South Australian premier Jay Weatherill has savaged the Turnbull government’s newly announced plan to expand the New South Wales Snowy Hydro scheme as “a $2 billion insult” to his state, and an admission of failure on national energy policy, in an extraordinary toe-to-toe stoush with federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg on Thursday.
The heated exchange unfolded at an Adelaide press conference for the “power on” of AGL Energy’s South Australia virtual power plant project, as a visibly uncomfortable AGL chief Andy Vesey watched on.
Weatherill, who later told reporters he had no idea the federal energy minister would be attending the event, said he was sick and tired of South Australia being “trash talked” for its leadership in renewable energy, and now was expected to stand next to Frydneberg and play “happy families”.
“I’ve got to say, it is a little galling to be standing here, next to a man that’s been standing up with his prime minister, bagging South Australia at every step of the way over the last six months, to be standing here on this occasion, him suggesting that we want to work together. It is a disgrace.
“What we have is a national energy market that is broken. We had a PM that came in here to this state during the course of the last election campaign, celebrating our leadership in renewable energy, and then taking the credit for it through his own RET.
“And for you to then turn around, in a few short months, when there’s a blackout, and point the finger at SA for the fact that our leadership in renewable energy was the cause of that problem is an absolute disgrace.
“And (now)… standing here… trying to take credit for some small scheme that goes nowhere near fixing the size and the extent of the problems that have been created in this state is an outrage.”
He then responded to the Coalition’s panning of his $550 million energy plan unveiled on Tuesday, which the Coalition described as a $550 million admission of failure, and criticised it for pre-empting the Finkel review.
But on Thursday, the Coalition also pre-empted the Finkel Review by announcing a $2 billion plan to expand the Snowy River scheme’s pumped hydro capabilities.
“(The Snowy Hydro announcement) shows that the commonwealth government are in a white knuckle panic about its energy policy. It’s a $2 billion admission that the national energy market is broken and there needs to be public investments to actually fix it up.
“And that’s exactly what was at the heart of our plan. We’re not going to wait four to seven years, though, to invest in some Snowy Hydro scheme. We’re investing here so that South Australia can be self sufficient.
“While this is a positive occasion today, it is my first opportunity to stand next to Frydenberg – I’m sick and tired of getting criticism across the airwaves. We cant wait for Snowy Mountain Scheme … South Australia has to go it alone.”
On the subject of the Finkel Review on energy security, Weatherill said that for Frydenberg “to stand here and say that we should wait for the outcome of an inquiry that he has nobbled, is, to say the least, galling.
“When the PM and the minister recover their courage and advocate for what is the right policy …when they recover their memory of what is the right thing to do, I will support it.”
Frydenberg, who later described Weatherill’s comments as “childish” and “pretty unacceptable”, responded at the press conference by employing the very same trash talk that triggered the outburst.
“The premier made a $550 million admission of failure just days ago,” Frydenberg said, repeating an earlier assessment of South Australia’s recently announced energy market reforms.
“He has a lot of explaining to do on why the lights went out in his state, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times.
“He needs to explain why people are paying nearly 50 per cent more for his electricity than others in national electricity market,” Frydenberg continued.
“He has to explain why he boasted about creating a big experiment here in South Australia and now they have to reach into their own pockets …to solve a problem that they created themselves.
“I feel that for the premier to come and crash tackle us at this (AGL and ARENA) announcement … shows how desperate he is.”
Frydenberg, who outside the press conference suggested the outburst might cost Weatherill his job – “perhaps Tom Koutsantonis will be the next South Australian premier” – also told the ABC he didn’t realise Weatherill would be there.