Former Clean Energy Finance Corporation boss Oliver Yates has thrown his hat into the political ring, taking on Treasurer and deputy Liberal Party leader Josh Frydenberg in the traditionally safe seat of Kooyong, as the architects of the Coalition’s disastrous climate and energy policy continue to be targeted by strong independents.
Yates’ move – to be formally announced on Wednesday – comes days after former Olympic skier and barrister Zali Steggall announced her run against former prime minister Tony Abbott in the seat of Warringah, and Julia Banks, who has already shifted to the cross-bench, is reported to be considering a challenge against health minister and former environment minister Greg Hunt.
The rise of the independents, and particularly of strong and eloquent advocates of renewable energy, action on climate policy, and a change on the government treatment of refugees, has become the single most interesting development in politics in the past 12 months.
Like those that preceded them – Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott – they are largely people who would lean towards the Coalition parties, but have come disgusted and disaffected by the Coalition policies under Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, and a suite of environment and energy ministers controlled by the government’s Far Right ideologues.
Yates is a long time Liberal Party member who has toyed with the idea of setting up a Liberal Environment Party. He spoke of that idea in November, 2017, after being evicted from a Liberal Party event in Melbourne after loudly protesting against the presentation of a lump of coal to then Treasurer and current prime minister Scott Morrison.
(The presentation was made to honour and thank Morrison for brandishing a lump of coal provided by the Minerals Council of Australia in the House of Representatives. Morrison’s chief of staff is a long standing deputy CEO of the MCA, Australia’s major coal lobby).
“It’s pathetic. What are they thinking?” Yates said at the time.
“We do not need to tolerate this and we should not have to tolerate this. How completely out of touch are they to believe that as Liberal Party members that we do not care for the environment or our future.
“They are knowingly stoking the fires of the destruction (of our planet) …. they are on the wrong side of history,” he said, before adding that his father, the former Liberal MP William Yates would “turn in his grave.”
More recently, he has written in the Guardian: “Refusing to reduce emissions as cheaply as possible is irrational, immoral and economically reckless.”
Success for any of the new independent candidates – or even the existing cross-bench of Kerryn Phelps (Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth), Rebekha Sharkie (Alexander Downer’s old seat of Mayo) and
But if the success of Phelps, and independents in key Coalition seats in recent NSW and Victoria polls, is repeated, it sets up the fascinating prospect of a powerful and influential cross-bench in the lower house, either to support the Labor Party’s current platform, or to improve it.
Current cross benchers Andrew Wilkie and Adam Bandt (Greens), are likely to be returned, while Cathy McGowan is seeking to hand the independent’s baton to Helen Haines in the seat of Indi.
Steggall told media on Monday that climate change will be a major part of her campaign against Abbott, who with the help of Hunt and others scrapped the carbon price, slashed the renewable energy target, and sought to dismantle the CEFC, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Climate Change Authority.
She has yet to release her climate policy but told The Guardian this week that subsidies for renewables were not needed because they were beating fossil fuels on costs, and targets should be more ambitious.
“We need to set ambitious targets to accelerate the transition to clean energy and the orderly retirement of coal. Abbott and politicians on the far right are proposing subsidising coal, to keep open something that is not cost effective.”
Steggall’s campaign will be supported by several grass-root campaign groups seeking to dump Abbott after 25 years, as well as industry sectors such as the solar sector, which has also voiced its frustration with Abbott’s policies.