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Replace ‘ideology and idiocy’: Malcolm Turnbull denounces ‘unelectable’ Peter Dutton

Mr Turnbull has delivered a full-frontal attack on his former colleague’s leadership.

Mr Turnbull has delivered a full-frontal attack on his former colleague’s leadership.

Former Coalition prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has slammed Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s stance on renewable energy as based on “complete and utter nonsense”.

Further, Mr Turnbull says the Liberal Party has become unelectable and without a climate policy would  “walk away” from voters at the centre of politics.

Scepticism about renewable energy’s reliability and claims it would send power bills higher provided most of the substance for Mr Dutton’s debut budget reply speech and, by extension, the foundations of his policy vision for this Parliament.

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

He spoke approvingly of nuclear power as an alternative (but stopped short of changing policy to adopt it).

Mr Turnbull delivered a full-frontal attack on his former colleague’s rejection of clean energy and said claims nuclear power would be a stopgap when renewable supply faltered were baseless.

“This is complete and utter nonsense,” he said at an Australia Institute event in Sydney.

“We have abundant sources of solar, abundant sources of wind, and we have the ability to make those variable renewables [provide a firm supply of power]. That’s how batteries work,” Mr Turnbull said.

“The long term solution is very clear. It is renewables plus storage.

“That is not even an arguable or debatable issue. It’s just a question of how quickly you can roll it out.”

Liberals’ state, federal rifts

Mr Turnbull’s response reflects widespread concerns among Liberal moderates but also tensions between the federal party room and its state divisions in Victoria and New South Wales as elections in both states draw near.

Turnbull speaking

Malcolm Turnbull’s comments highlighted a growing divide within the Liberal Party. Photo: AAP

Mr Dutton took over the Liberal leadership when the party’s moderate voices were diminished after the May election when climate change drove metropolitan voters to dump six party MPs for ‘teal’ independents.

The party’s isolation of this classically liberal constituency was “a signal that the centre right of politics and my party, the Liberal Party, had lost its way on climate and it lost credibility with the Australian public on climate”.

“We have to replace ideology and idiocy with engineering and economics,” he said.

“It is difficult to see how the Liberal Party can ever win a majority in the House of Representatives without recapturing those seats. And they’ve lost them because of their own failure.”

He said the loss of the seats now held by ‘teal’ MPs showed the Liberals were “being held back by that combination of vested interest in fossil fuels sector, right wing media and right wing populist politics.”

Mr Turnbull splits again from the federal party’s platform by calling for a limit on the export of gas to curb power bill surges since Russia’s invasion.

“It is crazy that the largest or second-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas is not able to control gas at affordable prices for its own population,” he said.

Mr Turnbull developed the ‘trigger’ mechanism for limiting exports to guarantee gas supplies here during a 2017 shortage. Experts say it has given governments a means to compel gas companies to the negotiating table and secure supply.

It could be used now, he said, to keep prices to as their pre-war level.

“If a Labor government is not able to use the export control tools that my government created, then I think they’re missing a big opportunity,” he said.

Mr Dutton says interventions in energy markets create potential “economic shock” and backs calls by exporters for more gas exploration.

New generation Liberals

More opposition to Mr Dutton is coming from the leader of the state party’s moderate wing, NSW Treasurer Matt Kean, who supporters say has become a notional alternative federal leader simply because he is a moderate and has a national profile.

He has called for gas to be reserved from export and called for gas to be shipped from Western Australia to eastern states.

Coalition leader Peter Dutton is pushing for a shift towards nuclear power. Photo: AAP

When campaigning in Victoria with a moderate ally state MP James Newbury, Mr Kean said scepticism on clean energy was not shared in the state party divisions.

“What we saw at the federal level was a backlash from traditional Liberal voters who felt they didn’t have a home within the Liberal Party,” Mr Kean said.

“This is a new generation of Liberals that are coming through.”

Divisions over climate change cost Mr Turnbull the party leadership while in opposition in 2009, and led to a conservative rebellion in 2018.

Mr Dutton led a challenge in that year which Mr Turnbull’s memoirs described as “mad”, while a Dutton prime ministership would “do enormous damage” to the “social fabric” of Australia.

A Liberal source said there was concern about how its policy to achieve “net-zero” emissions by 2050 could be realised as nuclear only “might provide a solution in 30 years time”.

But a Liberal MP told The New Daily that there was no sign of the diversity of views that had destabilised the party previously.

The source said MPs were pushing Mr Dutton in only one direction.

“Nuclear is a must,” they said.

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