Turnbull whacks Shorten over renewable energy – February 2017

Filed under: Politics, Australian Politics, Trade and industry, Energy,

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull seized the first opportunity in the year’s parliamentary sittings to launch a blistering personal attack on Labor leader Bill Shorten and his state Labor colleagues over “unrealistic” targets for renewable energy.

The basis for the attack was that such targets endangered the security of power supplies and put pressure on household electricity bills.

It provided an obvious morale boost in the Coalition ranks, despite a mixed reaction from the commentariat.

And as he followed up with more of the same it seemed clear that he wanted to shift the terms of debate from action to combat climate change to the day-to-day reality of energy security and price.

In the Fairfax media Mark Kewnny wrote, “Watching the partisan battle over blackouts, renewable energy, and soaring power prices, there was a sense … that it was Malcolm Turnbull who was more effectively honing his lines, and thus isolating his opponents' weaknesses.

“This is despite the fact that the once green-tinged PM has surrendered more of his own reputation in the conduct of this debate than Bill Shorten.

“ … in South Australia, the debate is beyond politics now. Labor cannot afford to appear cavalier about rising electricity costs and collapsing confidence in the power supply in SA. There, comparatively abstract concerns over climate change have been overwhelmed by the tangible concern over energy security and the pressing reality of ever high prices.

“Having read this switch clearly, Turnbull is now shaping to construct this harsh reality in voters' minds well beyond the central state's parched borders.

“Scare campaign? You bet, and it will work, too.”

Mr Turnbull’s campaign was despite a call from a broad range of 18 industry, environmental and welfare groups pleading with politicians to abandon their point-scoring theatrics and find common ground on energy policy to provide cost and investment certainty.

But the PM is pursuing a tricky game. Paul Bongiorno, in The New Daily, observed: “Malcolm Turnbull playing a Tony Abbott-style energy policy never looked convincing. Now, even he realises that his attack on renewable energy was misdirected.

“Worse, it exposed the government’s complete lack of a coherent policy and made them look out of touch with consumer and business sentiment.

“The plan was simple last year: the Prime Minister could restore the government’s fortunes by coming up with a contemporary version of Mr Abbott’s carbon tax scare.

“The beguiling appeal was to link Labor’s climate change policies to the rising cost of living. The message was simple: vote Labor and your power bill will go even higher.”

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