Tony Abbott wasn’t kept from reducing the renewable energy target by his colleagues while he was leader, one of his former ministers has claimed, despite the former prime minister appearing to point the finger at his own party.
Abbott reignited the Coalition’s energy debate last week, by going on the attack against any further move by the Turnbull government towards renewables, threatening to cross the floor if it headed towards the “unconscionable” direction of encouraging further investment in the renewable market.
In an interview with Sky News last week, Abbott told his former chief of staff Peta Credlin that “green religion” had trumped common sense for the past 15 years, and said he was not allowed “the luxury of a personal view” while leader, hinting he was prevented from scrapping the RET while prime minister.
The Coalition had wanted to bring it down to 27,000 GwH, but the “absolute lowest amount the Senate would allow” was 33,000 GwH.
But the health minister, Greg Hunt, said his former leader was not thwarted by colleagues, but rather the government was seeking to placating the Senate.
When asked directly about Abbott’s claim, Hunt responded “no, not at all, in the sense that [Abbott was] not denied by colleagues”
“The law was 41,000 [gigawatt hours] and unless there was a Senate agreement, that couldn’t be brought down,” Hunt told Sky News on Sunday. “We brought it down to 33,000 GwH which was the maximum amount [the Senate would agree to].”
Hunt went on to say the deal, which he worked on with Abbott while environment minister, was “an extraordinary achievement”.
“None of the pundits thought there could be an agreement,” he said. “Very few people thought we would get that agreement and we go that through negotiations and pressure.”
When asked again if Abbott was stonewalled by colleagues, Hunt skirted the issue.
“We started with a public position which was agreed to 27,000GwH, that was trying to bring it down from 41,000 to 27,000. It ended up at 33 [thousand]. That saved the Australian economy about $16bn and that was agreed government position and it was a pleasure with Mr Abbott and it is a pleasure working with Malcolm Turnbull,” he said.
“Both of them are focused actually on the same thing – energy security and reliability and bringing down the pressures which are being driven right now by the very Labor policies that Mr Shorten wants to supercharge.”
Asked one more time, he said Abbott “would have liked and we all wanted to get it lower than that … but it was certainly dramatically more than anybody believed would have been achieved at the time”.
“And at the time, there was great criticism that there would be any reduction, and now we see that it was the right decision to come down, we are achieveing our targets which gets lost sometimes in the debate, without a carbon tax with the current renewable energy target, but most importantly now the work that Prime Minister Turnbull, that energy minister Josh Frydenberg is doing is the next wave of ensuring stability and ensuring a cost affordability.”
Both the prime minister and deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, were forced to dismiss Abbott’s latest incursion into the Coalition’s policy space, with Turnbull taking aim at those who attempted to “dumb down” the energy debate in the days after Abbott’s attack.
Joyce warned Abbott was “risking a Labor government” with his comments.