The Government has flicked the switch, and stepped up their political power plays as it scrambles to reach a coherent policy on electricity costs and security.
In one stark example, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg boasted Labor’s claim electricity prices have risen by $1000 a year is bunkum.
And Minister Frydenberg used this fact like a club against Labor Leader Bill Shorten.
“But let me tell the House that the Leader of the Opposition’s $1,000 claim for an electricity price increase for the average Sydney household is false, is dishonest and is designed to deliberately mislead the Australian people,” he told Parliament on Thursday.
But that’s about it for good news for the consumer.
The no-so pleasant tidings are that power prices have indeed shot up substantially, even if not by Shorten proportions.
Mr Frydenberg later told Parliament that on July 1 Sydney electricity prices went up by from $296 (AGL) to $320 (Energy Australia).
One of the minister’s objectives was to take an old bromide which the Liberals once used on interest rates and apply it to energy costs.
“The honourable member should know that, under the Labor Party, power bills would always be higher — much higher — because the Labor Party did not support the abolition of the carbon tax,” Mr Frydenberg told an Opposition back bencher.
The Government might have hoped that consumers would be so relieved that the $1000 figure is false, they would forgive the $300 increase. But that is unlikely to happen.
Business owner Stephen Scherer is likely one of the ordinary Australians who won’t be fooled by government games over power prices after he was forced to close the doors of his business, PGS Plastics due to the raising price of electricity. Picture: Matt LoxtonSource:News Corp Australia
The electricity bills will continue to tell the tale and householders and businesses won’t be lulled by the political sideshow, no matter how clever the performances by Mr Frydenberg and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The pair has fronted an aggressive defence of energy policy — or its absence — by attacking a range of nominated villains, from the ALP to giant generator AGL.
The week began with a warning from the energy market manager that emergency power supplies — so-called dispatchable electricity — might be needed this summer.
With a flick of that political switch the focus was moved from dispatchable power to baseload power and the future of AGL’s Hunter coal-fired power station at Liddell.
Liddell was commissioned when Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister and is creaking towards scheduled closure in 2022, but the current Prime Minister managed to make it the centre of the current energy debate.
Thousands of Australians have felt the pinch of power prices this winter, and have been forced to leave their heating off. Robyn Svojtka and her daughters Bella and Holly rug up indoors saving electricity. Picture: Sarah MatraySource:News Corp Australia
AGL has three months to either volunteer to keep the station open or sell it to someone who will. Be assured both options will involve taxpayer money.
Meanwhile, the Government has attacked AGL’s business practices — all perfectly legal — and its executives. This Government might like business but it is not devoted to the operation of the market, even when it is one it created.
All this was happening as Prime Minister Turnbull attempted to settle the question of a Clean Energy Target (CET), the only one of 50 recommendations from a review of the energy network by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel yet to be adopted.
And despite its significance, it will not be adopted any time soon, regardless of the pleading of the electricity industry which wants the added certainty for investment it would provide.
Grimly watching the Prime Minister on the CET is a bunch of Government backbenchers, led by former PM Tony Abbott, who would consider crossing the floor should Mr Turnbull attempt to implement the Finkel proposal.
They want a greater role for coal and a smaller one for renewables, even though Dr Finkel made clear there was room for both.
His report said: “In addition to incentivising reliable generation into the market, a goal of the Clean Energy Target is to lower long-term emissions.
“For example, a mix of wind, solar and coal generation would be equally acceptable as a mix of wind, solar and gas generation as long as the emissions reduction trajectory is achieved.”
But the internal Liberal hostility to this is enough to endanger Mr Turnbull’s leadership.
This man is no doubt sick of pandering to the more conservative members of his party, but he has been forced to do just that yet again on power, to protect his leadership. Picture: Mick Tsikas / AAPSource:AAP
The Government’s objective is instead to turn the energy issue against Bill Shorten’s leadership.
“I call on the Leader of the Opposition to come clean, to apologise to the Australian people and to come into this House and correct the record,” said Mr Frydenberg in Parliament.
“We have seen this all before, because the Leader of the Opposition has a pathological pattern of behaviour to deceive, to falsify and to mislead the Australian people …
“It goes to the question of integrity, because the Leader of the Opposition is not fit to be Prime Minister of this country …
“We all know about ‘Medicare’ (during the election campaign). Those opposite were prepared to deceive millions of Australian pensioners and the most vulnerable in our society with a lie, with a mistruth, with a false claim. “
The Government hopes this aggression will see it through the remainder of the parliamentary year, with or without a coherent energy policy.