A showdown between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull looms over energy policy.
A showdown between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull looms over energy policy.

Personal duel over power shake-up

THE battle over energy policy is shaping up as a personal duel between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor, Tony Abbott.

The showdown will be tomorrow when government backbenchers meet to consider the National Energy Guarantee, the program Mr Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg insist would cut electricity prices, boost reliability of supply and slash emissions.

The government is confident of having the party-room numbers, but a small and determined band of pro-coal, anti-renewables rebels will test that confidence.

At stake is the energy certainty that business and industry has been demanding, investment in renewables, the emission targets set under the Paris agreement when Mr Abbott was prime minister, and the authority of his successor.

Mr Turnbull told Parliament today the cost-cutting capacity of the NEG had been endorsed by "independent assessment of the Energy Security Board, the almost unanimous views of industry groups and business leaders around the country, all of whom support the National Energy Guarantee as a means of ensuring that we will have more-affordable energy".

"It has more support across the community than any energy policy I have seen in decades," Mr Turnbull said.

But Mr Abbott today made clear he was not likely to be talked into backing the NEG at tomorrow's meeting.

And Barnaby Joyce, the former deputy prime minister, said he would consider crossing the floor to oppose NEG legislation.

Mr Abbott called it a "seriously bad policy" aimed at cutting emissions and not prices. And he called for the compulsory acquisition of NSW's Liddell coal-fired power station, which is being phased out.

"I certainly don't accept that there is overwhelming support, as the Prime Minister says," Mr Abbott told Sydney radio 2GB.

"He might have interpreted it that way but I certainly didn't interpret it that way.

"This is such an absolutely critical question for the future of the government, it is an absolutely critical question for the future of our economy and our country.

"It would just be appalling if this were to be waved through tomorrow given the consequence that would flow from any new policy that would hasten the deindustrialisation of our country."

And he offered a view aimed at clearing the reputation of carbon dioxide, one of the emissions considered dangerous.

"Carbon dioxide is not pollution, carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring trace gas. It's not pollution, we need it for life," he said of the gas.

And Mr Joyce underlined the anti-NEG threat to force private electricity generators to concentrate on lower prices.

"We have to have the capacity in the future, to say if you don't play the game we have the capacity, with antitrust legislation, to say we can divest you of one of your assets, force you to put it back on the market," he told reporters in Canberra.

"I know it will force honesty.

"What I'll be looking for is the alternative. It's got to be real. It cannot be a statement of could.

"Could doesn't carry weight. Would does."


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