Energy policy fail: Victorian Liberal Party is now powerless

Published 27-NOV-2018 10:45 A.M.


5 minute read

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The latest reminder of the public’s displeasure with the Coalition was delivered in a brutal loss at the Victorian state elections over the weekend.

By most readings of the situation, a clear message was being sent to the Libs — and not just at state level (despite the party’s Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, claiming over the weekend that Canberra was not to blame for the landslide defeat).

One of those messages was clearly about its energy policy.

Energy has been a controversial topic surrounding PM Scott Morrison’s leadership from the get-go, with the context for his rise to the most powerful position in Australia revolving around the failed National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

The NEG would have seen retailers sign contracts agreeing to supply a minimum amount of energy — as well as ensuring power sold had an average emissions level designed to meet the country’s carbon emissions reduction targets.

Turnbull’s failings around this policy led to the leadership spill itself, and this legacy has haunted Morrison ever since.

The Australian public has received constant reminders of that one time, when serving as Treasurer, that Morrison brought a lump of coal into parliament to show his dedication to the ailing coal mining industry.

In his short time as PM, Morrison has proposed policies that would extend the life of existing coal plants and provide government support for new investment in coal projects. And he has repeatedly faced questions about taking the country in a direction that would jeopardise its ability to meet the Paris Agreement commitments.

For these sorts of reasons, the government’s position on climate change and renewables has been heavily criticised not just by environmental groups but notably by businesses and investors operating within green and renewable energies.

And not just from outside the party, either.

Victorian Liberal senator, Jane Hume, wrote in Sunday's AFR about the Liberal Party needing to be less ideological on topics such as climate change and crime.

"If we allow good policy to be infiltrated by even the perception of an ideological crusade, Labor will win the messaging war,” Hume said, going on to add that energy policy that lowered prices was "imperative" however: "We underestimated our electorates; Victorians place a high value on their environment."

The party’s shock loss last month of the formerly blue-ribbon Liberal seat of Wentworth in Sydney was accompanied by a similar narrative, with two key reasons for the swing against the LNP cited as the detention of children on Nauru and the federal government's lack of meaningful action on climate change.

Yesterday, opposition leader, Bill Shorten offered a critique (albeit ineloquent) of what’s going on with the Coalition, summing up a few key issues the party may want to take on board: “We should resolve a national anti-corruption commission this week ... We should be in a position where we can resolve a national energy guarantee. But this government – I don’t know. Like, they’re so sort of obsessed by climate change, it’s vaguely weird they can’t actually accept the science.”

Many would agree. It is, to quote a nearly unquotable line, "vaguely weird" — especially considering the NLP is usually looking to please business, both big and small. And business, it would seem, is going green.

Westpac offers major investors a green scheme, while Andrews government confirms sustainability plans for VIC

Yesterday, Westpac launched the world’s first tailored ‘green’ deposit scheme for major investors looking to put their money in environmentally friendly projects. Westpac Institutional Bank chief executive, Lyn Cobley, said the new scheme was the direct result of investors asking for such products.

She told the AFR: "Every time I go to an investment conference, I've had investors vocally talk about where they can find an investment to put part of their money to use for sustainable purposes.”

Meanwhile, the evidently popular Andrews government has talked of future plans for Victoria now that it’s been re-elected, which includes putting the fracking ban — which already exists in legislation — into the Constitution to make it near impossible for future governments to roll it back.

Earlier in the month, the Premier also announced a new Victorian Renewable Energy Target of 50% by 2030.

When it comes to the issue of climate change and green energy, the contrast between what the Andrews government is offering in Victoria, and what the Coalition is saying at both a state and federal level, is stark. Even more stark is the contrast between the Liberals’ views on climate change and the majority of the rhetoric coming out of the business world — that green is the future and we don’t want to be left behind.

'Fair dinkum power' finds more favour

The last Green Keeper column mentioned Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO, Mike Cannon-Brookes, taking aim at the PM’s 'fair dinkum power' slogan.

As mentioned, Cannon-Brookes turned the ill-fated faux pas into an opportunity to spruik his own green energy message. At the time of that article, he had about 5,000 signatories for his brand new ‘fair dinkum power’ green energy pledge.

Now it has over 55,000 signatures. It seems the movement has also prompted the creation of a Senate inquiry, the ‘Select Committee into Fair Dinkum Power’.

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