The fetish bothering Malcolm Turnbull

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Scott Morrison has mocked Labor’s opposition to coal by using it as a prop during question time.

Malcolm Turnbull has softened the Coalition’s language over coal. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

EXPECT the Turnbull government to retreat from its coal fetish in the face of a severe chiding from business and the ACTU?

A hint was given earlier today.

“This is not an issue about renewables good-or-bad, or coal good-or-bad for that matter. It’s about competence,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said today on the energy policy debate.

“Renewables have a very big place in Australia’s energy mix and it will get bigger. The cost of renewables is coming down.”

But last week Mr Turnbull ramped up that debate on the role of renewable energy sources for the political heat it put on Labor.

The coal fetish — an irrational commitment to the mineral — has been at the centre of this, as shown by Treasurer Scott Morrison taking a lump into Parliament last week and ministers taking turns to fondle it.

Treasurer Scott Morrison looks lovingly at a lump of coal in Parliament last week. Picture: Kym Smith

Treasurer Scott Morrison looks lovingly at a lump of coal in Parliament last week. Picture: Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

An early Christmas present for Barnaby Joyce. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

An early Christmas present for Barnaby Joyce. Picture: AAP Image/Mick TsikasSource:AAP

The government message was that coal would slow household power-price rises, lower costs for industry, create jobs and help repair the Budget bottom line. And last year there were even claims Australian fuel was needed to bring poor slum-dwellers in India into the age of refrigeration.

Further, coal provides a handy platform from which to attack as unsustainable the Labor policy of a national 50 per cent renewable energy target to be reached by 2030.

It is likely the Opposition will re-examine its commitments to renewables because of the practical obstacles of reliability and storage, and because of the political speed bumps.

And it is now clear that states should not set individual targets but join a co-ordinated national program.

But meanwhile, industry and the peak trade union body have told the government and the Opposition they want less politics and more policy.

The Business Council of Australia today continued demands for a “calm and informed debate” on how to produce cheap and reliable power.

And punters facing rising electricity costs and the possibility of blackouts also want something other than the government’s self-serving forays against Labor.

South Australia has become the test lab for reliance on renewables and the federal Opposition is bound to support the case of its Labor colleagues in state government. And the energy arrangements of the state have also snared Mr Turnbull.

The Prime Minister has long said he was “technology agnostic” but clearly he has had a kilowatt each way.

He has ordered further research into the storage of renewable energy and a major investigation of pump hydro, which uses renewable power to raise water to a suitable height and then drops it onto hydro generators when the electricity is needed.

However, he risks having to constantly defend his comments condemning renewables after the South Australian blackout last year.

Today Mr Turnbull said: “Of course, windmills did not cause the blackout.

“The blackout, as I’ve said many times, was caused by a storm breaching transition lines. That’s perfectly obvious. And that’s the only point that was made.

“However, the introduction of a massive amount of wind energy, variable renewable energy, made the South Australian grid very vulnerable — very, very vulnerable indeed — to breaches of the transmission lines and the overloading on the (electricity) inter-connecter in Victoria.”

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