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Finkel review: Josh Frydenberg faces balancing act on energy policy

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Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg faces a balancing act on energy policy. Photo: AAP
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Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has found himself wedged between increasingly vocal pro-coal government backbenchers and the green-friendly views of his own constituents, new polling reveals.

As the Coalition’s conservative wing speaks out against the findings of an energy review from Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel, a new poll shows overwhelming support for clean energy in Mr Frydenberg’s blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Kooyong.

The ReachTel poll, commissioned for the progressive Australia Institute think tank, found 79 per cent of Kooyong voters backed a Clean Energy Target, while 67 per cent wanted Australia to move “as close as possible to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030”.

If an election were held today, Mr Frydenberg would win 56 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, the poll found.

In a television interview on Sunday, the Energy Minister said he was working to persuade skeptical government MPs of the benefits of a low emissions target.

“I’m talking to all my colleagues and taking them through the challenges we face, taking them through the Finkel recommendations and then, as a government, with the Prime Minister’s strong input, we will land a position,” he told the ABC. 

Former PM Tony Abbott has expressed concern about the Finkel report. Photo: AAP

Since Friday, a number of Coalition MPs have begun undermining the review, which argued for Australia to adopt a Clean Energy Target once the current renewable energy target expires in 2020.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz said aspects of the review were “concerning”, including “the brief dismissal of nuclear energy and the creative assumptions used for ‘business as usual’ modelling”.

A fellow conservative, Liberal MP Craig Kelly, said he was worried about the economic effects of emissions reductions targets.

In the lead-up to the report’s release, Tony Abbott, who won the Liberal leadership by opposing Malcolm Turnbull’s support for an emissions trading scheme, also expressed “anxiety” over low emissions targets.

Last month, the government announced it would expand the remit of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to allow for the green bank to finance so-called ‘clean coal’ carbon capture and storage projects.

Mr Frydenberg said he had spoken to Mr Abbott prior to the report being handed down.

“In the lead-up I did, and it was a constructive and friendly conversation,” he said. “And I explained to him the problem that we are trying to solve, which is trying to get a regulatory environment, which encourages investment, in order that we don’t have any more blackouts in the future and that we get prices lower.”

Alan Finkel
Alan Finkel’s review calls for Australia to adopt a Clean Energy Target once the current renewable energy target expires in 2020. Photo: AAP

With industry complaining that policy uncertainty has led to increased electricity prices, Dr Finkel’s report proposes a Clean Energy Target to drive investment and lower emissions.

The report cites modelling that suggests the policy would result “in lower residential and industrial electricity prices than leaving policy settings unchanged under a business as usual scenario”.

Mr Frydenberg on Sunday denied the recommendation was a carbon price.

“It’s incentives for lower emission technology. That could be coal, which is with carbon capture and storage, that could be gas or that could be renewables,” he said.

“But the key point is that we don’t want to punish the existing coal generators because we want them to remain an important part of the energy mix going forward.”

The report also calls for generators to provide three years’ notice of their intention to close to avoid a repeat as what occurred with Hazelwood.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has said Labor would work with the government to “end the climate wars”, but also added that “the Finkel report will be the Prime Minister’s biggest test since he rolled Tony Abbott”.

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