Labor calls for coalition party room support before NEG agreement

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Labor appears to be taking a strategic position regarding the NEG, in the lead up to a COAG energy ministers’ meeting at which the states will be asked to sign off on the policy. Both the federal shadow energy and environment minister, along with Labor-lead Victoria and Queensland governments are advancing the argument that Frydenburg must first get buy-in from his Liberal and National party colleagues before themselves backing the NEG.

Opposition to the NEG from a collection of Liberal Party backbenchers has been relatively consistent, with a “last attempt to derail the NEG” currently being reported.

Today, both the Queensland and Victorian governments called for the NEG to pass the test of the Liberal party room before signing up to the policy. Shadow Energy Minister Mark Butler also made the call in a doorstop interview in Adelaide today.

“I think there are very significant concerns, not around necessarily the design of the National Energy Guarantee, but the settings that Malcolm Turnbull has been forced to adopt by his party room,” said Butler. “These settings would mean there was not a single large-scale renewable energy project built in Australia for an entire decade, and the installation rates of rooftop solar for Australian households would be cut by half.

Quoted in The Australian, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk described the NEG as a “blank piece of paper”, if it did not have the formal approval of federal Liberal parliamentarians.

“First of all, this must go through Malcolm Turnbull’s party room,” said Palaszczuk. “At the moment we’ve got Josh Frydenberg out there trying to put state against state, territory against territory. Well, frankly that’s not on”.

“In all honesty here, how can you expect states to go along to a national meeting of energy ministers when they don’t have the papers – and I just checked my office before I came here – the papers have not been circulated for Friday’s meeting”.

Victoria’s Energy Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio appears to now take the same position as her Queensland Labor colleagues. She too called for the NEG to pass the Liberal party room, “before asking others to sign up to it.”

If the two eastern Labor states resist signing up to the NEG on Friday, it would be a major setback to the policy. The move does appear to be an effort from Labor to wedge the Federal Government, with Frydenburg caught between trying to deliver some kind of policy certainty for the electricity sector beyond 2020, and a vocal collection of backbenchers who are opposed to the policy – or any action on an Australian energy transition or action on climate change.

The Guardian Australia reports that the Federal Coalition party room is set to meet next Tuesday, August 14, once parliamentarians return to Canberra from winter recess – notably after the energy ministers’ meeting.

The Australian Capital Territory, led by a Labor-Greens coalition, has made more specific demands regarding the NEG policy itself. In a joint statement today, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Shane Rattenburg set out “several critical issues” that the ACT would like to see addressed.

The statement calls for an increase to the 26% emission reduction target; for state and territory governments to have the freedom to set their own targets; and for a potential conflict with the ACT’s own 100% renewable energy target to be clarified.

“We continue to urge Minister Frydenberg to come to the table with a clear plan for action on energy policy – so that we might work together to bring down prices for consumers, while contributing to real action on climate,” said Rattenbury in the statement.

This article was updated on 14/8/2018 to reflect that the NEG was to be debated by the coalition party room.