The Nationals have called for the removal of subsidies for renewable energy. They called for them to initially be frozen for 12 months and for them to be phased out entirely over the next five years. The fossil former senator Ron Boswell pleaded with members: “Please don’t reject this, because the message that it sends out is the National Party is pro-renewable energy, and it isn’t,” he told members. However, some Nationals spoke against the motion and argued that wind and solar farms had created jobs and boosted economies in regional areas. Member for Mallee Andrew Broad cautioned his colleagues against appearing entirely opposed to renewables. “People in our patch are adopting renewable energy in their own homes…So we want to be very careful that we’re not against renewable energy and that we’re sending that signal.”1
It seems like the Nationals, in their small coterie, are just as divided as the Liberals, and it all gets down to two main schools. One, with people like Boswell, who want to cling to the past and the other, with people like Broad, who are at least approaching the 21st century. If all politicians in the past were like Boswell, our street-lights would probably still be burning gas.
While the motion to scrap subsidies passed, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce would not be drawn on whether he personally supported it. “But what I do take on board is the sense of commitment by the National Party to make sure we are not absconding from the reality of our economics. That is, baseload power is overwhelmingly driven by coal fired power and we’ve got to make sure that that can be maintained.”1 The reality of economics is precisely what Joyce and his coalition partners are ‘absconding’ from.
Member for Dawson, George Christensen said he thought the motion needed to go further: “We should also be talking about targets, renewable energy targets.” “The reality is when we moved from one form of technology, say the horse and cart to the car, there wasn’t a government in place taxing, regulating or subsidising the car.”1
The renewables industry receives about $3 billion in subsidies of all sorts according to a report prepared for the Minerals Council2.
What the disingenuous George Christensen fails to mention is that coal mining in Australia receives subsidies of the order of $1.8 billion per annum3. And overall, the fossil fuel industry (coal, oil and gas) receives over $5.5 billion per annum in subsidies4.
What is more, no sensible business will attempt to build a new coal-fired power station when the cost is upwards of $1 billion and the world is rapidly migrating to renewable energy. Indeed, faced with the possibility of a stranded asset and nonperforming loans, financial houses have washed their hands of the idea of funding coal-fired electricity generation5.
What could be driving the Coalition to attempt to prop up the coal industry against the mechanism of which they seem so enamoured, i.e. market forces? The answer is donations from mining companies and old climate change deniers like Hugh Morgan, as well as blind panic that there will be blackouts and brownouts in the near future in the eastern states, where the liars in government cannot again attempt to sheet the blame home to the large proportion of renewables feeding the grid.