What to expect from Coalition: Coal, coal, coal and a battle over NEG

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Coalition digs in for a fight for coal, as speculation grows on whether Taylor and Price will continue in key portfolios, and who might replace them.

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(AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
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So, with the return of the Morrison government with a small majority within Parliament, what can we expect over the next three years for climate and energy policy?

The answer is not much, asides from a very much fortified coal lobby.

Before the election, the Coalition offered little in terms of climate action, and prime minister Scott Morrison was at pains to point out on Monday, while talking to climate denying radio host Alan Jones, that nothing was about to change.

The Coalitions 26-28% emissions reduction target (the value of which is lessened by the Coalition’s use of excess Kyoto permits), a $2 billion funding commitment towards a rebranded Climate Solutions Fund (formerly the Emissions Reduction Fund) and the completion of Snowy 2.0, will be all there is in terms of climate change policy.

Meanwhile the Coalition will pursue the commissioning of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine with renewed enthusiasm.

Many of the Queensland pro-coal acolytes received significant boosts in their support on the weekend. This includes George Christensen (two party preferred vote up 11.3%),  Michelle Landry (up 10.7%) and Keith Pitt (up 6%) – who all campaigned in support of the Adani Mine.

The Coalition will walk away from the 2019 election with the message that a strong pro-coal stance is a vote winner in Queensland. The Stop Adani campaign failed to gain sufficient traction with swing voters and by the time the next federal election rolls around, Matt Canavan and Co. will have done all they can to ensure the mine is well underway.

While the Coalition will likely avoid any parliamentary fights in trying to deliver its unambitious climate platform, the federal government is likely to continue its bruising battle with the states and territories through the COAG Energy Council.

Upon the dumping of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, the Coalition all but abandoned its last emissions reduction mechanism in the form of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

But the COAG Energy Council, which sees energy ministers from each state and territory come together to meet with their federal counterpart, has been demanding more substantial policies to incentivise new investment in clean energy infrastructure, and tasked the Energy Security Board to develop the NEG.

The states will now continue to play a more prominent role within the energy debate. Liberal-held states, including New South Wales and South Australia, will continue to demand more from their federal colleagues, as a shortage of new generation capacity continues to raise both concerns around emissions, and the reliability of energy supplies.

Federal Labor had adopted the NEG as its preferred emissions reduction mechanism, and Labor states will continue to pressure the federal Coalition to adopt some form of emissions reduction policy, if not the NEG itself.

The Queensland Labor government will now also face pressure to expedite the approval process for the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine.

With the retirement of several senior members of the Coalition cabinet before the election, Morrison will also undertake a reshuffle of his ministry.

Any reshuffle will likely happen quickly and used as an opportunity to promote, and move on, environment minister Melissa Price, who was conspicuously absent throughout the election campaign, despite being a member of cabinet.

Angus Taylor is likely to be in line for a “promotion”, and may seek to build off his experience in the cybersecurity portfolio through a more senior role in one of the defence portfolios.

Taylor has struggled to grapple with the energy portfolio, particularly compared to previous ministers Greg Hunt and Josh Frydenberg, who were ultimately rewarded for their efforts to bulwark the Coalition’s less than ambitious environmental policies with more senior cabinet positions.

It is even suggested that Tim Wilson, the former IPA apostle, would also be seeking a promotion and responsibility for a portfolio. Wilson spearheaded the Coalition’s “retiree tax” campaign against Labor’s moves to close franking credit tax loopholes.

Wilson also has postgraduate qualifications in energy and carbon management, and has been a frequent visitor to international climate change negotiations, although often to lend support to presentations by climate deniers, the default position of the Gina Rinehart-funded-IPA.

Arthur Sinodinos, who is a respected member of the Coalition’s moderate wing, and who has emerged back into the political fray after stepping back for cancer treatment, could be returned to the Cabinet via the environment or energy portfolios.

The Coalition will push forward with an agenda focused on developing coal resources throughout northern Australia. The Coalition fought off a strong anti-coal, anti-Adani, campaign and will feel vindicated in their support for new coal mines in the region.

However, it must be noted that renewable energy will still have a significant role in Australia’s future energy system. The result from the weekend does not change the fundamental economics that has made renewables and storage the most cost effective way of adding new generation capacity.

The road ahead will be a bit more bumpy than expected.

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