Malcolm Turnbull claims he won’t be fazed by a new group within the Coalition agitating for coal-fired power, but the Labor opposition is not so convinced.
The Prime Minister says he has party room support for his national energy guarantee and will not be diverted by a minority.
Liberal MP Craig Kelly is part of the new ‘Monash Forum’, which is said to have more than 20 government members including former prime minister Tony Abbott and Nationals MPs George Christensen and Barnaby Joyce.
The new forum is named after World War I military commander John Monash, who was a key figure in opening Victoria’s Latrobe Valley up to coal production.
Mr Kelly says they are worried about the high cost of electricity and want to see new coal-fired power stations in any national energy guarantee.
But the Prime Minister Mr told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday the policy put a premium on “dispatchability”, which could be delivered by coal, gas, pumped hydro or other technologies.
“I can only say to you that our national energy guarantee has been endorsed by the whole Coalition party room,” he said.
It’s got strong support from industry and state jurisdictions … it’s vitally important that it be adopted because what we need is a technology-agnostic energy policy that encourages investment.”
Mr Turnbull said the bottom line was to have a policy which delivered affordable and reliable power and met Australia’s emissions targets.
Labor frontbencher Mark Butler said the “fossils” in the hard-right of the Coalition were seeking to test Mr Turnbull’s leadership.
“Given his track record of failing to stand up to the hard-right of his party room and caving in on two energy policies, no one should be surprised if he caved into the hard right fossils again,” Mr Butler said.
Mr Kelly said it was “nonsense” to suggest the internal group was aimed at destabilising Mr Turnbull’s leadership, as the Coalition continue to trail Labor in the polls.
“With so much anti-coal rhetoric around in the community we want to ensure that people understand and we’re a voice about how important coal is to our economy,” Mr Kelly told ABC radio.
He denied the group’s creation is designed to coincide with Mr Turnbull’s expected looming 30th Newspoll loss.
“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has my full support,” Mr Kelly said.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg spoke to Mr Kelly on Tuesday after reports emerged of the group.
“What they want to see and what we want to see is exactly the same thing, which is lower prices and a more reliable system,” Mr Frydenberg told reporters in Melbourne.
“Coal has an important part to play in that role.”
However the minister said Monash was also in favour of using technology to gain an advantage and drive innovation.
Mr Kelly said the NEG was a “very good backbone of a policy”, but some Coalition MPs were waiting to see whether it would encourage coal.
Those within the group are worried about the high cost of electricity and how it is driving industry offshore, Mr Kelly said.
They also question why the government can’t build Hazelwood 2.0 if it is constructing Snowy Hydro 2.0.
Mr Kelly said Japan is building 40 high-efficiency, low-emission coal-fired power stations and there are hundreds in China.
“We need to get at least one or two of these built to ensure there is enough baseload power in the grid,” Mr Kelly said.