As political bunfights go, fans of the genre probably haven’t seen anything like today’s media conference between South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg since the Love Actually scene in which Hugh Grant as the British PM gets stuck into Billy Bob Thornton’s US president.
Two days after Weatherill released an energy plan that Frydenberg immediately criticised and called “an admission of failure”, the state premier stood beside the federal minister and let rip at him for “trash-talking SA’s leadership in renewable technology” and having “the gall to stand here next to a renewable energy project and pretend it is happy families”.
Frydenberg was in Adelaide for the launch of an AGL renewable energy project using household batteries, supported by the Commonwealth. Weatherill was apparently initially left off the invite list, but scored a last minute seat.
The federal minister took his chance to berate the premier who “has a big job to do to explain to the South Australia people why, on his watch, the lights went out, not once, not twice, not three times but four times” and why power costs more in the state.
“Coming into this to crash tackle us at this announcement where he hasn’t put any money into this important initiative, which the Commonwealth and AGL have, just shows you, unfortunately, how desperate he is,” he said.
The premier then took a verbal baseball bat to the federal minister and Turnbull government, which today announced plans for a $2 billion upgrade to the Snowy Hydro system that will take several years to complete.
That proposal added to Weatherill’s anger, who called it a “$2 billion insult today where money is being spent to keep the lights on in Sydney at a time when we’re facing energy shortages over the coming summer”.
The SA premier, who faces re-election in 12 months after Labor has been in power for 15 years, returned serve on the Commonwealth’s Snowy plan as a “white knuckled panic about national energy policy”.
“It’s a $2 billion admission that the national energy market has broken and there needs to be public investments to actually fix it up,” he said.
“We’re not going to wait four to seven years though to invest in some Snowy hydro.”
Frydenberg said today’s announcements, which included a the world’s largest residential virtual power plant (VPP), a $20 million 5MW project in Adelaide installed by AGL, showed the government was “focused on renewables, we are focused on storage”.
That comment was enough for red mist to descend on Weatherill. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Frydenberg, who looked straight ahead and rolled his tongue around his mouth as Weatherill let fly, the premier said that it was “a little galling standing 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”.
“Him suggesting that we want to work together is a disgrace. The way in which your government has treated our state is the most anti-South Australian government we have seen from a Commonwealth government in living memory.”
Weatherill called the national energy market broken.
“We had a prime minister that came in here to this state during the course of the last federal election campaign, celebrating our leadership in relation to renewable energy and then taking credit for it through his own Renewable Energy Target,” he said.
“For you to then turn around within a few short months, when there is a blackout and point the finger at South Australia for the fact that our leadership in renewable energy was the cause of that problem is an absolute disgrace.
“To be standing here, sitting next to us trying to take credit for some small scheme which goes nowhere near fixing the size and the extent of the problems that have been created in this state, it is an outrage.”
Here’s part of the exchange:
While the two didn’t suggest they step outside to resolve their differences, the seemingly toxic relationship continued on afterwards with Frydenberg suggesting Weatherill stand down for treasurer and state energy minister Tom Koutsantonis. His federal counterpart greeted Koutsantonis with a hug at the event.
“Maybe Tom will be the next premier of SA because I think after Jay Weatherill’s conduct today, the public would think that is pretty unbecoming and childish and pretty unacceptable for a senior political figure of their state to behave,” he said.
But the minister was clearly rattled by the incident and later complained on Twitter that it was “poor form” by the premier:
Poor form @jayweatherill to gatecrash announcement where the Cth not the State Gov has invested in a $20m battery storage project in SA
— Josh Frydenberg (@JoshFrydenberg) March 15, 2017
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