Energy policy impasse highlights Australian political disarray
16 June 2017
Two tension-filled events in Canberra this week underscored the fragility of the Australian government. It is caught in a perfect storm of global and domestic crises.
Deepening social discontent toward the entire political establishment is being compounded by the international uncertainty produced by the ferocious infighting in Washington over Donald Trump’s presidency.
First, on Tuesday, there was what the media termed a “mini revolt” by Liberal-National Coalition members of parliament against the Turnbull government’s support for the introduction of a Clean Energy Target, supposedly to reduce carbon emissions in coming decades.
After two stormy party room meetings, which lasted for hours, it became clear that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership would again be in doubt if his government pushed ahead with such a scheme, which would threaten the interests of the coal mining industry. The second meeting generated foul-mouthed shouting matches featuring Turnbull’s ousted predecessor Tony Abbott, a trenchant opponent of any emissions-reduction proposal.
Abbott’s aggressive interjections in the meeting were meant to send a message that he could exploit the conflict to topple Turnbull. In 2009, Abbott won sufficient support to oust Turnbull as Liberal Party leader after he supported the then Labor government’s plan for a carbon trading scheme.
Over the past year, Turnbull sought to break the decade-long impasse over energy policy by commissioning a report by the country’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel. The outcome was a recommendation that the government legislate a target that might eventually phase out coal-fired electricity generation. For years, the financial…