News National Malcolm Turnbull faces test of leadership within party over energy policy

Malcolm Turnbull faces test of leadership within party over energy policy

Malcolm Turnbull energy party room
The coalition joint party room will consider the NEG on Tuesday. Photo: AAP
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is staring down a handful of backbench coalition rebels railing against his signature energy policy, saying “ideology and idiocy” can’t be allowed to determine its fate.

The coalition joint party room meets on Tuesday to consider the National Energy Guarantee, which aims at bringing down energy bills, securing reliable power and delivering emissions reduction targets.

But former prime minister Tony Abbott argues coalition MPs would be “dead wrong” to approve it.

Mr Abbott is one of a small group of coalition MPs determined to torpedo the energy plan, arguing it’s more focused on cutting carbon emissions than power prices.

“Any attempt to kind of ram this through the party room … would be dead wrong,” he told ABC television’s 7.30 on Monday.

But Mr Abbott and his cohorts have been rebuffed by a coalition energy committee, which voted seven-to-three to allowing the policy to progress to the party room.

NSW Liberal MP Craig Kelly was one of those who attended a two-hour briefing on the policy at Parliament House on Monday night.

Mr Kelly, who chairs the backbench committee, remains unconvinced.

“Ultimately, we want to make sure we get electricity prices down and down substantially,” he told Nine Network on Tuesday.

Mr Turnbull will promise to underwrite new power generation projects – which could include coal-fired plants – in an attempt to win over wavering colleagues.

This is in line with one of 56 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendations to cut power prices.

But Labor energy spokesman Mark Butler has blasted the prospect of throwing taxpayer money at coal projects, saying the prime minister has caved to the hard-right of his party.

“This is a plan that will smash jobs and investment in renewables, will fail to achieve cuts from the power sector, and will push power prices further and further up,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce is also speaking out against the government’s energy plan, arguing it must contain regulations forcing electricity companies to bring down power prices.

“There’s also a political aspect of this – and its very much secondary – that the last power bill people get before the election will be higher than the one they’re getting now,” he said.

BlueScope chief executive Mark Vasella said party room approval for the NEG would be an important step in providing certainty to the energy market.

“If we can get to a period where there’s some certainty around energy costs and reliability, that’s important,” he told ABC radio.

“We’ve seen our energy costs almost double in the last three years. That’s what a period of uncertainty does to energy costs.”