Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says Australia’s coal lobby is effectively arguing for high prices and higher emissions, and warned that Scott Morrison is too afraid to challenge them for fear of reigniting a battle with the Coalition’s conservative wing.
In another wide-ranging speech critical of the Coalition’s right wing, and the ranks of climate deniers in both the federal government and the Murdoch media, Turnbull also warned that Morrison’s decision to claim credits from the Kyoto surplus to meet its modest 2030 climate targets will leave Australia needing to produce “a superhuman effort” to cut emissions after 2030.
Speaking at the National Smart Energy Conference in Sydneyon Tuesday, Turnbull said that the conservative wing of the Liberal-National coalition no longer respected majority views within the party, and would opt to “blow up” the party, rather than ever see the party adopt an ambitious policy on climate change.
“The right of the party no longer accepts the premise of a political party, which is that you get a bunch of people in a room like this, and then you go along with the consensus of the majority,” Turnbull told the summit.
“And the problem is that the right increasingly is prepared to say ‘we know we are the minority, but unless you give in to us, we are just going to blow the joint up’.”
When asked about what approach he would take to the question of using surplus Kyoto-era emissions permits to meet Australia’s 2030 targets, Turnbull suggested that he would have taken a cautious approach.
Turnbull made the point the degree to which the Morrison government is using up the surplus units to meet its 2030 targets, delivering around half of the required emissions reductions, would make it substantially more difficult to reach subsequent targets beyond 2030.
“I think the appropriate course of action is to use them, if at all, with great discretion. I certainly saw them as being something in our back pocket to enable us to get over the line, if we had just fallen short, by a relatively small amount,” Turnbull said.
“My concern about using them for nearly half the lifting is that it leaves you in 2030, with an even bigger mountain to climb, going into 2035 or 2040.”
“You’re really setting yourself up for a superhuman effort post-2030 if you were to use all the credits.”
Federal energy minister Angus Taylor is currently in Madrid, defending Australia’s plans to use the surplus Kyoto permits to deliver around half of the emissions reductions necessary to achieve the Morrison government’s 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction target.
A group of more than 100 countries have sought agreement at the COP25 climate talks in Spain to prohibit the use of Kyoto-era permits under the Paris Agreement. Australia may be alone in arguing against the prohibition, the intention of which is to maintain the environmental integrity of the Paris Agreement.
Turnbull said that the push to stymie the transition to renewable energy was effectively a push towards keeping electricity prices higher and that the current economics of building new electricity generation capacity meant that no one should be building a new coal-fired power station.
“The cost of new generation has shifted in favour of renewables plus storage. There’s no question about that. Regardless of the carbon emissions, no one in their right mind would build a new coal-fired power station here today, on the grounds of economics,” Turnbull said.
“The problem with the coal lobby today is that they are basically arguing for higher emissions and higher electricity prices. That is an absolute loser.”
Turnbull suggested Morrison, his successor as prime minister, had been a ‘pragmatic’ supporter of the now abandoned National Energy Guarantee, but that Morrison had opted not to relitigate the fight over climate change policy, to avoid reigniting opposition from the Coalition’s conservative wing.
“Scott [Morrison] has abandoned the NEG, even though he absolutely was as strong a supporter of it as I was,” Turnbull added.
“The idea that Scott and Josh [Frydenberg] were against the National Energy guarantee and relieved to see me go, so that they could abandon [the NEG] is complete rubbish. They’ve just bowed to the reality that there is a group within the party that will blow the joint up.”
Turnbull said it was easy to label prime minister Scott Morrison as a “coal hugger”, saying it was unwise for Morrison to brandish a piece of coal in the House of Representatives.
“[Morrison] had probably an unwise appearance in the House of Representatives clutching a large lump of coal.”
“I know it’s easy to portray Morrison as a coal hugger, because of that picture in the house. When I was working with him, I always found him very objective about these issues.”