Abbott To PM: Scrap RET Or Face Fury

The Australian - Simon Benson

Former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott. Picture: Braden Fastier
Tony Abbott has unleashed anothe­r critique on Malcolm Turn­bull’s leadership, using his Achilles heel — climate change — to accuse the government of treating voters like “mugs” if it did not scrap the renewable energ­y target.
In his second swipe at the Prime Minister in as many weeks, his predecessor said the Coalition would lose all credibility if it did not move to quickly rein in the push to generate more renewable energy.
In a speech yesterday to a Young Liberals conference in Adelaide­, Mr Abbott accused the government of “losing touch” with its traditional supporters.
The escalation of rhetoric contained a charge that the government not only lacked leadership in Mr Turnbull but that the Coal­ition was at risk of elect­oral collapse. It also reveals Mr Abbott is willing to risk further alienation from his own government.
“The past year has shown us what happens when mainstream parties lose touch with their supporters,” he said. “That was the big lesson of 2016. And heed it we must if we are to make a success of the coming year.”
While the RET has resonance among conservative MPs, some have privately expressed frustration that Mr Abbott rejected calls from colleagues when he was leader to do the same.
“Labor wants to more than double the renewable energy target­ to 50 per cent. That means a $50 billion overbuild of unnecessary wind turbines costing each household $5000 — and that’s just for starters,” he said.
“But before we get too self-congratulatory, rather than making power less expensive, our own policy is to subsidise Alcoa to keep it in business; our own policy is to lift renewable power from 15 per cent to 23 per cent within four years at the cost of $1000 per household.
“This is where the public are not mugs. We can’t credibly attack Labor merely for being worse than us.
“This is why our first big fight this year must be to stop any further mandatory use of renewable power.”
The comments build on remarks Mr Abbott made two weeks ago but indicate that he has no intention of remaining silent as the government struggles to regain momentum after a horror start to the year.
They come as Mr Turnbull is due to deliver a major speech to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
The Prime Minister will becoming increasingly frustrated with Mr Abbott’s intervention on the RET, knowing that the government is unlikely to go as far as Mr Abbott is suggesting.
Senior Liberal MPs said it was no coincidence that Mr Abbott was goading the Prime Minister over climate change, as it was the issue that lost Mr Turnbull the leadership to Mr Abbott in 2009.
Mr Abbott, in his speech, recognised that he was responsible for the RET as it stands now but claimed he had brought it down from Labor’s target. He added that the government now risked subsidising renewables by bailing out stranded industries.
“Australia has almost limitless reserves of clean coal and gas. We should have the world’s lowest power prices. Instead, we’re making it harder and harder to use coal and gas through the renewable energy target — so that power is getting more expensive and less reliable,” he said.
“When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the power doesn’t flow. So until there’s baseload power from low-cost batteries, trying to rely on renewables is mad. My government reduced the renewable energy target from 27 to 23 per cent — but after the lights went out in South Australia, it’s obvious that it’s still too high.
“Alcoa is in trouble, Arrium is in trouble, Port Pirie is in trouble, even Roxby Downs has a problem.
“Why is it OK for everyone to get the benefit of Australian coal and gas except us? Why is it OK for other countries to open new power stations using Australian coal but wrong for us?
“So let’s stop forcing people to use the most expensive power and make it easier for them to use the cheapest.”
Mr Abbott also barely concealed his frustration and a belief that, had he fought the last election as leader, he would have won, claiming the Coalition had taken the conservative base for granted and paid the price.
“The British electorate rejected their prime minister’s advice — and that of the political class generally — to leave the European Union,’’ he said.
“The American electorate rejected all the mainstream candidates to catapult into the White House an outsider feeding off grievances that are deeply felt but rarely acknowledged by the system.
“And here in Australia, the resurgence of One Nation is a warning to our Liberal-National coalition that the conservative vote can’t be taken for granted.
“What used to be called the silent majority, Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’, might often lack a voice but they sure haven’t lost their vote.
“Voters will punish governments and parties that they think have lost the plot — and so they should.
“So that’s our challenge for 2017: to tackle real problems in a meaningful way so that people’s lives get better, not worse — and to do so in ways that make sense to our strongest supporters.”


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