It’s more than passing strange that a Prime Minister looking to restore his government’s climate and energy reputation revisits a solution that has done much to destroy it in the first place.
Make no mistake, in reviving and rebadging Tony Abbott’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), Scott Morrison has confirmed beyond doubt his dumped predecessor has clear ascendancy over Coalition policy in this area.
And this at a time when Mr Abbott and other prominent Liberals are facing credible challenges from independents who accept the science of climate change and are demanding real action be taken to address it.
Malcolm Turnbull, who for the second time lost his leadership at the hands of climate change sceptics and deniers in his party, once famously described Direct Action as “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale and a fig leaf to cover its determination to do nothing”.
That fig leaf has received a high voltage boost of $3.5 billion over 10 years, but is a long way from Mr Abbott’s original $10 billion, which was trimmed severely when he actually won government. But it is nevertheless just as flawed.
It is using taxpayers’ money to pay for emission reductions by abatement through things like “soil magic”, while allowing the big polluters off scot-free. As the Climate Council points out, it ignores the real problem – greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels.
So six years down the track, the carbon price – wrongly dubbed a tax – gone, and Mr Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee with its market mechanism built in, have been consigned to the Liberal too-hard basket. Electricity prices are higher than ever, and emissions by the government’s own figures are rising exponentially.
Yet voters are being urged to believe that power bills will finally start falling in July – that’s two months after the expected May election.
No wonder the Opposition says “Direct Action” or the new “Climate Solutions Fund” is reviving a failed approach.
Oliver Yates, the former Liberal who quit to run as an independent against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, says the policy does little or nothing to restore the Liberals’ credibility.
Mr Yates, the former head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, told ABC TV it’s “scarcely a fig leaf”.
Mr Morrison now says he believes in the science of climate change, although he is still haunted by the image of bringing a lump of coal into Parliament, waving it around and telling the opposition not to be afraid of it.
The Prime Minister launched his climate solutions in Melbourne – the site of the state Liberal wipeout in November that prompted outgoing minister Kelly O’Dwyer to say voters perceived the party to be “homophobic, anti-women, climate change deniers”.
The less-than-enthusiastic reception of this latest effort will hardly do the trick of addressing one of those problems.
The other big negative in resorting to Direct Action is it revives the unbridgeable divide in the Liberals over energy and climate. A divide that sees the government wanting to resort to very un-Liberal market intervention.
Besides reminding everybody of the turmoil in the party that led to the third Liberal prime minister in five years, it has done nothing to calm fears among marginal seat holders.
Some Liberal moderates are calling for more action to encourage renewables. Victorian MP Russell Broadbent says they are clearly the future.
Mr Morrison is hoping his announcement of a billion dollars to go ahead with Mr Turnbull’s pet scheme, Snowy Hydro 2.0, will meet these calls. And win him some kudos.
But Abbott ally Sydney MP Craig Kelly says no more subsidies should go there.
Mr Kelly and the influential coal lobby in the Coalition are pushing for government backing of a new coal-fired power station.
If this is unveiled before the election, surely Mr Morrison’s “green” efforts will be seen as wasted energy and confirmation of Ms O’Dwyer’s assessment.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics