Turnbull government MPs met on Tuesday to discuss the Finkel report into securing the nation’s electricity system for the first time since it was released last Friday.
Reports soon emerged that the chief scientist’s report, which includes the key recommendation that a Clean Energy Target should be set after 2020, is already a battleground for the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull against the man he replaced, Tony Abbott, over climate policy and coal-fired power.
There were reports of a backbench “backlash” and heated debate, with Liberal sources saying the issue was a test of Turnbull’s leadership.
And today in the AFR, Laura Tingle details just how “very, very unpleasant” the meeting got when Abbott kept interjecting as western Sydney MP Craig Laundy spoke.
Here’s Tingle recounting the scene:
In front of appalled colleagues, including a number of cabinet ministers, Abbott persisted with a stream of unpleasant abuse directed at Laundy. This was after the MP had responded to his first interjection by noting that, while he didn’t agree with anything Abbott said, he had politely listened to him put his position at great length and expected the same courtesy. According to a number of sources, Abbott then invited Laundy to “go f**k yourself”.
The deadlock will undoubtedly raise alarms in the business community, which was hoping that the Finkel report would act as a circuit breaker following a decade of inaction on energy policy which led to the recent “national crisis” over energy supply reliability and cost.
As Finkel said in his report:
All governments need to agree to an emissions reduction trajectory to give the electricity sector clarity about how we will meet our international commitments. This requires a credible and durable mechanism for driving clean energy investments to support a reliable electricity supply.
Governments need to agree on and implement a mechanism as soon as possible. Ongoing uncertainty is undermining investor confidence, which in turn undermines the reliable supply of electricity and increases costs to consumers.
After its release, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott said: “Australia hasn’t a moment to lose now that we have a comprehensive, independent blueprint to restore the security, reliability and affordability of our electricity system”.
The Coalition has yet to form a position on the Finkel report and it will require more debate, but there are growing fears that the stasis Abbott and his supporters have brought to the issue continues to be a threat.
As Tingle observes in her column today: “The Coalition’s conservative rump, rather than protecting the interests of the energy intensive sector as it did in 2009, is now wildly out of step with its traditional base in the business community that now wants policy sorted, is putting its investment eggs in the renewables basket, and is appalled and confused about what on earth the politicians are doing.”
The challenge for Turnbull is how to deal with that side of his government and move forward on an issue that has the rest of the country united in their call for action when it seems apparent that there will be no appeasement with the Abbott faction on the issue.
Tingle points out that: “The size of Abbott’s cheer squad has gradually whittled away since last year’s federal election as his colleagues have grown increasingly exasperated by his thuggish destructiveness, and even some of his ardent media backers have found it hard to wait for the return of their Chosen One.”
The question for Turnbull is when is the right time to quote Abbott straight back at his nemesis?
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