Morrison Has Long Way to Go

Morrison Has A Long Way to Go

My last Commentary on 6 September suggested that Morrison has an “in-between” policy on energy and that it was hoped that he would make a broad announcement on policies in a speech scheduled to be made in Albury later that day. Alas, that has not proved to be the case and, despite the abandonment of the Turnbull/Frydenberg NEG,  energy policy is worse and as confusing as it was under Turnbull. A quotation from his speech published in the SMH/Age gives the gist of his position,viz

“Mr Morrison said his government would stand by its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent by 2030 but had no intention of reviewing or adjusting the target in the next term. “I have no plans to do any of that,” he said, adding that Australia had delivered on previous United Nations commitments and would meet stand by the Paris climate change agreement as well. “The government’s policy has not changed. We smashed the Kyoto target and Kyoto 2 and I’m very confident that the current commitment will also be achieved . That’s one of the reasons why I don’t see the emissions argument playing into the electricity price argument.”

… “Mr Morrison denied the emissions target would force up electricity prices. “We’ve separated the two things. There was an effort to work those two issues together. That hasn’t been successful,” he said, in a reference to the government’s internal row on climate policy and its decision to abandon cuts to emissions as part of the National Energy Guarantee. “And so I have a minister for the environment who will pursue climate policy and I have a minister for energy who gets electricity prices down. I think that simplifies the world a bit.”

In short, the cost-raising targets for emissions and renewable remain extant and the policy remains that the government will intervene in the electricity  market to an even greater extent than scheduled ( by establishing a “safety net” on price, taking a big stick to major energy companies and backing investment in a new energy generation capacity).  One wonders whether Frydenberg persuaded Morrison not to modify the previous policy lest that would expose his closeness to Turnbull and would create too much of a challenge from Shorten. Note that there is no mention of any consultation with Cabinet.

Note also Chris Kenny has pointed out that:

“a bill for an act to amend legislation relating to emissions of greenhouse gases, and for other purposes, has not yet been repudiated as Coalition policy. Morrison and his Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, surely must act to drop it formally when MPs gather in Canberra next week. Despite splitting the energy and environment portfolios and demanding Taylor drive down power prices, Morrison repeatedly and emphatically has committed the Coalition to meeting the Paris targets. At Albury he said the targets would be met easily, ‘with no impact on electricity prices at all’.

This posturing could get messy. Already several backbenchers are agitating to withdraw from Paris and former assistant minister Keith Pitt has rejected a frontbench position to argue this stance. Critics portray them as ideol­ogues, whereas in fact supporting cheap energy is practical and pragmatic; it is making costly and futile climate gestures that is ideological.

It is one thing for Morrison to remain in Paris but it is quite ­another to place great store on meeting the targets. Most other signatories have no meaningful targets to meet or are on track to miss them. Our Prime Minister ought to make clear that if something needs to give on electricity prices, reliability or emissions targets, it is the climate goals that will be disregarded. Instead he is stuck arguing a contradictory line: that the Paris emissions reductions can be ­delivered at no cost but Labor’s higher targets will be costly. The truth is policies such as the renewable energy target that were ­designed and implemented to meet emissions reduction targets already have prompted the closure of large amounts of dispatchable generation in South Australia and Victoria, driving increases in prices and decreases in security of supply.

Arguing the Paris targets have no price impact is just bunkum; it is possible from this point forward only if we ignore how we got to this point. This sort of statement would be called out as a bald-faced lie by Labor, the ABC and most of the press gallery except that they are ideologically predisposed to climate gestures, no matter their cost.

Having seen Turnbull skewered for a second time on climate policy, Morrison must deliver clarity. He needs to remember the ­Coalition was elected in a landslide promising to undo costly climate interventions, not to imple­ment them. Outside electricity, Paris could play havoc with farming, transport and energy export (see Kenny on Morrison’s Energy Policy).

The reality is that so far Morrison remains a long way from “cutting the mustard”, about which John Stone asks in an article published in today’s Spectator (see Stone on Morrison). Stone argues that “Everyone who seeks, as I do, to avoid a Labor government must wish Morrison well; and since Turnbull’s sacking, and Julie Bishop’s relegation to the backbench, were essential if the Dis-Cons (disaffected conservatives) were to be mollified, he has in that sense made a good start. However, Dutton’s demotion arouses more widespread questions about the new ministry. The fact is that Morrison owes his election to all those left and far left Liberals who previously supported Turnbull, and this is reflected in his appointments”.

On this, Stone points out that, “with a couple of notable exceptions, his new ministry seems little changed in orientation from its predecessor”. He praises the appointment of Taylor as Minister of Energy “to clean up Frydenberg’s mess” and Dan Tehan as Minister for Education “to repair the Birmingham shambles” but regrets the omission altogether of Michael Sukkar who had been Assistant Treasurer. And he suggests “if there is one talisman to which those Dis-Cons will turn when deciding whether to return to their former Liberal affiliations, it will be their assessment of how Abbott has been treated. There is only one word for that – shamefully. On personnel grounds, then, the new Ministry fails the test. Despite all those honeyed words about “re-uniting the party”, Morrison’s appointments are inconsistent, overall, with that objective”.

Unless Morrison can somehow improve the mix, it seems we face more troubles within the Liberal party. Monday’s Newspoll may show an improvement on its predecessor (TPP 44/56) but seem likely to leave Labor ahead

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