Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who infamously said he would not snipe at, or undermine, his successor, is threatening to torpedo the Turnbull government if it attempts to introduce a clean energy target.
Abbott is not keen on a clean energy target in any form, and is trying to push the government away from the policy. In 2009 he nuked the Coalition working with the then Labor government on an emissions trading scheme (ETS).
Abbott ultimately ousted then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull after Turnbull had been negotiating a deal with the Rudd Labor government for an ETS. Shortly before that happened, Abbott, in a blog post in 2009 for The Daily Telegraph, wrote that it could be easier for the opposition to oppose the scheme.
"The easiest course could be to oppose it and fight the next election against Labor's carbon GST," he said at the time.
A backbench revolt against the ETS proposal ultimately led to a party room showdown. Abbott emerged as the new leader of the party, and campaigned for the next four years against the ETS and environment policy.
Abbott is now proposing to fight Labor on the same issue. Again. He told Sky News last night that the Coalition should lower its renewable energy target (RET) to differentiate from Labor.
"42% renewables from the Coalition versus 50% renewables from Labor," he said. "That isn't a policy difference."
Abbott said climate change was a "third order issue" and that energy targets were "socialism in the guise of environmentalism".
Abbott said any clean energy target would have to go through the Coalition party room, and predicted there would be "extremely serious reservations" in the party room about a clean energy target.
In an opinion piece in The Australian today, the former prime minister said that while he was not opposed to renewables, the "$3 billion-a-year subsidies" gave it an unfair advantage.
A clean energy target is an environmental policy that aims to have more low-emissions generated energy in the Australian market. It rewards investment in low-emissions generators.
Energy companies in Australia are seeking policy certainty for their planned investments from 2020.
The clean energy target is designed to replace the RET from 2020, and will differ from an RET by being "technology neutral". This means that it won't matter what type of technology the company invests in, as long as it meets the low-emissions standard.
It works hand-in-hand with the emissions reduction target, which is aimed at reducing the amount of carbon emissions being produced. It was one of the key recommendations from the Finkel Review released earlier this year by the Turnbull government.
Abbott said the Finkel recommendation for a clean energy target "must be dropped".
"It would be unconscionable for a government that was elected promising to scrap the carbon tax, and to end Labor’s climate change obsessions, to go down this path," he said.
He indicated on Sky News that, hypothetically, if a clean energy target was to be legislated, he might cross the floor and vote against it. The government's one-seat majority means that in that event, the government would be relying on the support of Labor or the cross bench in order to pass legislation.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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