Politics

10 Years On, Tony Abbott Is Still Undermining Malcolm Turnbull’s Climate Policy

Tony Abbott is back to ruin the environment and Malcolm Turnbull.

When the federal government commissioned Chief Scientist Alan Finkel to write a report on the national electricity market and investigate ways to reduce emissions, the idea was to short circuit Australia’s incredibly broken climate change policy. After all, he’s an independent, highly regarded expert with an express interest in finding a politically workable solution to global warming. Who could disagree?

But, shock horror, Malcolm Turnbull’s latest attempt at clean energy policy is now being bogged down by far-right MPs, with a party meeting on the Finkel report’s recommendations earlier this week being overtaken by the screams of none other than our sad, confused ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Yup, buckle in, it’s all happening again.

What Does The Finkel Report Actually Say?

Released last Friday, Finkel’s report calls for a new clean energy target and an incentive based system that would encourage, and eventually force, electricity retailers to provide electricity from low emissions sources. By advocating for slower closures of coal mines and incorporating transitionary technologies such as gas, “clean coal” (which doesn’t exist) and carbon capture (which does but is very expensive), the report was also supposed to mitigate the concerns of fossil fuel lovers.

Naturally, the announcement of a reasonably sensible climate policy meant that somebody could smell blood in the water. Here’s Tony desperately trying to conflate any kind of market-based action on climate change to his precious, terrible “carbon tax-not-a-tax” campaign:

Please note that, according to Finkel’s projections, a “business as usual” approach where the government did nothing to reduce emissions would mean electricity prices actually go up ten percent as old, coal power stations reach the end of their working lives. Abbott’s concern here is for coal, not power prices. For context, feel free to check out that time he implied a mining company should give his minister a retirement job as “gratitude” for repealing the mining tax here.

Luckily, our actual Prime Minister has finally shown an iota of leadership of the issue, labelling the backbencher complaints as “glib answers and one-liners [that] have been of no assistance in keeping Australians’ energy secure and affordable”.

“What Australians need is wise leadership, not glib leadership,” Turnbull said, somewhat glibly.

While his surprising display of backbone is likely down to the fact Turnbull has the support of more moderate Coalition MPs, including Nationals’ leader Barnaby Joyce (still reeling from the UK election), it’s just a relief to see him do anything resembling his 2009 self.

The Liberal Hard Right Aren’t Happy

Unfortunately, Turnbull is still stuck between moderate Coalition members and hard-right MPs, including Abbott and (oh noo) George Christensen, who has announced he will vote against a Clean Energy Target and is, ridiculously, calling for federally funded coal mines (??).

As part of his attack on “glib leadership”, Turnbull has also had a go at South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill, arguing that the state government was sacrificing energy security in its “massive commitment to renewable energy”.

This is a a veiled reference to SA’s blackouts last year, which Turnbull incorrectly tried to link to renewable energy instead of, y’know, those massive storms.

“Glibness is not going to keep the lights on,” Turnbull said, once again pretty glibly. “Glibness is not going to pay the electricity bills.”

The climate debate has all gotten to the point where Liberal MPs are having to reaffirm their commitment to Turnbull as party leader and seriously argue the system is not tax on coal. You’ll remember that Turnbull once lost his position for a similar reason to, oh, one Tony Abbott, all the way back in 2009.

So for old times sake, here’s how Abbott and co. have trapped us in this regressive goddamn argument for almost a decade now, and why they simply aren’t helping anyone.

How Did We Get Here?

Australia has gone down in history as the first country to legislate for carbon pricing, with the Clean Energy Act coming into effect July 21, 2012.

While the 2012 pricing scheme followed years of criticism that the then federal government was going too far/not far enough from the Coalition and Greens respectively, Labor arguably succeeded in balancing both economic and environmental concerns with income tax, welfare and industry compensation schemes and a demonstrated decrease in carbon emissions from affected businesses.

Unfortunately, we also made history as the first country to repeal carbon pricing in 2014, in a moment that’s in all likelihood going to go down in history as one of those terrible “band playing as the Titanic sunk”-style images:

Surprisingly, Tony Abbott’s subsequent paying-polluters-to-maybe-not-pollute-if-they-don’t-feel-like-it-but-take-the-money-either-way scheme did not work super well.

The Direct Action policy led directly to an increase in carbon emissions, did nothing for the environment, and electricity prices actually doubled since the carbon tax was repealed. That was down to both rocketing gas prices and investment uncertainty as those ageing, coal-fired power plants begin to shut down.

Now, as the Coalition tries to limp towards a compromise between Labor’s carbon pricing system and ~nothing~, we’re seeing history repeat. But, lucky for us, the economic reasons for clean energy are easier to communicate than they were a decade back, largely because it’s never been this goddamn cheap.

Even Big Industry Wants Change

For a moment, forget about the environment. Yes, this is going to be very difficult any Libs out there, but please just try your best.

Because even putting aside the extremely important, pressing issue of climate change, the truth is that Australian businesses want an emissions trading scheme (ETS), which goes further than the clean energy target by introducing a “stick” to the scenario where power stations would have to buy credits for excess emissions from low-polluting stations.

Industry giants such as BHP Billiton, Origin Energy, and the National Farmers’ Federation are now calling for carbon pricing to fill the policy vacuum left by Abbott’s repeal.

According to Origin Energy chief Frank Calabria, an ETS would have a low impact on power prices, would provide an incentive to invest in low-carbon electricity and promote the winding down of old, high-emission coal generation.

“The best approach for the electricity sector is an emissions intensity scheme that would price carbon at the margin,” Calabria said. “Unfortunately this mechanism has been ruled out by the government, despite widespread support from the energy industry and others.”

This is also helped by the fact that, as much as the leaders a nation ranked as one of the worst polluters per capita are stuck in this pointless argument, the world at large is not. Politicians in China, India, and, even with the Donald trying to back out of the Paris agreement, America at the state and local level are moving forward on the issue.

Coal is becoming increasingly worthless, and clean technology increasingly affordable, to the point the industry is outwardly claiming this political cycle is threatening investment in Australia.

The good news is that Australia as a whole is not actually stuck in the early 2000s. We have businesses, electricity suppliers, unions, researchers and yes, even politicians at the state level, such as Weatherill, showing leadership on the issue.

And once again, Finkel has demonstrated that Abbott’s preferred “business as usual” approach would increase electricity prices by ten percent, simply because all this old technology is reaching its use by date. So there goes that final, baseless argument.

In sum? Get out of the way, Tone. You’ve had your fun, and sure, you’ve done a lot of damage.

But we’re done with you.

Feature image: 7:30 Report.