Scott Morrison’s “repulsive” embrace of a lump of coal on the floor of Parliament will go down in history as no different to brandishing “a pile of asbestos”, according to the Liberal renegade challenging Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Oliver Yates, the former Clean Energy Foundation chief who quit the Liberal Party on Tuesday in preparation to run as an independent candidate for the seat of Kooyong, has slammed the Coalition for its “disgraceful” climate change policies.
In an interview with The New Daily, he compared brown coal with asbestos, which has killed 10,000 Australians since the 1980s.
Mr Yates was ejected from a Liberal fundraiser two years ago after he expressed his “repulsion” at Mr Morrison’s “coal antics”.
“Well, at the end of the dinner Jane Hume, who was the senator who is sitting next to me who is generally quite sensible, decided to give a vote of thanks to Scott Morrison and decided the best way to thank Scott Morrison for his service to Victoria was to give him a fake lump of brown coal,” Mr Yates said.
“And they considered that as funny. I was quite offended by that because effectively you might as well just be giving someone a pile of asbestos and saying, ‘Why don’t you play around with that for half an hour?’
“And it’s disgraceful. I took umbrage at that and made my views known.”
Asked why he regarded coal as on a par with asbestos, Mr Yates said he stands by the comparison.
“Well, what do you think it does when you burn it all in the atmosphere? It threatens your existence,” he said.
He described the lump of coal as “such an affront to your core moral fibres that you react very strongly to something as repulsive”.
“I went to sleep that night and had I walked past that and not said something I would have felt worse,” he said.
“Climate change is a core issue. I consider the stance they are taking is dangerous for citizens and I think a government’s core responsibility is to keep its citizens safe.
“There’s a lot of issues. But the one I find dangerous and deeply offensive is the Liberal Party’s inability to address climate change.”
Mr Yates has also dismissed Mr Frydenberg as a careerist, who stands for nothing when it comes to the environment.
“Well, he’s a senior member of the Liberal Party and the Liberal Party has not done anything in relation to climate change and they are unlikely to do it. He was the environment minister and he didn’t do anything there,” he said.
“Josh is very career orientated and I am sure he will lean whichever side of the fence that he thinks is appropriate to his career.”
Mr Yates was head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, and said he was appalled at what the Liberal Party had become.
He has previously slammed the Liberal Party as an institution in “desperate need of cultural reform”.
His father Bill Yates is a former Liberal MP who once held the federal seat of Holt.
“I am now a former Liberal Party member. Look, my father was when I was 10. He was the Member for Holt, so I have been campaigning since I was 10,” he said.
Mr Yates said he was also disgusted to hear the Treasurer talking about intergenerational debt at the Sydney Institute without mentioning climate change.
“Well, what do you think the environmental debt is we are leaving to the next generation?” he said.
“It’s horrific. The rivers are dying.The climate is in a perilous state. And that’s wrong. That’s not the way to run the country.
“I have to stand. It would be wrong of me not to at this time.”
He accused a core group of climate change deniers in the Liberal Party of peddling “deranged conspiracy theories”.
“Yes, I have met Peta Credlin. I don’t know her well. But what she espouses on Sky News, including with that merry bundle of people, is the constant lies about renewable energy, how we need new coal-fired power stations. How ‘the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow and everything is going to fall over’. She is making the same case against climate change,” he said.
“She claims the climate change is a fiction. And it’s a Leftist conspiracy to run the world through the United Nations … we are all controlled by international police.”
Mr Yates dismissed reports he had tried to start a business to make money from higher electricity prices as a “beat up”.
“So, the quote there, I was in the process of looking at a business that was hedging electricity prices. But actually we needed to raise $250 million for that business and in an environment of intense political uncertainty on policy, it was impossible to raise the money.
“So we didn’t pursue that.”
Asked if he was talking to the Labor Party about preferences or seeking support from activists GetUp, he said he would talk to anyone.
“Of course I would do that. If the Labor Party were going to give their preferences to Josh Frydenberg, I wouldn’t bother standing,” he said.