COAG energy meeting: Tempers flare as Angus Taylor blocks NSW ‘net zero’ plan

Under a face-saving proposal from South Australia’s Liberal Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan, the energy ministers will reconsider the proposal to integrate climate and energy policy and task the Energy Security Board to draft an emissions road map “as soon as practicable”, possibly by phone in February.

But the Morrison government is staunchly opposed to this, having had to ditch three polices aimed at achieving integrated climate and energy policy in three years, and is unlikely to change course before the next federal election that must be held by May 18.

Asked after the meeting if he had shut down debate to head off a revolt on climate and emissions, Mr Taylor batted away the questions, saying, “We got a good outcome. We didn’t get distracted and we won’t get distracted.”

“Our country is built on having a fair deal on energy,” Mr Taylor said. “We stayed focused on it today and we got the outcome we were looking for.”

‘Shut down’

The meeting heard from Australian Energy Market Operator Audrey Zibelman on the agency’s plans for the summer, with a risk of hot weather and blackouts in Victoria and South Australia, and agreed to the inclusion of a retailer reliability obligation, part of the abandoned National Energy Guarantee, into national grid rules.

But the NSW-federal government stoush dominated the aftermath of the meeting as Mr Harwin told reporters he was furious that “the Commonwealth used the rule book to try and shutdown a discussion on emissions”.

“As a sign of how out of touch they are, they wouldn’t let us have the discussion,” Mr Harwin said. “NSW is not giving up on this. It’s absolutely imperative that we end the Canberra climate wars. “

Earlier federal and state Labor ministers pounced on the coalition’s NSW-federal split as evidence of the “toxic ideology” driving the Morrison government’s climate and energy policies.

The outraged response to Mr Taylor’s attempt to shutdown a motion from his NSW coalition colleague deepens the split between the federal and state branches of the Liberal Party.

Mr Harwin had proposed that energy ministers ask the Energy Security Board to develop a national pathway, a move he foreshadowed in an opinion piece in The Australian Financial Review attacking the Morrison government’s “out of touch” energy and climate policies.

The Morrison government abandoned carbon emissions reduction targets in electricity and split climate and energy portfolios when it dumped former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull for current PM Scott Morrison in August. Voters sharply rejected both moves at the byelection for Mr Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth and the Victorian state election.

Bewilderment

Mr Harwin’s motion passed by a two-to-one majority – with only the federal government and the coalition governments in South Australia and Tasmania opposing it – but Mr Taylor then produced a little known COAG process to block the adoption of the motion.

“He found a clause to block it and tried to move on,” an observer said. “There was a sense of bewilderment that he just pulled out this piece of procedure to block an important initiative despite a string vote in favour.” Western Australia’s Bill Johnston, drafted into the energy portfolio only weeks ago, was said to have been “gobsmacked” by the move.

Mr Harwin objected strongly to Mr Taylor’s attempt to move on to other business on the agenda, and was joined by Labor ministers including Victoria’s Lily d’Ambrosio, who phoned in from Melbourne where she attended the opening of the new Victorian parliament, and Queensland’s Energy Minister Anthony Lynham.

An angry Dr Lynham said Mr Taylor seemed only interesting in playing politics.

“All Angus Taylor was interested in was politicking,” Dr Lynham said after the meeting finished. “We were completely ignored, we were completely blocked by Angus Taylor”.

Resources and Northern Australia Minister Matthew Canavan and Energy Minister Angus Taylor during a meeting of the COAG Energy Council. Alex Ellinghausen

Dr Lynham said the states wanted action. “The only consistent voice against climate change and against emissions reduction is and has always been the federal government under Abbott, under Turnbull, under Morrison, it’s always been the federal government blocking sincere action on climate change,” he said.

He also accused Mr Taylor of putting politics ahead of people’s power bills with its proposal for a default electricity price for households and small business, condemning the Morrison government for its “half-baked” proposal in the face of independent advice that it could drive up household prices.

“The independent advice from the Australian Energy Market Commission is that this proposed default offer could increase prices for at least some customers on market offers, increase some standing offer prices, and reduce the range of offers available in the market,” he said.

“In the short term, this federal proposal could mean that south-east Queensland families who have made the effort to shop around and save would now lose those savings.

“Queensland has the lowest prices in the country, reliable supply and a planned transition to a renewable future.”

‘We’re going to need a bigger stick.’  David Rowe

Angus Taylor was accused of appearing to only be interested in playing politics at the COAG Energy Council meeting in Adelaide.  Alex Ellinghausen

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