Turnbull slams ‘idiocy’ of his party
MALCOLM Turnbull has condemned the "idiocy" that saw his National Energy Guarantee abandoned, while painting new Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a supporter of the policy.
Speaking to a packed room at the NSW Smart Energy Summit in Sydney, Mr Turnbull expressed his disappointment the energy policy was dropped after he was toppled as prime minister.
"It has been abandoned by the federal government, I regret that, naturally, as does just about everyone in the federal government," Mr Turnbull said.
"It did have the overwhelming support of the party room, and indeed the Cabinet. There was a minority of Coalition MPs who effectively torpedoed what was fundamentally a very good, technology agnostic energy policy."
Mr Turnbull was accused of ditching the policy himself during his last week as prime minister in an effort to save his job.
"I just want to note that I did not abandon the NEG as our policy, but in fact it remained. But in the frantic last week of my prime ministership, and the insurgency that undermined it and ultimately brought it to an end, the Cabinet resolved not to introduce the legislation until we were confident we could secure its passage," he said.
"Anxious to keep the government together, I didn't want to see an important piece of economic legislation being defeated on the floor of the House. Anyway, that was very disappointing."
After his speech, Mr Turnbull was asked by a member of the audience why he didn't lock in a clean energy target when he was prime minister and had the chance.
Mr Turnbull pointed to the members of his own party.
"The challenge is that in the Coalition, there is a huge gulf between members on their views on energy," Mr Turnbull said.
"There is a significant percentage of the Coalition members who do not believe that climate change is real, who believe that we should get out of Paris (agreement)."
When asked by reporters later how many climate deniers there were in the coalition, he said he didn't know. "You'd have to go and ask them all," he said.
But Mr Turnbull said the government's slim one-seat majority gave a small minority of MPs "enormous leverage".
"At the final analysis there were a number of members who were sufficiently determined to oppose it that they would cross the floor," he said.
Mr Turnbull told the summit some MPs would rather build a new coal-fired power station than Snowy 2.0, including Barnaby Joyce, who made that suggestion in the last week of the Wentworth by-election.
"You have got a very entrenched difference of opinion and the people that hold those views have been, as you saw with the National Energy Guarantee, prepared to cross the floor, blow up the government in order to get their way.
"I have to say, I gave this my best shot."
VICTIM OF 'IDIOCY'
However, the former prime minister condemned the "idiocy" that had derailed energy policy in Australia.
"Part of the problem with the politics of energy, at least at the federal level, it has been bedevilled by what I would call ideology and idiocy," he said.
"I mean I would - there are people who would look you in the eye and say: 'Coal-fired power is cheaper, new coal is cheaper.' And I'd say: 'OK, what price of coal are you assuming?'
"Crickets. How much coal do you have to burn to generate a megawatt of power? Crickets. What's the coal plant going to cost to build and operate? More crickets.
"This is not a religious issue. This is an issue that has to be grounded in engineering and economics. We know that we need to decarbonise, and by the way, we have the opportunity to decarbonise and deliver cheaper power as well. So how good a deal is that?"
NEED TO WORK WITH LABOR
Mr Turnbull strongly encouraged his colleagues to work together to revive the National Energy Guarantee, echoing comments from former foreign minister Julie Bishop who said the coalition should work with Labor on the policy.
"It was a vital piece of economic policy. It had strong support, and none stronger I might say than the current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer," he said.
Mr Turnbull later added that "apart from me and Josh (Frydenberg), Scott was the minister most involved in the work on the National Energy Guarantee".
Meanwhile, Mr Turnbull said the Morrison Government's "big stick" energy bill designed to give the federal government powers to break up power companies was not a substitute for the NEG.
"Ensuring a competitive market and the protections of consumers is very important but you've also got to have the certainty of integrated climate and energy policy so that you get the investment," he said.
The government is revising key components of its plan after objections from more than 20 backbenchers during a party room meeting on Monday night.
The divestiture powers to break up companies will remain in the legislation but rather than giving Treasurer Josh Frydenberg the final say, he will have to apply to the courts for approval.
While he wants to see the NEG revived, Mr Turnbull was sceptical whether a higher emissions target could be accommodated without extra costs, which Labor has suggested is possible.
He said a key issue was the timing of the closure of coal-fired power stations as well work to as connect sources of energy like solar farms to transmission lines that would deliver the power to where it was needed.
DON'T JUDGE THE LIBERAL PARTY
Mr Turnbull said the good news was that renewables combined with storage was now cheaper.
"So many people on this issue in the political realm live in the past. They live in a fact-free zone," he said. "It's really important to look at what is happening out there. The technology is changing."
There was one last question from the audience that struck a chord with many of those present: "Seeing as the Liberal Party seems incapable of not preselecting climate change science deniers, is the way forward that moderate Liberals run as independents and win?"
But Mr Turnbull said it was important not to judge the Liberal Party based on the actions of federal MPs.
"There is a particular problem with the federal coalition at the moment, a political impasse if you like but you shouldn't judge the Liberal Party overall simply by them, particularly the state parties where their track record is very different," he said.
Mr Turnbull pointed to Tasmanian government support for an ambitious hydro project that could allow the state help become the "battery of the nation" as well as South Australia's program to subsidise battery rollouts in homes.
"I've been a member of the Liberal Party for much of my life and the Liberal Party can count on my support," Mr Turnbull said.