Abbott’s threat to cross floor in energy war
TONY Abbott is doubling down on his threats to cross the floor to block the government's National Energy Guarantee.
Business leaders from the mining, farming, and manufacturing sectors descended on Canberra today to convince the former Prime Minister and a handful of rebel Coalition MPs to back the policy in a briefing at Parliament House.
But Mr Abbott has not been convinced of the merits of the reform, which aims to push down prices, cut carbon emissions and prevent blackouts by forcing energy retailers to meet a "reliability guarantee" and an "emissions guarantee".
Asked after the briefing whether he would still cross the floor on the NEG, Mr Abbott told 2GB radio reporters: "The short answer is yes".
"I think that I have an obligation to keep faith with the position the government took to the people in 2013," Mr Abbott said.
"And don't forget that what we took to the people in 2013, that the people overwhelmingly endorsed, was scrapping the Carbon Tax as part of ending Labor's emissions obsession.
"Now my anxiety with the NEG is that it's more about reducing emissions than it is about reducing price."
Earlier today, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg vowed the government would "take any action possible" to push down power prices as he fights to end the Coalition's bitter internal fight over energy policy.
The federal Energy Minister did not deny he was working on another energy policy that would bring extra power into the grid through new coal or gas, as an "add on" reform on top of the NEG that would address his colleagues concerns.
Mr Frydenberg was coy about whether he was working on the "add on", reported in The Australian , but told Sky News this morning: "My colleagues are absolutely focused on lower power prices and we will as a government take any action possible to deliver those lower power prices."
He said the "beauty" of the NEG was that it had an all-of-the-above approach, which included a role for coal, gas and an increasing role for renewables.
A senior Coalition source had told The Australian that Mr Frydenberg had assured colleagues he would address their concerns about the NEG and the lack of support for coal.
The Minister invited the senior executives from BlueScope, BHP, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the National Farmers Federation to Parliament House today to brief Coalition MPs on the need for the NEG.
They addressed more than 35 Coalition backbenchers including Craig Kelly, Mr Abbott, Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz, who have been outspoken on their concerns about the NEG.
Before the meeting, Mr Kelly, the chair of the backbench energy committee, said he wanted a guarantee from the business leaders that they would not be put at a competitive disadvantage by the NEG.
"We don't want to do things in this nation's policy that puts Australia at a comparative disadvantage vis-a-vis their foreign competitors. That would be a disastrous policy outcome," he said.
Earlier, he told ABC radio: "No one is trying to scupper policy."
"I agree with the premises of the NEG. But like all policy, the devil is in the detail."
Mr Kelly claimed the nation's 100 biggest electricity users, including the groups briefing MPs in Canberra today, may not be able to afford to keep the lights on thanks to the NEG's "reliability" guarantee.
"This is the big question. For 100 businesses in Australia it appears that reliability means that they will have their power turned off unless they have their own back-up diesel generators or they have some other arrangements with other companies."
If the Energy Minister can lock in backbench support for the NEG, his next battle will be to convince the states to back the reform at a Council of Australian Governments meeting in August.
Under the NEG, energy retailers would be forced to provide a set amount of dispatchable power from sources such as coal, gas, pumped hydro and batteries in each state.
They would also be required to source a certain amount of power from clean energy generators to meet the emissions guarantee.