same.

Joyce also got himself mighty confused about the Westminster system of parliament. “I’m the elected leader,” he declared, failing to note that voters elect him as their local member, only, and it’s the party room that makes him leader. And they have since nominated someone else.

(The only salient point Joyce did made was to pierce the ABC bubble, as echoed on this occasion by RN Breakfast host Fran Kelly, who are under the illusion that Snowy 2.0 is designed to use only renewables and will be “cheaper than coal”.

The modelling makes it clear that is most definitely not the case.  Granted, this is confusing. On one hand Snowy Hydro is saying that wind and solar, per its recent tender, firmed by existing hydro assets, is cheaper than coal. Which is true. The problem is the Snowy 2.0 business case only works by selling prices at the peak, or around $100/MWh).

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