In September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull drew the political dagger and thrust it into a sitting Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. There are plenty in the Liberal party that will never forgive Turnbull for his treachery, but there are legions more among the Australian voting public still ready to exact revenge.
Last week Tony Abbott appeared on Sky News in an interview with Andrew Bolt to launch a collection of essays called ‘Make Australia Right’.
But it wasn’t Tony’s promotional activities that incensed the soft-wet Turnbull followers within the Coalition, but rather the fact that their former leader had the temerity to talk about the subject that now dominates every backyard barbecue and suburban dinner party all over the Country: the insane and escalating cost of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target.
Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg occupy a fantasy world where they believe that their enemy is Bill Shorten’s Labor Party and that whenever Tony Abbott pops up in the media he is somehow doing Bill Shorten’s bidding.
What Tony Abbott understands better than those who pretend to lead the Liberal party is that the enemy is not the Green/Labor Alliance but rather Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
One Nation are set to crucify the National Party in Western Australia and will do the same to the Liberal National Party in Queensland.
At the federal level One Nation’s grip on the Senate will only improve over time. One solid reason for their popularity among rural and regional voters is One Nation’s position on subsidised renewables:
Abolish the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and support practical cost-effective research into energy efficiency, reliability and dependability.
Remove all subsidies and financial advantages offered to the renewable energy industry and make them compete on an even playing field with other energy sources.
Support reliable, low-cost power generation. This has previously been Australia’s strongest competitive advantage.
No sensible economist could argue against those policies. However, more importantly, no voter whose employment depends upon having cheap, reliable power is going to ignore the only party that isn’t hellbent on totally destroying Australia’s remaining competitive advantage.
Which brings us back to Tony Abbott. While a few ambitious Liberal front-benchers, along with a few in the Canberra Press Gallery, excoriated Abbott for his attack on the RET, Abbott’s observation that, unless the Coalition gets rid of that economically and socially destructive policy, it is drifting to electoral defeat, is pretty much spot on.
Here’s the video of Abbott doing little more than stating the bleeding obvious (transcript follows).
23 February 2017
Andrew Bolt: Tony Abbott, thank you so much for joining me. Why are you launching this book?
Tony Abbott: Andrew, this book is a cri de coeur from the political centre right, the intellectual centre right. It’s a cri de coeur from people who think that the Labor Party has moved to the Green Left and Coalition has become Labor Lite. I think it’s important to let these people know that the Coalition can still have a sense of purpose, can still have a sense of direction and can still win the next election.
Andrew Bolt: So we can’t do any of those at the moment, it doesn’t have a sense of purpose and it can’t win the next election as it’s going now.
Tony Abbott: Well, I accept that these are vexing times. I accept that we are wrestling with very difficult problems, but the point I make in launching this book tonight, Andrew, is that if we are prepared to fight, to stop people’s power prices not being increased by unnecessary policy decisions, if we are prepared to fight to reform the Senate, then we can deliver the good government that Australia needs.
Andrew Bolt: Do you think right now, the way the government’s travelling, that absent these changes that you’re suggesting, we’ll go into in a second, that it’s going to lose the election?
Tony Abbott: I think there were some glimmers of hope during the last parliamentary sitting period where, finally, minister after minister started to attack the Labor Party for its plans to put your power prices through the roof, through increasing the Renewable Energy Target to 50% and through bringing back the carbon tax.
But it’s one thing to attack Labor. It’s another thing to get our own policy right, and that’s what I believe we now need to do because it’s only if we get our policy right that we, then, have the credibility to attack the absolute disaster that Labor would create.
Andrew Bolt: I’ll ask you once more, and if you don’t want to answer directly, that’s fine, I’ll move on, but are you thinking that on the current trajectory, though, that the government will lose the election unless it changes?
Tony Abbott: Well, plainly, we are facing many challenges, Andrew. We had the Corey Bernardi breakaway a couple of weeks back. One Nation support is surging. Now, much as I think Pauline Hanson is a much more mature political operator now than she was, the fact is minor parties, fringe parties are much better at grievance than they are at solutions. So if you want a good government, you really have no option, but to back the Liberal National Coalition, but plainly, there are lots of people who are concerned about our direction and, plainly, the risk is that we will drift to defeat if we don’t lift our game.
Andrew Bolt: Now, the government has a policy … You’re quite right. Labor’s policy on renewable energy is mad. It’s crazy. It’s destructive. But the liberals also have a policy, not as bad as Labor’s, to increase the amount of renewable energy we will use, which is, wind and solar and hydro without building more dams, by the way, by 50% of what we’re using right now in just three years. Its Renewable Energy Target is 23% by 2020.
Now, you’ve called on the government to scrap it, but Mathias Cormann was on the show saying, “But, what a minute, we can’t get that through the Senate if we tried. All that would do is scare off the investment the government needs to reach its target in three years, and if it doesn’t get that target, it’s going to trigger huge fines which consumers will have to pay for.” Is that argument good enough for you?
Tony Abbott: The question is not whether it’s good enough for me, but is it going to be convincing to the Australian people? Now, at the moment, we are seeing what’s happening, thanks to the Renewable Energy Target in Adelaide where you had the 24-hour statewide blackout, traffic lights didn’t work, people were trapped in lifts, patients were sent home from hospitals. You’ve got industry questioning whether to continue to operate in that state because there is no security of the power supply. You had the head of BlueScope warning the other day that Australia was facing an energy policy catastrophe. We are sleepwalking into an energy policy catastrophe if we don’t do better than this. As you rightly say, Andrew, under existing policy, we are supposed to double wind generation in the next three years.
Now, I think we can do better than this. I think we should do better than this. My point is, why would you subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic, and then turn around and consider subsidising coal to give you a guarantee of baseload power? Surely, the sensible thing is to avoid all these subsidies and just let the market take its course, because the market will certainly give us, without the political risk that it currently exist, the market would certainly give us a more fossil fuel power generation.
Andrew Bolt: So you’re against this plan that the government is now cobbling together, which somehow involves the government subsiding, either through loans or whatever, the retrofitting of clean coal technology and our existing power generators, the coal generators, to keep them going, or subsidising new so-called clean coal generators, new ones. You’re against all these kinds of subsidies, are you?
Tony Abbott: Well, Andrew, my point is, why would you first subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic and then, then, subsidise coal to guarantee baseload power? It doesn’t make sense to do this. Surely, the best thing to do is to abolish the subsidies, just let the market run this. The market will look after things, if we let the market work.
Andrew Bolt: Now, of course, your enemies in the Liberal Party, which are briefing journalists saying, “Oh, but listen, this is just the Tony Abbott strategy. This was Tony Abbott’s 23% target here and, now, he wants us to scrap it. Why didn’t he do it when he was prime minister?”
Tony Abbott: Well, Andrew, I reduced the Renewable Energy Target from 28% to 23%. I wanted to go further, but it was the best we could get from the Senate at the time. Frankly, we should go to the Senate now to, at least, freeze the target where it is, so that there are no new subsidies for new renewable generation.
Now, sure, it will quite possibly be defeated in the Senate, but the prospect of defeat in the Senate didn’t stop the Howard government from putting the unfair dismissal laws into the Senate more than 40 times, and every time Labor opposed the repeal of the unfair dismissal laws, it allowed the Coalition to say to small business, “We’re on your side and Labor is not.” If we put freezing the Renewable Energy Target into the Senate and Labor stops it, we can say, “Look, the coalition wants to get your power prices down. Labor wants to get them up,” and I think that’s a very potent electoral message.
Andrew Bolt: Now, obviously, you’re speaking out and also launching this book, which contains essays by people like James Allan, etc., Judy Sloan, very critical of the Liberal Party. Your critics, again, will be saying, “There goes Tony Abbott, snapping again, destabilising.” Shouldn’t you keep quiet and not rock the boat?
Tony Abbott: Well, I think as a former party leader, I have a duty to try to ensure, Andrew, that our party and our government stays on the right track. Plainly, there are some issues right now, and I think it’s incumbent upon me to raise these issues, to exercise, if you like, the freedom of the back bench. My job is to speak out from time to time on important national and international issues and that’s what I’ve done since leaving the prime ministership.
The Australian picked up the story and ran with it.
Abbott warns of a ‘drift into defeat’
24 February 2017
Tony Abbott says the Coalition risks a “drift to defeat” if it fails to lift its performance as he brazenly advocated ending subsidies for renewable energy, reducing immigration and abolishing the Human Rights Commission.
In a bold speech launching a new book of essays, Making Australia Right, Mr Abbott conceded that voters have been disappointed with the Coalition government and it is losing conservative support.
“Our challenge is to be worth voting for,” Mr Abbott said last night. “It’s to win back the people who are giving up on us … It won’t be easy but it must be possible or our country is doomed to a Shorten government.”
“Why not say to the people of Australia: we’ll cut the RET, to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration, to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission, to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending, to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock?” He had earlier told the Bolt Report on Sky the Coalition had to lift its performance.
“Plainly there are lots of people who are concerned about our direction, and plainly the risk is that we will drift to defeat if we don’t lift our game,” he said.
While acknowledging there was a “glimmer of hope” in the last parliamentary sitting week when the government targeted Labor over its energy policies, Mr Abbott argued the Coalition could launch a more “potent” attack if it ended subsidies for renewables and froze the RET at current levels.
“We are sleepwalking into an energy policy catastrophe if we don’t do better,” he told Sky.
After defending his right as a backbencher to speak out “from time to time”, Mr Abbott also criticised the Prime Minister for choosing to live in his private home in Point Piper rather than in Kirribilli, which is reported to cost an additional $3 million in security for taxpayers.
“I think it would be a better look if the Prime Minister did live in Kirribilli House, I think it would be better for him, I think it would be better for the government,” Mr Abbott said. “By trying to avoid being a burden on the taxpayer, it seems you end up just costing the taxpayer even more.”
He said as Prime Minister he had also wanted to stay in his home in suburban Forestville, but had felt obliged to live in the official residence given he was told it would save taxpayers $1m.
In his speech that will inflame tensions in the government, Mr Abbott said the centre-right in Australia needed to re-examine its overarching purpose and challenged the Coalition to support an ambitious policy agenda.
“In or out of government, political parties need a purpose,” he said. “Our politics can’t be just a contest of toxic egos or someone’s vanity project.”
On energy policy, Mr Abbott noted his government reduced the renewable energy target from 28 per cent to 23 per cent but said this was not enough as renewable energy could not be relied upon for security of supply. It would be better to “freeze” the RET, he said.
“The government is talking about using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to subsidise a coal-fired power station,” he said. “We subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic so now we are proposing to subsidise coal to keep the lights on. Go figure.” “Wouldn’t it be better to abolish subsidies for new renewable generation and let ordinary market forces do the rest?”
Tony Abbott’s last observation proves the adage that common sense rarely needs an advocate.
The concept of subsidising new coal-fired plant to salvage a grid wrecked by subsidies to wind power breaks down like this:
- Take a perfectly functioning, reliable, secure and affordable electricity supply;
- Create a Federally mandated subsidy (under the LRET) and direct it to an intermittent, unreliable and wholly weather dependent power source – with that subsidy to cost all Australian power consumers more than $3 billion a year until 2031 – a total of $42 billion from now until then;
- Watch subsidised wind power destroy the viability of the cheapest base-load generators, thereby leading to routine load-shedding, blackouts and spot price spikes to $2,000-$4,000 per MWh – often hitting the regulated cap of $14,000 per MWh – whenever wind power output collapses;
- Having destroyed the viability of the cheapest and most reliable base-load generators, then turn around and use taxpayer underwritten soft loans from the CEFC to fund the construction of new coal-fired generators and, thereafter, use further subsidies (aka “capacity payments”) to keep them in business and online, in order to prevent the obvious and inevitable consequences that flow from items 1-3 above.
In short, Josh Frydenberg’s effort to get the CEFC to finance new coal-fired plant as a ‘solution’ to Australia’s energy debacle involves power consumers paying three times to keep the lights on: once for a system that works; once to wreck it; and once more to rectify the damage.
Tony Abbott is wrong, however.
The Liberal/National Coalition isn’t ‘drifting’ to defeat it is hurtling to electoral annihilation.
Wedded to an unsustainable and economically suicidal energy policy, the Coalition is about to experience what Donald Trump did to Hillary Clinton. This time, though, it will be a red-headed political firebrand, called Pauline, who will deliver a political pasting for those too foolish to understand that secure, reliable and affordable power matters.
Pauline Hanson understands the importance of cheap, reliable power; and, now, so do millions of Australian voters.