Prime minister Scott Morrison has abandoned the Coalition’s short lived separation of energy and emissions reduction responsibilities, and handed Angus Taylor the job of combining energy policy and meeting the government’s modest emissions reduction targets.
In unveiling his new ministry and cabinet after the Coalition’s surprise re-election on May 18, Morrison also punted the much criticised Melissa Price from the environment portfolio, naming instead Sussan Ley, a minister in both the Abbott and Tunbull government who had to resign from the front-bench following investigations into her travel expenses and entitlements.
Price has been handed a minor defence ministry portfolio – defence industry – following her poor performance as environment minister which was marked by her indifference to major international reports, including the UN warning on massive loss of species, and her controversial and last-minute approvals for the Adani coal mine and a W.A. uranium mine.
Morrison had promised to re-appoint Price, but the minister had become a laughing stock and according to Morrison “she asked to be given a new challenge and I was happy to give her one.”
Taylor’s appointment, however, is the important one, and seems to be reward for his leadership of the Coalition’s extraordinary and deceptive campaign against Labor’s emissions reduction policies and electric vehicle targets.
The Coalition had previously combined the energy and climate portfolios under Josh Frydenberg, which delivered a lot of nice talk and the proposed but hotly debated National Energy Guarantee, but even this was abandoned in face of a right wing revolt.
The combination of the two portfolios makes sense, given that energy, and the shift to renewables, offers the clearest and cheapest path to emissions reductions.
But this is not something that Taylor – initially dubbed by Morrison as the “minister for lowering energy prices”, and now saddled with being the “minister for cutting emissions” at the same time – is keen to admit.
Taylor spent much of his pre-parliamentary career fighting against wind farms, claiming repeatedly that there is “too much wind and solar” in the system, and unveiling a new underwriting program that appeared specifically designed to encourage investment in baseload coal.
Taylor also led an extraordinary campaign against electric vehicles during the election. Using more renewables, and encouraging the uptake of EVs is both predicted and recommended by leading corporates such as BHP and Wesfarmers, which are betting their future on the transition, along with the likes of Shell.
In picking up responsibility for emissions reductions, Taylor will now be in charge of the $3.5 billion “climate solutions” fund, which is the only Coalition policy announced to address the target of 26-28 per cent emissions reductions by 2030.
Most analysts say it is not clear how Australia will meet that target with the current policy suite, even if the government defies convention the international community and chooses to use excess credits from the weak Kyoto target to meet the Paris commitments.
Australia, along with the rest of the world, will be called to lift ambition on its Paris treaty obligations at a key meeting in New York in September, but is unlikely to move despite the overwhelming and increasing scientific evidence that the world needs to move.
It may mean that Taylor will have to face up to what the Coalition sees as an unpalatable truth – that wind and solar and storage offer both the cheapest replacement of existing coal fired generators, and the cheapest option to cut emissions.
Australia probably has enough wind and solar in the grid already, or about to be built, to meet a 26 per cent cut in the electricity sector. But to deliver those emissions in manufacturing and transport will mean the electrification of transport and manufacturing, as predicted by BHP, Wesfarmers, and Shell.
Taylor, and other conservative, have mocked electric vehicles, saying they take five days to charge, take three times as long to make major trips, and will effectively mean the “end of the weekend”.
The new cabinet was unveiled as it was confirmed that the Coalition would obtain at least 77 seats in the new House of Representatives, giving it an absolute majority even after appointing a speaker. In the Senate, it is less clear, but it may be able to pass legislation with the support of One Nation, Cory Bernardi and one other, such as Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie.
Arthur Sinodinos, the Senator and former minister who has recovered from a battle with cancer and who last week urged the Coalition to embrace renewables as a cheaper and cleaner alternative, is to leave parliament and will replace former Treasurer Joe Hockey as ambassador to Washington.
Frydenberg remains Treasurer, and Greg Hunt stays as health minister.
Trevor Evans becomes assistant environment minister, whole Warren Entsch is appointed the “special envoy” for the Great Barrier Reef. National Party deputy leader Bridget McKenzie – who famously shouted “coal, coal, coal” replaces David Littleproud as agriculture minister while the pro-coal Matt Canavan retains Resources.