Tony Abbott has declared the new clean energy target proposed by the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, sounds like a “magic pudding” and he says the Coalition must not adopt a new tax on coal.
Ahead of a discussion of the Finkel recommendations by the Coalition party room on Tuesday, the former prime minister used his regular radio interview on 2GB to sound a warning about the reforms proposed by Finkel to the prime minister and the premiers last week.
“My anxiety listening to reports of the [Finkel] report, and this statement [that] they are going to reward low-emissions fuels while not punishing high-emissions fuels, is [that] it is going to be a magic pudding,” Abbott said on Monday.
“If you are rewarding one type of energy, inevitably, the money has got to come from somewhere – either consumers or taxpayers.
“If it is from consumers, it’s effectively a tax on coal, and that is the last thing we want.”
Abbott also said the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, was favourite to win the next federal election. He said the Turnbull government needed to give “our people” something to fight for – and that should be “lower power prices”.
Referring to last week’s UK election, Abbott said the Coalition in Australia could not afford to be complacent and Theresa May’s poor result underscored the fact that “big things turn on personal decisions”.
The Abbott critique echoes scepticism from the Coalition’s conservative wing about proposed changes to climate and energy policy, which has been on public display since Donald Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate treaty.
The energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, has been working assiduously over the past couple of weeks to convince his Coalition colleagues to support the proposed clean energy target on the basis that is it technology neutral and will provide lower power prices than if policy is left as it currently is.
Frydenberg said on Sunday the new system was friendly to coal. “We don’t want to punish the existing coal generators because we want them to remain an important part of the energy mix going forward.”
Business is pressing both the government and Labor to use the opportunity of the Finkel review to try to achieve a bipartisan position and end the decade-long climate wars. But Labor has signalled it cannot accept a clean energy target that includes coal.
The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, criticised the Finkel review on Monday, saying it would prevent Australia meeting its Paris targets.
Di Natale dismissed suggestions he was setting the Greens up to make the same mistake they did in 2009, when their refusal to support Kevin Rudd’s original emissions trading scheme guaranteed its downfall.
Speaking on ABC radio on Monday, Di Natale said no one was more frustrated with the climate debate than him but Finkel’s recommendations would not help Australia meet its 1.5C target set in Paris.
“We’ve got a huge challenge ahead of us … and this does not deal with that challenge in the time frame that’s required. If under this plan we follow it through to its logical conclusion, the reef’s gone,” he said.
“The great tragedy here is if we lifted our level of ambition … we would have a framework that allows us to drive the clean energy transition away from coal and gas.”
Di Natale said he was not intent on making the perfect the enemy of the good. “No, what we’re doing is we’re saying we’ve got a climate crisis, we need to deal with dangerous climate change and we need a plan to deal with that.
“There’s no point having certainty if we lose the Great Barrier Reef, if we end up in a warming world where we see more extreme weather, heatwaves, cyclones, bushfires.
“That is the future that lies ahead of us, so we need to make this transition and make it rapidly.”
Ross Garnaut – the architect of the 2008 climate change report – told the ABC on Monday the clean energy target proposed by Finkel was not as economically efficient as straightforward carbon pricing, or an emissions intensity scheme, but it was more efficient as a market mechanism than the renewable energy target.
“In current circumstances, it’s the only pricing mechanism that’s got any chance of getting through the current parliament,” he said. “We need something through the current parliament because we need something when the RET runs out in 2020 to take us through to 2030 and I think we should get behind this mechanism because it can do the job.”
He said recommendations relating to energy security in the report were “very good, especially the requirement that new large-scale wind and solar in vulnerable regions should be required to provide grid stability services”.
“The work on climate economics needs more work … [because] if you read the Finkel report, it doesn’t actually recommend targets, it leaves that open for discussion.”