Peter Dutton warns on green energy moves, cites ‘broken promises’, but offers no new policies

Budget a 'missed opportunity': Dutton

Clean energy scepticism has become a defining issue for the Coalition under Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who made it the main point of policy difference in his first budget reply speech.

Mr Dutton’s speech on Thursday night also sharply attacked the government over rising prices, and what he styled its breach of faith for not including “relief” in the recent budget.

He variously supported or rejected Labor’s principal measures but Mr Dutton introduced no detailed proposals – although he did recommit to a recent election policy on homebuyers and superannuation.

Most recent opposition leaders’ budget reply speeches have detailed at least one new alternative approach even if not close to an election.

Brendan Nelson called for a 13 per cent fuel excise cut as a cost-of-living response in 2008; Bill Shorten announced specific targets on vocational training and housing in 2017; and Anthony Albanese unveiled the now government’s child care policy in his 2020 speech.

(In 2010 Tony Abbott made a pitch for cuts to the public sector employment budget worth $4 billion.)

But the largest part of the Coalition leader’s speech was based on a policy from several parliaments ago dedicated to opposing moving too quickly to renewable energy, something he warned was causing supply issues and price rises internationally – and which was about to hit Australia.

‘Warnings and lessons’

“Governments in several countries in recent years have made catastrophic energy decisions,” he said.

“They have turned off the secure supply of electricity and gas before the technology and system are ready for more renewable energy.

“Despite those warnings and lessons, this Labor government is following in the footsteps of those countries.”

In June, threatened power outages in Australia were caused mostly by the unavailability of coal-fired power stations in Victoria and NSW.

The Treasury said this week power prices risked being “exacerbated by ageing electricity generation assets and inadequate policy certainty”.

The war in Ukraine is causing forecast double-digit rises in power bills but Mr Dutton said a transition to renewable energy would cost households more.

The Coalition advocates a 26 to 28 per cent cut to renewable energy by the end of this decade, a policy adopted by the Abbott government.

Mr Dutton has promised Liberal moderates who threatened to cross the floor on climate policy that the target will rise by the next election. He is yet to say to what level.

The Coalition’s policy is to reduce emissions to 0 per cent of 2005 levels by 2050, a so-called net-zero commitment passed by the Morrison government.

Mr Dutton said he believed investing in renewables was “crucial”.

“The technology doesn’t yet exist at the scale that is needed to store renewable energy for electricity to be reliable at night, or during peak periods,” Mr Dutton said.

“That is a scientific reality.

“Every dollar spent on new transmission lines will be paid for by consumers through higher electricity bills.”

More gas exploration

Mr Dutton criticised the government for cancelling gas exploration projects, and said doing so would exacerbate recently high prices.

Prices on the wholesale market have shot up to four times their pre-war levels.

“The government makes it harder for more gas supply at a time when we need it most,” Mr Dutton said.

russia gas poland

The Opposition Leader called for more gas exploration in his budget reply. Photo: Getty

More than 80 per cent of gas in Australia is exported offshore and sold at high prices, although WA reserves gas for use in homes to keep local prices low.

Mr Dutton’s support for more gas exploration comes as the government weighs options for intervening in the market to bring prices down.

A gas industry lobby group (the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association) sent out a media release echoing the call as he started speaking on Thursday; the mining lobby later issued a similar statement.

‘Broken faith’

Mr Dutton criticised the government for not extending any direct cost-of-living relief to voters and said it had already broken a promise to lower bills in three years.

“You have every right to be anxious and disappointed, the Prime Minister has broken faith with you,” he said.

“It’s a budget which breaks promises rather than keeps them, a budget which weakens Australia’s financial position rather than strengthens it, and a budget which adds to rather than alleviates your cost-of-living pressures.”

Coalition frontbenchers have not advocated for specific cost-of-living measures as inflation hits 7.3 per cent, or its highest level in decades.

On Thursday, Mr Dutton said not providing direct relief was a missed opportunity to tackle rising prices but did not suggest a solution. When asked by ABC radio on Wednesday, he said “to preside over an economy” that kept pressure on prices.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government did not want to pump money into the economy when it was overheated while interest rate rises were seeking to have the opposite effect.

Mr Dutton backed Labor policy to lower the cost of medicines and extend childcare subsidies, but said cost-of-living support did not go far enough.

The Opposition Leader advocated the Coalition’s superannuation-based home buyer scheme, allowing first-home buyers to draw on their super balances, party policy at the May election, and said its eligibility would need to extend to older, separated women at risk of homelessness.

He suggested the government’s plan to have super funds invest in housing was unrealistic.

“The design features will end up wasting billions of dollars and deliver little, if anything, to home buyers,” he said.

Mr Dutton backed the stage-three income tax cuts and claimed Labor would raise new taxes at future budgets.

He criticised cuts to previous Coalition grants schemes and promised to restore an axed “safer communities” grants program for religious communities worth $50 million which he had overseen while home affairs minister.

Mr Dutton did promise to talk to parents about what he said was an increasingly ideological bent to classroom teaching and, as the Coalition reviews its position on the matter, seek to have an “intelligent conversation” about nuclear energy.

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