View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull’s home truths on the NEG help Labor in the climate wars


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An Easter weekend in an election campaign might be a bit of a challenge for a pair of leaders who were atheists. But fortunately for Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, declared believers, it wasn’t a problem.

Both attended church services during the so-called campaign cease-fire that the main parties had proclaimed for two of the four days.

Morrison on Sunday was pictured in full voice with raised arm at his Horizon Pentacostal church in The Shire, where the media were invited in. On Friday he’d been at a Maronite Catholic service in Sydney.

Sunday morning saw Shorten at an Anglican service in Brisbane, his family including mother-in-law Quentin Bryce, former governor-general.

Neither leader was hiding his light under a bushel.

Church, chocolate and penalty rates

Sunday was an opportunity to wheel out the kids, chasing Easter eggs (Shorten) or on the Rock Star ride at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show (Morrison). This was campaigning when you’re not (exactly) campaigning.

The minor players weren’t into the pretend game. For them, the relative restraint on the part of the majors presented rare opportunity. Usually Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick would have little chance of being the feature interview on the ABC’s Insiders.

But while Friday and Sunday were lay days for the major parties Saturday was not (and Monday won’t be either).

For Labor, Easter has meshed nicely with one of the key planks of its wages policy – restoration of penalty rate cuts by the Fair Work Commission. Even on Sunday, Shorten pointedly thanked “everyone who’s working this weekend”.

It was the start of Labor’s campaign focus turning from health to wages this week, when it will cast the election as a “referendum on wages”.

Turnbull resurrects the NEG

The weekend standout, however, was the intervention of Malcolm Turnbull, who launched a series of pointed tweets about the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

Turnbull was set off by a reference from journalist David Speers to “Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG”.

“In fact the NEG had the support of the entire Cabinet, including and especially the current PM and Treasurer. It was approved by the Party Room on several occasions”, the former prime minister tweeted.



“It had the support of the business community and energy sector in a way that no previous energy policy had. However a right wing minority in the Party Room refused to accept the majority position and threatened to cross the floor and defeat their own government”.

“That is the only reason it has been abandoned by the Government. The consequence is no integration of energy and climate policy, uncertainty continues to discourage investment with the consequence, as I have often warned, of both higher emissions and higher electricity prices.”

He wasn’t finished.



“And before anyone suggests the previous tweet is some kind of revelation – all of the economic ministers, including myself, @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg spent months arguing for the NEG on the basis that it would reduce electricity prices and enable us to lower our emissions.”

And then:

“I see the @australian has already described the tweets above as attacking the Coalition. That’s rubbish. I am simply stating the truth: the NEG was designed & demonstrated to reduce electricity prices. So dumping it means prices will be higher than if it had been retained. QED”

“The @australian claims I ‘dropped the NEG’. False. When it was clear a number of LNP MPs were going to cross the floor the Cabinet resolved to not present the Bill at that time but maintain the policy as @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg& I confirmed on 20 August.”



(Frydenberg, incidentally, has lost out every which way on the NEG. As energy minister he tried his hardest to get it up, only to see it fall over. Now he is subject to a big campaign against him in Kooyong on climate change, including from high-profile candidates and GetUp.)

Turnbull might justify the intervention as just reminding people of the history. But it is damaging for the government and an Easter gift for Labor – which is under pressure over how much its ambitious emissions reduction policy would cost the economy. It also feeds into Labor’s constant referencing of the coup against Turnbull.

Turnbull’s Easter tweets are a reminder

  • the Coalition sacrificed a coherent policy on energy and climate for a hotchpotch with adverse consequences for prices;

  • it dumped that policy simply because of internal bloodymindedness, and

  • the now-PM and treasurer were backers of the NEG, which had wide support from business.

Shorten has strengthened his commitment on the NEG, indicating on Saturday he’d pursue it in government even without bipartisan support.

“We’ll use some of the Turnbull, Morrison, Frydenberg architecture, and we will work with that structure,” he said.

Given the hole it has left in the government’s energy policy, pressing Morrison on the economic cost of walking away from the NEG is as legitimate as asking Shorten about the economic impact of his policy.




Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the starting line of the 2019 election campaign


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull and his NEG continue to haunt the government



File 20181204 34148 17lkcuy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The former PM via twitter effectively inserted himself into Question Time – in real time.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If anyone needs further evidence of the self-defeating weird places
the Liberals seem to find themselves in, consider what happened on
Tuesday.

Malcolm Turnbull made another intervention in the political debate,
this time talking about the National Energy Guarantee, when he spoke
at an energy conference on Tuesday morning.

“I’ve strongly encouraged my colleagues to work together to revive the
National Energy Guarantee. It was a vital piece of economic policy and
had strong support, and none stronger I might say, than that of the
current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer,” he said.

This and the rest of Turnbull’s observations on energy policy provided
abundant material for a question time attack by a Labor party bloated
from dining on the unending manna that’s been flowing its way from
some political heaven.

As Scott Morrison sought to counter this latest attack by concentrating on
Labor’s substantial emissions reduction target (45% on 2005 levels by
2030), suddenly a tweet appeared from Turnbull.

“I have not endorsed “Labor’s energy policy”. They have adopted the
NEG mechanism,“ Turnbull said – adding a tick of approval – “but have
not demonstrated that their 45% emissions reduction target will not
push up prices. I encouraged all parties to stick with Coalition’s NEG
which retains wide community support.”

Here was the former PM effectively inserting himself into Question
Time – in real time.

Morrison quickly quoted from the tweet, but it couldn’t repair the
damage done by Turnbull’s earlier comments.

All round, it was another difficult day for the government on the energy front.

The Coalition parties meeting discussed its controversial plan
providing for divestiture when energy companies misuse market power,
with conduct that is “fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith” in the wholesale market.

The government has put more constraints on its plan than originally
envisaged. Notably, rather than a divestiture decision resting with
the treasurer, it would lie with the federal court (although precisely what this would mean is somewhat unclear).

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference: “This power will be on the advice
of the ACCC [the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] to
the Treasurer, and then the Treasurer will make a referral to the
Federal Court. The Federal Court will then be empowered to make that
judicial order.”

There had already been backbench criticisms of the divestiture proposal expressed to Frydenberg last week; the changes dealt with some of these.

But the plan is still leaving some in Coalition ranks uneasy.

According to the official government version, in the party room 18
speakers had a say, with 14 supporting (though a couple of them were
concerned about the interventionism involved) and four expressing
varying degrees of reservation. No one threatened to cross the floor.

Backbench sources said the strongest critics were Jason Falinski,
Russell Broadbent, Tim Wilson and former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop,
while milder criticisms came from Craig Laundy, Scott Ryan and Jane
Prentice.

There were two main worries about the measure – the potential negative
impact on business investment and its inconsistency with Liberal party
free market principles.

Bishop – who, it might be recalled, was recently saying there should
be a bipartisan deal with Labor on the NEG – highlighted the
investment implications and the issue of sovereign risk.

She said: “This is not orthodox Liberal policy. We need to do more
consultation with the industry and we need to be cautious of
unintended consequences of forced divestiture”.

Addressing the concerns, Morrison told the party room that a variety
of principles were at play.

The energy sector was not “a free market nirvana” but rather “a
bastardised market,” he said. The law was targeted at situations where
sweetheart deals came at the expense of consumers.

Energy minister Angus Taylor said governments of the centre-right,
including the Menzies and the Thatcher governments, had acted to
ensure markets operated for consumers.

Taylor invoked an example of the beer drinkers against the brewers,
when Thatcher had been on the side of the beers drinkers.

Frydenberg produced a quote from Menzies’ “Forgotten People”
broadcasts about the need to balance the requirements of industry with
social responsibilities.

The legislation, which is opposed by Labor even with the changes, is
being introduced this week. But there is no guarantee that it can be
passed by the time of the election – not least because there are so
few sitting days next year.

So the most controversial part of the government’s “big stick”, which
has caused so much angst with business, may never become a reality.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Energy policy and Turnbull’s leadership plunge into debilitating uncertainty


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The most fraught day of his prime ministership has seen the implosion of one of Malcolm Turnbull’s key policy pledges – to deliver certainty on energy policy – that only weeks ago seemed on course.

As Turnbull threw everything at shoring up his leadership, business critics denounced the compromise he unveiled to appease rebellious backbenchers.

His energy policy rework placated some internal dissidents, but the capitulation has left his authority weakened and the issue itself back in confusion. Stakeholders have been left dismayed and bewildered.

After the announcement, the government was insisting the National Energy Guarantee policy was alive, as some of its backbench critics were pronouncing its demise.

Asked “is the National Energy Guarantee dead?” Treasurer Scott Morrison said on Sky, “No, not at all. It remains government policy.” He told the ABC: “The policy remains as we took it to the party room with improvements.”

But Kevin Andrews, one of Tony Abbott’s close allies, told Sky: “The reality is that the NEG, for at least the term of this parliament, is dead in the water. There is more chance of seeing a Tyrannosaurus in the local suburban street than seeing this legislation come into the parliament.”

Turnbull’s energy compromise has two parts.

First, legislation to set the 26% emissions reduction target has been shelved, on the ground that a bunch of Coalition MPs would cross the floor.

Turnbull didn’t dare to risk the hazardous route of negotiating the legislation’s passage with Labor, which might have come to nothing but an embarrassing failure, and anyway would have incited the hardliners in his ranks. And a brief flirtation with implementing the target by regulation was abandoned after that caused its own backbench backlash.

Second, a set of highly interventionist measures will be rolled out for use against recalcitrant power companies, including the possibility of breaking up those which abuse their market power.

The initiatives are based on the recent report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, but even the ACCC didn’t support divestiture.

“Requiring the divestiture of privately owned assets is an extreme measure to take in any market, including the electricity market,” it said.

It is certainly an extraordinary course for a pro-market Liberal prime minister to contemplate.

Notably, the Nationals were happy – they had been pressing for the government to take this route. As former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said with enthusiasm, it means “if you play up, we can break you up”.

So where is the great NEG adventure left?

Battered by political bastardy, with months of good work by Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg trashed. Without a legislated target. With less chance of an agreement with the states, which need to tick off on the mechanism. Throwing up fresh problems for investors and promising a continuation of the political climate wars.

As Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group put it succinctly: “Long-term investment certainty in the energy sector remains further away than ever. Despite the best efforts and goodwill of many, energy policy has again fallen victim to short-term political gamesmanship”.

And where is Turnbull’s leadership left, as backbenchers contemplate whether they would be better off under a Peter Dutton prime ministership?

No one quite knows.

Morrison told the ABC: “I spoke to Peter today in Question Time and he said his position hadn’t changed and he was fully supportive of the Prime Minster and the government’s policies.”

Just think about that. The Treasurer is asking (in question time no less) a senior cabinet colleague about his intentions.

Basically anything could happen, anytime.

On Tuesday morning, as chance has it, there is a separate Liberal party meeting, before the joint Coalition parties meeting. At the very least, it will be an interesting discussion. Whether more occurs, who knows?

On Monday night Dutton, the man on the leadership stair, was reportedly very angry after the Ten Network ran a story raising a question about his eligibility for parliament under section 44’s pecuniary interest provision.

Ten has said the story was not political leak, and the timing coincidental. But Dutton would naturally see it as a strike from the Turnbull camp.

If the next few days go quietly, Turnbull will live now from poll to poll, with enemies circling like crows over a weakened animal.

Those enemies could hardly have anticipated they would be able to do so much damage to him, in just a week, after a Coalition parties meeting that actually strongly endorsed the original NEG policy.

<!– Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. –>
The Conversation

They’re watching, waiting. If, or when they judge Turnbull is vulnerable – that he has lost his numbers – they are ready to strike. Now or later.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Malcolm Turnbull shelves emissions reduction target as leadership speculation mounts


File 20180820 30593 87nest.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The government has shelved any move to implement the 26% reduction in emissions because it cannot get the numbers to pass legislation in the House of Representatives.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has announced the government will shelve any move to implement the 26% reduction in emissions because it cannot get the numbers to pass legislation in the House of Representatives.

The desperate attempt to quell the rebellion in his ranks comes as Turnbull’s leadership is under mounting pressure, with speculation about a leadership bid sooner or later from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.




Read more:
View from The Hill – It’s time for Turnbull to put his authority on the line


But Turnbull told a news conference that Dutton had been at Monday morning’s leadership meeting and “has given me his absolute support”.

“I enjoy the confidence of cabinet and of my party,” he declared.

In a package of changes to the National Energy Guarantee, Turnbull announced the government would move for extraordinarily strong measures to be available against companies that do not give consumers a fair deal, including ultimate divestment.

The government has retreated from Turnbull’s Friday compromise move of implementing the 26% reduction target by regulation. That idea, aimed at denying critics the opportunity to cross the floor, sparked a fresh backlash from Coalition MPs who thought it would make it easier for a Labor government to increase the target.

“Our policy remains to have the emissions intensity standard in the legislation,” Turnbull said at a news conference.

But “as John Howard said, politics is governed by the iron laws of arithmetic and in a House of Representatives with a one seat majority, even with strong support in the party room, if a small number of people are not prepared to vote with the government on a measure then it won’t get passed. So that’s the reality.”

He said the government would bring the target legislation forward “where and when we believe there would be sufficient support in the House of Representatives and obviously in our party room to progress this component of the scheme”.

Turnbull has been frantically seeking any means to pacify his critics, as Tony Abbott and other hardliners are determined to use the energy issue to try to bring him down.

However, it is unlikely his latest move will satisfy his most trenchant opponents. Critics such as Eric Abetz are broadening their attacks on Turnbull to call for government policy changes in other areas, including immigration.

Turnbull admitted he had not personally spoken to Labor to determine whether it would support the emissions legislation, which would give it the numbers in the House.

The shelving of the emissions legislation could cause the Labor states – yet to sign off on the National Energy Guarantee – to walk away from the broad NEG scheme.

Under the initiatives to try to drive down electricity prices announced by Turnbull, a “default market offer” would be set, from which all discounts would be calculated.

“Consumers will be able easily to compare offers from different companies and recognise when they’re being ripped off or when they’re getting a fair deal,” Turnbull said.

He said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission estimated that for average customers on an inflated standing offer, the savings on moving to a new default market offer could range between $183 and $416 a year. For the average small to medium business the move could save between $561 and $1457.

Turnbuil said the ACCC would be given new powers to “step in where there has been abuse or misuse of market power.

“In the most egregious cases of abuse, additional powers will be conferred on government to issue directions on operations, functional separation and even, as a last resort, divestiture of parts of the big power companies,” Turnbull said.

At his news conference, where he was flanked by Treasurer Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, Turnbull rejected a reporter’s suggestion that he had just delivered Tony Abbott’s policy. Abbott has wanted the emission target dropped and Australia to walk away from the Paris climate agreement.

“Our energy policy remains the same, but we are not going to present a bill into the House of Representatives until we believe it will be carried,” Turnbull said.

“We obviously need the support of sufficient of our colleagues to get it passed and that means, you know, substantially all of them.”

On Paris, he said: “We are parties to the Paris Agreement and the government has committed to that”.

The president of the Queensland Liberal National Party, Gary Spence, is urging MPs from Queensland – a vital state at the election – to replace Turnbull with Dutton.

Meanwhile, Western Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds strongly backed Turnbull, telling Sky she “absolutely” believed he would be prime minister at the election.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce welcomed the government’s crackdown on power companies saying it was a good outcome. He was particularly pleased with the divesture power, which meant “if you play up, we can break you up”. Turnbull had shown his “capacity to listen”.

Throwing his weight behind the revised package, Joyce said “it’s a great move today.” Asked on Sky about the leadership, he said “I don’t think changing prime ministers looks good.” He also dismmissed Spence’s call for a move to Dutton saying the parliamentary wing should not be confused with the branch members.

Monday 2:33pm

UPDATE: Nationals enthusiastic about revisions but energy industry is critical

The Nationals have swung in strongly behind the revised package.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and his senior ministerial colleagues held a joint news conference to back the enhanced measures to attack high prices.

Nationals who previously had been dissidents, including former prime minister Barnaby Joyce, made separate supportive comments.

The fact the backbench Nationals have been brought back into the tent is important for Turnbull, because it leaves the Liberal hardliners more isolated.

The Nationals are particularly enthusiastic about the commitment to embrace the ACCC recommendation for the government to underwrite investment in projects for new dispatchable power undertaken by new players.

Although the recommendation is technology-neutral, the Nationals see this as a pathway for new coal projects. Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said: “I’m not afraid to say the C-word: coal, coal, coal is going to be one of the areas we invest in.”

Queensland Nationals backbencher George Christensen, said: “We have a new energy policy thanks to a band of ‘Liberal National rebels’ who stood firm and fought for common sense.”

Christensen said: “What has been announced this morning puts price reductions first and foremost, so pensioners struggling to pay their power bills come before the ‘feel good’ Paris Agreement.”

Another Nationals backbencher, Andrew Gee, welcomed “plans to abandon the National Energy Guarantee”. “It shows that if you stand up and be counted you can actually make a difference, but it’s disappointing that it took this long”.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten labelled Turnbull “truly a white flag prime minister”. “Every day it is a new policy
from the government, a new policy not designed to lower energy prices but just for Mr Turnbull to keep his job from his enemies,”

“Mr Turnbull has demonstrated that he is not the leader this nation needs. Real leadership is about fighting
for the principles you believe in. Real leadership is about not always giving in to your enemies every time they disagree with you,” Shorten said.

Labor states and the ACT were scathing.

Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said: “I’m not sure Malcolm Turnbull knows what the NEG is anymore – or if it still exists.”

“We’ll carefully consider whatever energy policy emerges out of the infighting going on up in Canberra.”

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said “what we are seeing today is energy policy in free fall”.

The ACT minister for Climate Change, Shane Rattenbury said the federal government had now completely capitulated on emissions and climate change, and abandoned the Paris Climate Change commitments.

“The NEG is dead. It was hailed as a policy to address the ‘trilemma’ of prices, reliability and emissions reduction. Instead, Federal energy policy is being determined by the worst, climate change denying elements of the Liberal Party,” Rattenbury said.

The Australian Energy Council’s chief executive, Sarah McNamara, criticised the government’s announcement, saying it “has left the most critical policy, the National Energy Guarantee, in limbo.

“Re-regulation of electricity prices and aggressive market interventions are not the long-term answer to high energy prices,” she said.

“The NEG and policy stability remain the long-term solution to bringing down prices.”

McNamara said that “replacement investment demands bipartisan policy and the lack of it remains the biggest drag on the energy market.”

“This is policy with no consultation,” she said.
“Re-regulation has the very real potential to damage competition and confidence.”

McNamara said increasing the ACCC’s powers to allow divestment of private assets was not supported by the ACCC’s own report.

<!– Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. –>
The Conversation

The Council represents 21 major electricity and downstream natural gas businesses operating in competitive wholesale and retail energy markets. They collectively generate the overwhelming majority of electricity in Australia.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill – It’s time for Turnbull to put his authority on the line


File 20180819 165937 lc50q7.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Malcolm Turnbull is faced with a highly volatile situation. But he may need to manage it by taking a risk.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull struggles with the National Energy Guarantee, the Liberals are in an existential moment – no less dramatic because in recent history, they’ve made a habit of such moments.

Are they going to allow a toxic combination of revenge politics, anti-climate change ideology, panic over the Longman result, and sheer muddle-headedness kill the chance of giving certainty to energy investment and tear down or mortally wound their prime minister?

One pro-Turnbull backbencher describes it as a “hostage situation”, with a small number “holding the nation to ransom”. By and large, the backbench is happy with the NEG, this backbencher affirms.

Turnbull now should put his authority on the line over his energy policy, which he’s augmented by concessions and extra price measures.

This doesn’t mean asking for a vote on his leadership, but perhaps it should mean breaking the normal practice of operating by consensus and instead taking a formal vote on the policy at Tuesday’s Coalition parties’ meeting.

Yes, it would be a big risk. Some sources do say there is leadership stirring going on in Liberal ranks. (Certainly, News Corp appears to be helping fuel the situation – it’s a nice irony that a lot of trouble is coming from the government’s favourite media organisation, not the one it so dislikes, the ABC.)

It would be better for Turnbull to take on his enemies than allow his position to be eroded progressively on their timetable, which reportedly is to wait until September, after another bad Newspoll.

If he can’t hold the situation at this point, his grip is only going to get weaker quite quickly.

Turnbull, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg have spent the past few days cobbling together initiatives in an attempt to appease mutinous backbenchers. This comes less than a week after the NEG had majority support in the Coalition party room.

Turnbull looks weak and desperate, but had little choice because he could not afford a number of MPs crossing the floor.

The proposed changes include regulating rather than legislating the 26% target for emissions reduction in the electricity sector.

To counter his earlier warnings about a Shorten government easily increasing the target if it were set in regulation, Turnbull said in a Sunday social media video: “we will introduce a new law that ensures that before any new emissions target is set, or changed, the energy regulators and the [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] must advise what that means for your electricity prices.

“This will ensure that any government who wants to change this, has to tell you up front what the cost will be.”

The revamped package also includes provision for a “price expectation”, with companies that don’t meet it facing penalties, plus a range of other market interventions on power companies.

“We will set a price expectation which should be the most anyone pays,” Turnbull said.

“And if the prices remain too high, we’ll implement the toughest penalties, until you’re getting value for money.

“We will not hesitate to use a big stick, as we did with gas, to make sure the big companies do the right thing by you, their customers.”

These measures will satisfy some critics within the Coalition. They don’t satisfy Abbott – and an unknown number of others.

The dissidents last week included some Nationals but the pragmatists in that party, which had its federal council in Canberra on Friday and Saturday, are anxious for a settlement (that includes a gesture to coal). Nationals cabinet ministers have been embarrassed, however, by being out of the loop as Turnbull crafted his concessions.

All that’s happened vindicates, incidentally, the Labor states and ACT declining to sign on to the NEG until after the party room finalised its position. Those jurisdictions, and federal Labor, have had one of their demands – having the target set by regulation – met, thanks to the dissidents.

After the reports of the change, Abbott was quickly on 2GB on Saturday to stir trouble.

“On Tuesday, in the party room, we were told it is absolutely essential to legislate the Paris target, because if we don’t legislate it Labor can just increase it willy-nilly, and last night it seems we’ve dumped the idea of legislation, for god knows what reason,” he said. “It’s no way to run a government, making absolute commitments on Tuesday and breaking them on Friday”.

While once again declaring he was about switching policy rather than leader, he also posed the question: “Can you change the policy without changing the leader?” Asked if there was going to be “a leadership attempt”, he said: “I don’t know”.

And that takes us straight to Peter Dutton, whose performance last week was highly provocative.

On Thursday Dutton played footsie on 2GB about his possible route out of cabinet. On Friday the Daily Telegraph said he was being asked to challenge Turnbull. On Saturday that paper’s headline was “Dutton Ready to Roll – Minister considers Turnbull challenge …”.

Dutton stayed silent all Friday. Only on Saturday morning did he tweet: “In relation to media stories today, just to make very clear, the Prime Minister has my support and I support the policies of the Government. My position hasn’t changed from my comments last Thursday.”

As they say, too little, too late. Dutton’s long silence had encouraged the speculation. His colleagues will judge (some will know) whether this was political misjudgement or disloyalty.

Turnbull is faced with a highly volatile situation. But how to handle it?

Firstly, Turnbull and his ministers need to get a package out on Monday that can be delivered (do some of the extra measures require state legislation?), is free of glitches, and provides insurgents with minimum opportunities for floor crossing. Cabinet ministers were discussing this over dinner on Sunday night.

Secondly, Senate leader Mathias Cormann, Dutton’s very good friend, should tell his mate, as they take their 5.30 am constitutional in Canberra’s cold, that allowing others to trail his coat is not appropriate behaviour for a cabinet minister.

Cormann might usefully make a couple of other points. Leaders who come to power by the sword often end badly. And if there were a leadership contest, who would know what surprise result might eventuate (who, in 2009. thought it would be Abbott who’d defeat Turnbull)?

Thirdly, Turnbull needs to get strong, articulate backbench supporters of the NEG out there countering the substance of the dissidents’ policy arguments.

And finally, he should press the party room into a decisive stand.

Chancing his arm might at worst backfire, leading quickly to his losing his head. But if so, he would have lost it before too long anyway.

Update:

Malcolm Turnbull’s situation has been worsened by the latest Fairfax Fairfax Media/Ipsos poll, published Monday, which has the Coalition trailing Labor 45-55% – a dramatic drop from a month ago when the gap was 49-51%.

This poll, which tends to be volatile, varies significantly from Newspoll earlier this month, which had the Coalition behind 49-51%.

Turnbull still has a strong lead over Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister in the Fairfax poll – 48-36%. But the gap has narrowed greatly compared with a month ago, when Turnbull led 57-30%.

<!– Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. –>
The Conversation

The poll showed that a majority – 54% – back the National Energy Guarantee, with only 22% against. Among Coalition voters 64% back the NEG, with support among Labor voters at 59%.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG remains in snake-infested territory


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull had a party-room victory but a god-awful week, and it wasn’t because his approval plunged in Monday’s Newspoll. His energy policy is back in the mire, and Tony Abbott is being – as one colleague neatly describes it – the agent of chaos.

It’s nearly unimaginable how the Coalition chooses to replay that old self-destructive record. In Bill Shorten’s office they’ve been digging out the 2009 headlines, such as “Battered Turnbull faces mutiny” and “Abbott leaves leader in crisis”.

Well, Turnbull is not “in crisis” but things are quite a serious mess, as those who hate him, plus others who don’t, sharpen their attack in another round of the climate wars.

In Tuesday’s Coalition parties meeting, where Turnbull won strong support for his energy policy, several reserved their right to cross the floor on the emissions reduction legislation, and later more said they might do so. There was talk of up to ten.




Read more:
Turnbull beats Abbott over NEG, now Frydenberg has to win Victoria


Assistant minister Keith Pitt, from the Nationals, let rumours run that he might stand down from the frontbench to oppose the legislation (a cynical Nationals source said: “he’s made hollow threats before”).

Resources Minister Matt Canavan (also a National), asked in the Senate whether he’d attempted to persuade Pitt on the National Energy Guarantee, said he’d “tried to persuade all I’ve spoken to about the common sense of adopting” the NEG.

The Nationals’ federal council meets this weekend in Canberra, where there will be a lot of chatter about the NEG. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in his council address will emphasise the vital importance of lowering power prices – very safe ground – but given his divided ranks, he isn’t expected to come out with a passionate advocacy of the technology-neutral NEG. A motion on the council’s agenda calls on the government “to support the building of high-energy, low-emissions, coal-fired power stations”.

It’s one thing for backbenchers to talk about crossing the floor, quite another to do it. Turnbull is working hard on the rebels – though obviously not on Abbott – to try to bring them around.

They have wish lists, and Turnbull, the ultimate transactional politician, is seeking doable ways to mollify them. The government has already indicated it will accept the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s recommendation to underwrite new dispatchable power projects.

On Thursday night a senior source said Turnbull was considering “heavy-handed intervention” to bring down prices. “The prime minister is not afraid to pull out the big stick on electricity companies if that’s what it takes,” the source said.

The stakes are clear. If everything went pear-shaped and there were enough floor-crossers in the House of Representatives to sink the package’s emissions reduction legislation, that would effectively (though not literally) amount to a vote of no confidence in the prime minister.

Hard to imagine, and probably only Abbott is thinking that far ahead. When other dissidents contemplate what could happen, some can be expected to fold on that ground alone.

Meantime, things fray as pressure mounts.

Take Peter Dutton’s Thursday interview with 2GB’s Ray Hadley. Hadley challenged Dutton over the energy policy, demanding to know, “Are you blindly loyal [to Turnbull]?” Instead of mounting a full-throttle defence of the policy, Dutton said he gave frank advice in private as a member of the cabinet and didn’t bag out colleagues or the prime minister publicly. This just left a question mark over what Dutton actually thinks about the policy.

Turnbull is up against multiple obstacles, apart from the insurgents.

He needs to get the states and the ACT onboard for the NEG, but the Victorian Labor government has a particular interest in procrastinating, and may do so until it goes into caretaker mode in October. It is judging what’s best for itself electorally, especially given its battle with the Greens in Melbourne’s inner metropolitan electorates.

Impatient as the federal government is to get finality on the NEG, it could be risky for it to press the Victorians too hard before the November state election. That might just increase the chances of a firm “no”. As one federal source says, Victoria needs to be accorded some space.

After the state election, things would be easier. If the government changed in Victoria, the new administration would sign up. If Labor was returned – and had left open its position on the NEG during the campaign – it might be more readily persuaded to fall into line.

Then there is federal Labor. It is generally thought the government will need ALP support to pass the emissions reduction legislation in the Senate, and defections could mean Labor was needed in the lower house too.

The argument has gone: Labor would try to amend the emissions reduction target in the legislation but, assuming that failed, it could then pass the legislation in order to take the climate/energy issue off the 2019 election agenda. That would leave a Shorten government able to increase the target later.

If Labor sees Turnbull being wounded by the internal battle, however, it would have every incentive to hold out on the emissions legislation, leaving the prime minister unable to deliver it.

Another set of players in Turnbull’s energy problems comprise the media shouters: Alan Jones, Hadley, Peta Credlin, Andrew Bolt.

They direct their megaphones to the so-called Coalition “base” and their messages resonate particularly with the Liberal National Party’s grass roots in Queensland. This makes some backbenchers nervous, inclining them (in one description) to “virtue signal” to the base.

Coalition backbenchers generally, increasingly frightened for their seats, are caught in a swirl of pressures and emotions. Some are angry at Abbott. Some look for an unrealistic nirvana, where prices suddenly plunge in time for the election.

<!– Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. –>
The Conversation

Some just want the NEG out of the way, a policy in the kit bag, whatever they think of it. NSW Liberal senator Jim Molan, who describes the NEG as “sub-optimal” told Sky he supported the package on the basis that “we’ve got to focus on getting re-elected”, noting: “I’ve spent all my life making rubbish policy work.” An endorsement of sorts.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The renewable energy train is unstoppable. The NEG needs to get on board


Ken Baldwin, Australian National University

On the face of it, the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), adopted as Coalition policy at a party room meeting yesterday, appears to promise the certainty that industry, consumers and experts have desperately sought for the past decade. But beware: there is a renewable energy train coming down the track that is unstoppable.

The NEG cannot stop the train, but it could act as a guide rail to steer it – or even safely accelerate it – by reducing investment risk and lowering the cost of finance for renewable energy projects.




Read more:
Turnbull beats Abbott over NEG, now Frydenberg has to win Victoria


The latest figures indicate that the renewable energy train will smash Australia’s 2020 Renewable Energy Target. Assuming that the current pace of renewable energy investment continues (and there is good reason to expect that it will, given the unarguable economics of plummeting renewable energy prices worldwide), then the electricity sector would be on track to hit the government’s 26% emissions reduction target by 2030 with virtually no policy help at all.

The unstoppable renewable energy train may even end up contributing the lion’s share of the reductions needed to achieve Australia’s economy-wide target of cutting emissions by 26-28% relative to 2005 levels by 2030.

This would particularly be the case if we ramped up the electrification of other sectors such as transport and industry, and encouraged householders to replace gas with electricity for heating and cooking.

The big issue then would be whether the rest of the electricity system can adapt quickly enough as renewable energy reaches 50% and above. This would call for significant grid upgrades and storage systems, so as to provide efficient and reliable supply.

Missing the train?

With the NEG projected to deliver no more than 36% renewable energy by 2030, one could argue that this policy is simply waving from the platform as the renewables train goes whooshing by. But this argument ignores the impetus that the NEG would provide to advancing climate policy as a whole.

The NEG is widely regarded by energy analysts as the fourth-best solution – after a carbon pricing system, an emissions intensity scheme, or a clean energy target. But while many commentators have taken issue with both its ambition and its effectiveness, legislating the NEG would undeniably break the policy paralysis that has stopped Australia from moving forward for so many years.

There is no reason why a future government could not introduce other measures – such as an economy-wide price on carbon, regarded by most economists as the most efficient way to combat climate change. Such a scheme could be laid right over the top of the NEG and would drive further transformation not just of the electricity market, but every other sector of the economy. This would be complementary to the NEG and could help decarbonise the electricity sector even more rapidly.

Yet much of the opposition to the policy has come from government backbenchers concerned that it already puts too much emphasis on cutting emissions. How, then, can the NEG thread the political needle without being compromised as an effective tool for decarbonisation?

Making the NEG better

First, the mechanism itself needs to be decoupled from the ambition. That is, the politically charged emissions reduction target needs to be set not in legislation but by regulation, so that it can easily be used as a dial to tune the level of ambition.

Any future government could then ramp up the electricity sector’s emissions target beyond 26%. This could be done either to cover the inevitable shortfall in other sectors (where emissions reductions are harder to achieve), or to help deliver a steeper emissions-reduction trajectory if required by the world’s post-Paris progress. Bear in mind that signatories to the Paris Agreement have agreed to periodically review and tighten their emissions goals, meaning that Australia’s current target will probably be revised upwards.

Critics of this approach might argue that it provides less certainty to industry, rather than more. But the certainty would be established by the mechanism of emissions reductions rather than the rate. If that sounds hard to envisage, consider how financial institutions plan and prepare for changes to interest rates, within a broad economic regulatory framework.

A timetable for reviewing and adjusting emissions targets could be set in much the same way as the Reserve Bank of Australia handles interest rates, although this should perhaps be done on timeframes measured in years rather than months.

Second, the states need to be able to set their own renewable energy targets, independently of those states that currently have no target, such as New South Wales. One way to implement this would be for all states to agree to each comply with the minimum 26% target so there would be no free-riding on the back of those states that decide to be more ambitious than the national baseline.




Read more:
Emissions policy is under attack from all sides. We’ve been here before, and it rarely ends well


Whatever happens, the renewable energy train is building momentum, and the debates within COAG and with intransigent elements in the federal Coalition party room may end up being irrelevant in the long run.

<!– Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. –>
The Conversation

But for the sake of our future, the resolution of climate and energy policy via the NEG will be an important baby step that helps to underpin the cost of decarbonising our entire economy. To do that, we must first pick the lowest-hanging fruit: the electricity sector.

Ken Baldwin, Director, Energy Change Institute, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull beats Abbott over NEG, now Frydenberg has to win Victoria


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has secured a decisive party room victory over Tony Abbott, taking the government’s signature National Energy Guarantee policy another step towards implementation.

Tuesday’s Coalition party room, in a 155-minute debate, gave strong support to the plan. But sources variously said four or five MPs – Abbott, Andrew Hastie, senator Eric Abetz, Tony Pasin and George Christensen – had reserved their right to cross the floor when the federal legislation for the emissions target comes to parliament, and others expressed doubts and criticisms.

In a statement after the meeting, Abbott said at least a dozen had expressed “serious concerns about the NEG or about turning the non-binding Paris targets into law”.

During the debate, Abbott pointedly referred to “merchant bankers’ gobbledigook”.

Tuesday’s party room mood reflected that most Coalition MPs accept that to save marginal seats and give the government, embattled in the polls, its best chance of survival, they need to unite behind Turnbull and the government’s policies.

During the meeting, several MPs told the dissidents they should reconsider their position and show cohesion.

The fate of the NEG scheme now depends crucially on the Labor states – notably Victoria – giving consent to it, and on the parliamentary numbers for the federal emissions reduction legislation.

The government is likely to need Labor support to get the emission legislation through. The legislation will be introduced this parliamentary fortnight.

Labor’s position is that it does not want this legislation debated until the states have made their decision on the NEG. When it is debated, the opposition will seek to amend it for a higher target. It has not said what it would do if, as expected, its amendment failed.

The Victorian Energy Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said after the Coalition party meeting: “We’ll study the Commonwealth NEG legislation thoroughly to see what concessions Malcolm Turnbull has given the climate sceptics in his party room.”

“We have said all along – we won’t let Malcolm Turnbull put our renewable energy industry and Victorian jobs at risk. We’ll continue to work through the COAG energy council to address our concerns.”

Energy minister Josh Frydenberg has a phone hook up with state ministers late Tuesday. They are set to release draft state legislation for the NEG mechanism.

But the states are not due to consider their support for the scheme again for some weeks, after failing to sign up last Friday. It is a race against time for the federal government, because Victoria goes into caretaker mode in October for the November election.




Read more:
Labor states keep the National Energy Guarantee in play but withhold agreement


With Victoria the main obstacle, Frydenberg said: “It’s time Daniel Andrews stopped walking both sides of the street and put the interests of Victorians first and the businesses of Victorians first. And he would do that by signing up to the National Energy Guarantee before he goes into caretaker mode.”

The pro-coal MPs were reassured in the party room by the government’s acceptance of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendation for the federal government to underwrite new despatchable power projects.

After the meeting, Abbott released an angry statement in response to the “rampant hostile briefing of journalists while the meeting was underway.”

“Yes, as the Prime Minister said at its close, there was party room support for the minister’s position. Much of it though, was of the ‘yes … but’ variety: congratulating him for the work he’d done in difficult circumstances and saying that the NEG was the best way through a bad situation.

“But most then added that what really mattered was actually getting prices down – not just talking about modelling – and actually getting more despatchable power into the system via ACCC recommendation 4 [on underwriting].

“Unfortunately, most explanations of how the NEG (as it stands without price targets) might theoretically get prices down sound like merchant bankers’ gobbledigook.

“It was a real pity that the meeting broke up before the chairman of the backbench committee, Craig Kelly, was able to finish his contribution.

“Yes, there were lots of pleas for unity but as one MP said, we’ve got to be loyal to our electorates and to party members too, and not show the ‘unity of lemmings’”.

“Yes, there was lots of regard for the ‘experts’ and for ‘business leaders’ but as one MP said ‘I’m not here for the technocrats’.

“I heard at least four lower house MPs formally reserve their position on the legislation and at least a dozen express serious concerns about the NEG or about turning the non-binding Paris targets into law with massive penalties attached.

“This is the big question that the party room didn’t really grapple with: when the big emitters are not meeting Paris, why should we? Especially, as even the Chief Scientist said, the difference meeting our target would make is ‘virtually nothing’”, Abbott’s statement said.

The Business Council of Australia called on “state and territory leaders to now get on with the job of implementing the National Energy Guarantee by releasing the draft legislation.

“It’s up to Victoria and Queensland, along with the other states and territories, to stop playing political games with people’s power bills.

“COAG Energy Council must stop dithering and finally act to end the decade of dysfunction that has plagued our energy sector.”

UPDATE

The ConversationIn a phone hook-up on Tuesday night the COAG energy council agreed to release an exposure draft of the National Electricity Law amendments needed to establish the mechanism for the NEG.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor states keep the National Energy Guarantee in play but withhold agreement


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Labor states have kept the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) alive but withheld the in-principle support the federal government had originally hoped to extract from Friday’s meeting of the COAG Energy Council.

The next stage in the NEG battle is the Coalition parties’ crucial meeting on Tuesday, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg will be confronted by Tony Abbott and other critics who want, in effect, the plan to be made less green.

The Labor jurisdictions are anxious both to ensure that the NEG plan won’t be derailed by the Coalition party room, and to extract concessions from the federal government.

Victoria’s energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said that her state had withheld its support until conditions that it put earlier this week were met.

D’Ambrosio emphasised that Victoria was “not walking away from the table” but added that Turnbull and Frydenberg needed to “stare down the crazies in their party room”.

Friday’s meeting had at an earlier stage been billed as deadline day for the NEG, but D’Ambrosio said it was “far too soon” to sign off on the policy.




Read more:
What’s your state’s position at the crucial National Energy Guarantee meeting?


Queensland’s acting energy minister Cameron Dick said his state was pleased that Frydenberg “has accepted Queensland’s position that we need the Commonwealth legislation to go through the federal Coalition party room first”.

“The Coalition party room is the biggest risk to energy and price stability, and has been for 10 years, so we need that party room certainty,” he said.

Ministers from the non-Labor states of South Australia and New South Wales said they would have preferred to have moved forward more quickly.

Frydenberg put a positive spin on the meeting, saying that ministers had moved a step closer to implementing the NEG. They had agreed to release an exposure draft of the needed state legislative amendments to implement it. This would be done after a teleconference on Tuesday and the passage of federal legislation through the party room, he said.

“In the words of Energy Security Board Chair Dr Kerry Schott, today’s agreement is a ‘great step forward’,” he said.

But Frydenberg remained intransigent in the face of demands, which have been strongly pushed by Victoria, that the Commonwealth emissions reduction legislation should allow targets to be increased by regulation, rather than requiring more legislation.

Frydenberg said the federal government would not negotiate on that issue, and pointed out that Victoria’s own renewable energy target is enshrined in legislation.




Read more:
Emissions policy is under attack from all sides. We’ve been here before, and it rarely ends well


The Australian Industry Group said that continuing development of the NEG was a positive step. But its chief executive Innes Willox warned: “The COAG Energy Council will soon have to make a real decision or risk condemning Australian industry to years more of damaging uncertainty.”

The Business Council of Australia also welcomed the step forward.

In a round of interviews before the meeting, Frydenberg said he was confident that the governments “will agree to move forward” with the NEG.

“We had a very constructive dinner last night and there was a broad appreciation … of the importance of the National Energy Guarantee, of our responsibilities to deliver lower power prices and to increase the reliability of the system, and the importance of integrating energy and climate policy,” he said.

“So while some of the states maintain some of their concerns with the design, there is broad understanding of the importance of the guarantee.”

The ConversationGreens climate and energy spokesperson Adam Bandt said that the states were “hopefully realising the NEG is a dud”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Victorian Labor government shapes up to Canberra over NEG


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Victorian Labor government’s cabinet will consider on Monday a raft of demands around the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) ahead of a crucial federal-state energy ministers’ meeting later this week.

This comes as a broad group of business and industry bodies appeals to “federal, state and territory leaders to put aside politics and ideology and support the implementation of the National Energy Guarantee.

“Business and industry need policy certainty and stability in the energy sector. There can be no further delays,” they say in a statement issued on Monday.

Like Victoria, the Labor governments in Queensland and the ACT are pressing for changes and guarantees on the NEG package, but the Andrews government is shaping up as particularly gung ho. It is under intense political heat, facing an election in November, with contests against the Greens in inner city seats.

The Council of Australian Governments energy council meets on Friday. The federal government wants approval given to the NEG mechanism there. That mechanism requires state legislation.

If he can get in-principle agreement on the NEG mechanism on Friday, federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg will then take the planned federal legislation on emissions targets to the Coalition party room the following Tuesday, with the COAG energy council to sign off on the package after that meeting.

There would be a meeting about the final detail of the state legislation in September.

The Labor jurisdictions are discussing a range of demands.

These include that

… emissions targets could only be increased not reduced;

… increases in targets should be able to be made by regulation rather than requiring legislation that could be blocked by the Senate;

… the emissions reduction targets should be reviewed every three years. Frydenberg is proposing a five year review period, after initially planning for a ten year period.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Dutton and Frydenberg struggle with the currents in shark-infested waters


Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday: “There is significant doubt that the Prime Minister can even get through his own party room the reforms that he would like us to sign up to.” Andrews said that Tony Abbott, who is highly critical of the NEG, had significant support for his views in the party room.

Victoria wanted the Prime Minister to show he had party room support and then come back to the states, Andrews said, repeating the position his energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio put last week. Frydenberg has said the states will get the chance for another look in the phone hook up after the Coalition party meeting.

Andrews said the federal government’s plan would in part see Victoria and other states “ceding to the Commonwealth the authority to set renewable energy targets, for instance, putting renewable energy jobs and putting additional supply into the grid into the hands of the some of those in the Prime Minister’s own party room”.

The ACT government last week said it could not support the NEG in its current form, with the territory’s legislative assembly passing a motion calling for improvements.

The Queensland Energy Minister, Anthony Lynham, will not be at Friday’s meeting – a surgeon, he is volunteering on a boat off Papua New Guinea. He will be represented by an acting minister. Queensland has expressed concerns about its renewables target – 50% of energy coming from renewables by 2030 – being compromised.

Federal sources are reacting sharply to the looming demands from the Labor states, saying that emissions targets are the responsibility of the federal government, not the states, and that nothing in the NEG restricts state governments’ renewable targets. They also say that Victoria has the second highest power prices.

As the NEG battle enters a crucial week, the statement from business and industry groups says: “Together our organisations represent businesses that employ millions of Australian workers. The business sector employs five out of six working Australians and contributes more than 80% of economic output in this country”.

The statement is put out by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Council of Small Business Organisations, the National Farmers’ Federation, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and the Australian Energy Council.

It says “a decade of policy uncertainty has only resulted in higher electricity prices and a less stable and reliable energy system”.

“Now is the time to act in Australia’s national interest. Australian households and businesses cannot afford the costs of yet another cycle of political sparring, indecision and inaction”.

The CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, on Sunday made a forceful plea for the NEG to get support.

She said a “decade of dysfunction” needed to be ended and this was a scheme that businesses said could be made to work.

“Look, you can’t satisfy the extremes of this debate. If you took the extreme green movement, you do nothing because the community would not tolerate the deindustrialisation of the economy that basically they’re arguing for.

“You can’t satisfy the extreme right of this debate because again, you do nothing, ” she told Sky.

“So we keep dithering as a country and as we dither … prices continue to go up. Investment uncertainty continues to rise.

The Conversation“We’ll just have to get on with this and get some progress. If you’re trying to satisfy both ends of this debate … you will do nothing for another 20 years.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.