Malcolm Turnbull has stepped up his condemnation of Labor’s handling of the electricity sector, despite calls from business and community groups for a political truce on the issue.
The government used parliamentary Question Time on Monday to pound the opposition over its support for renewable energy, which Mr Turnbull said made the electricity network especially in South Australia more vulnerable to blackouts.
“There they are, the legions of the Labor loyalists, on their way to the light on the hill through the darkness of the night,” Mr Turnbull said.
“It is still, there is not a sound, but then you hear softly at first, and then louder and louder, the chug, chug, chug of the backup generator, because that is what you need to power the light on the hill or anywhere in South Australia nowadays.”
Ben Chifley’s 1949 reference to Labor’s “light on the hill” objective is considered sacrosanct by the ALP.
Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott warned a “calm and informed” debate was needed to bring about a national consensus on energy policy.
“We need the state and federal governments and the business community to come together and say, ‘How do we make sure that we can give that security and reliability, and, of course, the affordability that households and businesses are looking for?’,” she told the ABC.
Three state Liberal opposition leaders in Queensland, SA and Victoria say the solution lies in a single national renewable energy target, rather than the states going it alone.
Labor environment spokesman Mark Butler said the opposition supported a national renewable energy target beyond 2020.
“This is a national system that requires national policy,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“We would like to see a position where there is an emissions intensity scheme that is recommended by the National Energy Markets Commission, the chief scientist, the CSIRO, all of the industry and all state governments, as the centrepiece of a national policy that allows investors to start to renew and to rebuild our electricity generation.”
Mr Butler said the Liberals’ attack on renewable energy would mean fewer jobs, higher power prices and more pollution.
The Business Council was one of 18 groups involved in a joint statement calling for an end to finger-pointing and the start of a new mature debate.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said he would work with the groups, but the government would not compromise its push for energy security and affordability.
While Treasurer Scott Morrison brandished a lump of coal in parliament last week, Greens MP Adam Bandt brought into parliament’s lower house chamber a solar panel on Monday.
“It does quite well during a heatwave,” Mr Bandt quipped.
Meanwhile, emails released under freedom of information show the prime minister’s own officials had advice on the morning of a major South Australian blackout last year the problem had not been the state’s heavy reliance on wind power.
“(Electricity market regulator) AEMO’s advice is that the generation mix (ie renewable or fossil fuel) was not to blame for yesterday’s events – it was the loss of 1000 MW of power in such a short space of time as transmission lines fell over,” one email read.
Mr Butler said it showed the government was engaged in an “ideological war on renewables”.
Mr Frydenberg said the email was consistent with what the government had said.