Last week the newly formed Monash Forum made up of conservative Coalition backbenchers published a letter calling on the Turnbull Government to invest $4 billion in a new coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, to replace the decommissioned Hazelwood power station.
Although energy affordability and security (thanks to our overreliance on subsidized renewable energy) is Australia’s most pressing economic challenge the formation of the Monash Forum was seen through the prism of the release of Malcolm Turnbull’s 30th Newspoll loss. Many believed it was more about kicking off leadership speculation given that the most prominent members of Monash Forum are those who have been ousted by Turnbull: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews and Barnaby Joyce.
Tony Abbott is currently engaged in the annual Pollie Pedal which has raised $6 million for various charities since its creation in 1998. This year’s cause is Solider On which assists Australian defence personnel and their families once they return to civilian life. Although it is claimed that Pollie Pedal is non-partisn the fact that Pollie Pedal was today in the Latrobe Valley for the 30th Newspoll loss, many have alleged that the charity event has been politicised this year. Despite being on Pollie Pedal Tony Abbott has still been able to keep up his regular media appearances on this significant day.
On 2GB with Ray Hadley Abbott again made the point about why the 30 Newspoll benchmark was good enough to remove him as Prime Minister but not Malcolm Turnbull. He also introduced another energy policy proposal, this time regarding the Turnbull Government’s push for energy company AGL to sell the Liddell power plant in New South Wales to a buyer who will expand the life of the plant beyond AGL’s planned closure in 2022.
Tony Abbott proposed that the Turnbull Government should nationalize Liddell arguing “Governments should be very reluctant to compulsory acquire assets but let’s face it: it is an essential service, electricity is not an optional extra in the modern world it is an absolute essential service, and if a company is threatening an essential service it is up to the government to take appropriate action and keep that essential service going” and suggesting that “perhaps it is the time for strongarming because we just cannot afford to lose Liddell”.
Given that both the Monash Forum’s original proposition and Abbott’s latest contribution are massive government interventions in the free market many have said that this is against the private enterprise principles the Liberal Party says it stands for. This was Turnbull’s response when asked about Abbott’s proposal on Miranda Live “Nationalising assets is what the Liberal Party was founded to stop governments from doing”.
However, the argument put forward by the pro-coal MPs in the Liberal Party is that the market has been so distorted from years of subsidies to the renewable sector and through the federal government’s and various states’ renewable energy market that only government intervention can correct this. Given the current policies no private business would invest in a new coal-fired power station, also not helping the situation is the fact that private businesses like to virtue signal about their commitment to renewables and fighting climate change.
Some have also claimed AGL’s refusal to sell Liddell and basically blow up the plant in 2022 is a plan to short-circuit the market to push up power prices and hence increase their profit margins. Therefore it is argued intervention here is about protecting competition in the energy market by preventing a source of power being taken off the market.
Is the abandonment of free-market principles justified in this case to ensure the nation’s energy security and affordability? Or should subsidies to renewables and the renewable energy target be simply removed with energy market once again being able to focus on deliver cheaper and reliable power to consumers? Have your say in our poll below: