Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has delivered a scathing assessment of the Morrison government’s stance on climate and energy policy, suggesting that Morrison has acted too much like US president Donald Trump, and Australia will now pay the price.
Speaking to the AFR Energy Summit on Tuesday, Turnbull said that he thought that Morrison had been ‘dazzled’ by Trump, that Morrison had sought to replicate Trump’s positions on climate change and international engagement, and that this was the cause of Morrison’s refusal to formally adopt a zero emissions target.
“I think it’s vital for our energy policy, our climate future and our credibility internationally to have a commitment to net zero by 2050, if not earlier,” Turnbull told the AFR Energy Summit.
“Scott probably over-channelled Trump. He was clearly dazzled and duchessed by Trump and went full-in with that in a number of areas. Whether it was in foreign policy – all this talk about being against globalism – was channelling the Donald.”
“Similarly on climate – but the reality now is that all of our major trading partners have got a net zero target and the Biden administration will return to the climate fray with a real enthusiasm.”
Turnbull added that he expects Australia will pay a ‘heavy price’ in international trade negotiations for being a laggard on climate policy, with the re-emergence of the United States under a Biden administration into the climate space and European trade negotiations to focus on including climate measures as a condition of cooperation.
“We will pay a heavy price for this, believe me, in international trade. We are kidding ourselves to think that the Europeans will not have climate as an element free trade agreements. Absolutely kidding ourselves,” Turnbull said.
“And I can see the Americans making it a condition of trade agreements right around the world. What Scott’s got to do now is pivot or dismount, whether it’s done elegantly or not, doesn’t really matter as long as he does it.”
Turnbull was particularly scathing in his assessment of federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor, suggesting Taylor was primarily motivated by wanting to appease right-wing supporters and media.
“Angus is a highly numerate guy, but sadly, just about everything he says about energy is political,” Turnbull said. “And it’s aimed at securing and maintaining his base of support on the right-wing of the Liberal Party, and with their backers and amplifiers and the right-wing media, principally owned by Rupert Murdoch.”
“Angus Taylor, who has genuinely united the energy sector in a way that no other ministers has ever done – he says, they’re wrong, they’re wrong, he won’t disclose his own modelling on the gas-fired recovery, but demands everyone else disclose their modelling. We’ve got to get real here – we know that we need urgently to cut our emissions and we also know that the cheapest form of generation is from variable renewables, wind and solar.”
On Monday, Angus Taylor and NSW energy minister Matt Kean gave tit-for-tat speeches to the AFR Energy Summit, with Kean responding to Taylor’s criticisms of the NSW government’s energy strategy by saying that he was looking out for the interests of households and businesses and did not stand with the vested interests in the fossil fuel sector.
As RenewEconomy has reported, the coal and gas lobby has sought to ramp up pressure on the New South Wales government for delivering a plan to support an unprecedented level of investment in new wind, solar and storage projects to replace coal generation as the state’s coal plants retire.
Turnbull said that he was concerned that such vested interests were exerting their influence over the Morrison government, and that both Morrison and Taylor had bought into gas industry requests for the government to subsidise new gas infrastructure.
“I’m very sceptical of the ‘cheap gas’ scenario. I’m very worried that vested interests in the energy sector are going to persuade the federal government to subsidise gas infrastructure that will become stranded assets,” Turnbull said.
“You’ve only got to see the leverage that someone like Trevor St Baker has over the right-wing of the Liberal Party and the National Party, to see that there is a real issue here with vested interests putting the screw on their friends in politics.”
“We’ve just got to be very clear-eyed about this and I think the community has got to be very alert and be asking questions about who’s talking to whom, who’s lobbying whom.”