“Once we rolled that out, people saw it and thought ‘f— this’.”
The billboard is referred to in Labor circles by a nasty pejorative, the “Mount Rushmore of f—wits”, and the ALP is preparing to use the tactic again in the NSW election scheduled for March 23.
The state of play
If Guy was the canary in the coal mine, then Gladys Berejiklian’s Liberal government is the whole aviary.
Assuming Scott Morrison sticks to his plan for an April 2 budget followed by a May election, the NSW election will be a warm-up act like no other.
A week before Christmas, the NSW government gave notice it was not going to become another casualty of the unpopularity of its federal counterpart by breaking out on energy. NSW minister Don Harwin went to the energy ministers’ meeting in Adelaide demanding the federal government reincorporate emissions reduction as a consideration of energy policy.
The National Energy Guarantee, supported by the Liberal and Labor states, the federal opposition and the majority of the Turnbull government, would have done this but after Turnbull was rolled, ideology stipulated emissions reduction be stripped away with the focus to be price and reliability only. As well as the NEG, Turnbull was also pursuing the price and reliability measures the government is pushing now.
By the federal government’s own admission, stripping emissions reduction from energy policy was stupid.
Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor argued in response to the NSW ambush that clean energy technology would see the energy sector meets its emissions reduction requirement without it being mandated by a policy like the NEG.
“We should be talking about getting prices down, keeping the lights on, making sure we’re keeping manufacturers in business … not talking about higher targets when we know we’re doing well,”‘ he said.
Dumping the NEG
So had the government kept the NEG, it would not have mattered a jot, no sacrifice needed by anybody. Except it would have helped reduce power prices by $150 a year due to the investor certainty it would have created.
The net effect of dumping the NEG? More expensive electricity and a world of political hurt because the signal it sent voters was this government does not care about climate change. While that has appeased the conservative few, the many, it seems, are unhappy.
NSW wants nothing to do with this outfit and its tin ear. The biggest state Liberal government has abandoned the feds on population policy and now on energy.
It doesn’t want to be part of Mount Rushmore II.
“The feds are thermonuclear,” a state ministerial colleague of Harwin’s said.
“They are living in a parallel universe and, if they were serious about solving the nation’s energy issues, they would follow through on the NEG.”‘
A federal MP from NSW said his state colleagues “are getting considerable feedback” on climate change “and so are we but we’re not responding”.
No climate gesture in budget
When the Coalition was thrashed in the Wentworth byelection, the moderates within demanded something be done on climate change. They suggested $1 billion be dedicated over three years to top up the emissions reduction fund, a pot of money established under the Abbott government’s direct action policy to reduce emissions.
Morrison and others made sympathetic noises at the time but this year’s midyear budget update came and went with nary a mention. It was a missed opportunity. It’s not as though they were asking for a carbon tax, just something so they could assure voters they care.
It could be that the government is planning to top up the fund in the budget before the election but, most likely, any action from here will be regarded with widespread cynicism.
The energy snafu capped off a poor end to a poor year for the government which cast further doubt on its ability to engineer a recovery. Time is getting tighter.
While Morrison spent the week in the war-torn Middle East looking for some respite, Bill Shorten survived the ALP national conference, much of which was spent avoiding doing anything too dangerous regarding policy changes, and dampening expectations of a Labor cakewalk.
Shorten’s long slog nears finish line
As the government crumbled around him with the energy ambush and another sex scandal-induced resignation, Shorten used a speech to colleagues at a private dinner in Adelaide to put the situation in perspective.
“I have to say we’re coming towards the next election,” he said.
Shorten, who jogs every day, likened the past five-and-a-bit years to a foot slog. As of Monday, the day of the speech, “we have spent 1927 days in opposition”.
“At the very most, if there’s an election on May 18, there are only 151 days left until the election,” he said. “We’ve travelled 1927 days and we have 151 days to go.
“If you were to describe this as a marathon of 42.2km – and in many ways, it has been a marathon, not just for us but for millions of Australian people – we have now travelled passed the 39km mark of this marathon, 39.13 km to be exact.
“We are this close to the finishing line. Now is the time for everyone to use that little bit of extra energy, that final push for the line.
“If we can summon up the energy for that final push to the line – then we will win.”
It’s going to be a long final 3km.
Phillip Coorey is The Australian Financial Review’s political editor.