Former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop has called on the Morrison government to do a deal with Labor on the National Energy Guarantee, saying the Coalition’s business allies want it, and it would ensure a stable investment climate for the industry.
As the federal Liberal Party bickered following the rout of its Victorian counterpart in Saturday’s state election, Ms Bishop joined calls by colleagues for the Coalition to adopt a serious policy stance towards climate change or suffer a similar fate federally.
“The government needs to consider energy policy through the prism of securing bipartisan agreement with Labor, to establish a long-term, stable regulatory framework that will support private-sector investment in generating capacity,” she told The Australian Financial Review.
“The generators need long-term certainty to give them confidence to make large-scale capital investments that will provide affordable and reliable energy, and with an appropriate level of return.”
While energy needed to be reliable and affordable, “this must and has to be balanced with concerns for our environment and preservation for our planet”.
She said the NEG was the only framework that could achieve “elusive” bipartisanship on energy.
Ms Bishop, who contested the leadership after Malcolm Turnbull was dumped, is scheduled to address an EY conference in Sydney on Wednesday, covering such topics as energy, “Australia’s prime ministerial churn” and “the impact of populism on leadership”.
Divisions in the party
Since deposing Malcolm Turnbull, the government has made price and reliability its priorities and removed emissions reduction as a consideration of energy policy. This included dumping the NEG, which was Coalition policy but was used by the right as a reason to oust Mr Turnbull.
Labor has adopted the policy which mandates reliability and emissions standards but will only pursue it if the Coalition agrees to embrace it again.
The ideological divisions in the Liberal Party intensified on Monday, exacerbated by the latest Newspoll showing the Coalition trailing Labor on a two-party-preferred basis by 55 per cent to 45 per cent. Scott Morrison remained more popular than Bill Shorten.
In his first public comments on the Victorian election, Mr Morrison gave no indication he was going to shift policy direction, despite a rising clamour from moderates and others against what they say has been a drift towards right-wing ideology which has scared away mainstream Liberal voters.
Instead, he likened his re-election prospects to those of Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews, who secured a second term with a 5 percentage point swing towards his party.
“An incumbent government, running a strong economy, with a preferred Premier and delivering services and infrastructure for the people they intend to serve,” Mr Morrison told Parliament.
“Now who does that sound like? Our government is running a strong economy.
“Our government is delivering infrastructure and services that the Australian people respect and want more of.”
He insisted “climate change is a very real and serious issue” and “it has the attention of the government”.
Mr Morrison and deputy Josh Frydenberg held a 90-minute meeting with Victorian MPs and senators on Monday morning amid concerns up to six federal seats in the state were at risk on the back of the Victorian result.
Senate leader Scott Ryan, who used to be labelled a conservative, lashed out at the politics of the likes of Tony Abbott and the brigade of right-wing media backers whom he blames for pushing the Liberal Party towards the hard-right minority and its ideological causes on climate, sexuality and race.
Senator Ryan said the “real base” was that which deserted the Liberals on Saturday in hitherto safe Melbourne seats like Kew, Sandringham and Hawthorn, which overlap with similarly safe federal seats of Kooyong, Higgins, Menzies and Goldstein.
He said these seats were the cradle of the Liberal Party.
“This is our real base at the Liberal Party. They sent us a message,” he said.
“They don’t want litmus tests for what it means to be a real Liberal.
“A lot of Liberal voters are fairly conservative in their own lives. They raise kids, work hard, run small businesses, support local communities, they volunteer.
“But they’re liberal in their political outlook. They don’t want views rammed down their throat and don’t want to ram their views down other people’s throats.”
He singled out a column Mr Abbott wrote for the Financial Review last week in which Mr Abbott derided “rootless, cosmopolitan intellectuals parading their moral superiority”.
Mr Abbott was arguing that major parties needed to engage with populism, rather than denounce it.
Caution for democracy
In a speech last week to La Trobe University, Ms Bishop urged caution.
“This is really complex because a democratic government needs votes,” she said.
“And short-term fixes can be superficially attractive, even though history and experience shows that they’re invariably detrimental in the long term – protectionism, higher tariffs, industry subsidisation, unaffordable expansion of the welfare state.”
Tim Wilson, who holds the seat of Goldstein, said the Liberal Party heartland had deserted the party on Saturday and he took aim at “the coal huggers” within the party.
“The message from the Liberal heartland is they don’t want to be taken for granted, that they want us to take energy and climate seriously, they want us to take the budget seriously, they want us to take tax reform seriously.”
He manned polling booths on the weekend and “every second person either gave me deadly silence” or they mentioned “energy, climate or the deposing of the [former] prime minister”.
The rout in Victoria follows a similar backlash last month which saw the federal Liberals lose Mr Turnbull’s former Sydney seat of Wentworth to the centre-right independent Kerryn Phelps.
In her maiden speech to Parliament on Monday, Dr Phelps said politics needed to return to the sensible centre, at which Mr Turnbull used to aim.
She cited more compassion on immigration and action on climate change.
“The people most vulnerable to the effects of climate change will be children, the poor, the sick, the elderly,” she told the lower house.
“We have an abundance of raw materials for renewable energy: Sun, wind and water. What we are running out of is excuses for failing to act.”