Australia went to the polls on Saturday in a long-awaited Federal election whose conclusion was so far beyond doubt the bookmakers decided to pay out two days in advance, but the conclusion was not to be, and the Coalition Government was returned to power in a shock election victory which will likely severely curtail the country’s climate and clean energy policy.
It was being described as an “impossible to lose” election for Australia’s Labor Government, so much so that Sportsbet bookmakers paid out two days in advance on Labor leader Bill Shorten winning — a mistake which is set to cost the company at least AU$5.2 million, and is being seen as the purest example of the surprise Coalition victory.
Liberal leader Scott Morrison, who essentially ran a US presidential-style election campaign — as compared to the Labor Party’s “team effort” campaign — will stay on as Prime Minister, the first time he has been elected by Australia’s public. His ascension to power came amidst yet another internal party squabble which saw former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ousted in a party room vote, leading to Australia’s sixth Prime Minister in a decade — not bad, considering Australia has only had 30.
While an election victory cannot quite so easily be defined as good or bad based on a single issue, unfortunately, the Coalition’s return to power does not bode well for Australia’s climate and clean energy policies.
It has been the Coalition Government — a coalition made up of the Australian Liberal Party (which uses the word “liberal” not as a synonym for “progressive” but rather as a centre-right party) and the National Party of Australia — which has shut down Australia’s climate and clean energy policies, hampered development and financing of clean energy, and fostered continued support, both financial and political, for fossil fuel projects, primarily coal.
The only shining moment, from the perspective of those who were hoping for a climate victory, was the ouster of former Prime Minister and Member of Parliament Tony Abbott, who is widely seen as a climate denier and is responsible for some of Australia’s most Dickensian climate and clean energy policies.
While it is unclear at this point precisely what the Coalition Government’s return to power means, and how Scott Morrison himself will act towards climate and clean energy policies, the return of several extreme conservative Liberal Party Members of Parliament is likely to foster continued fossil fuel support and anti-climate and -clean energy policies. The Coalition Government, for example, has continually failed to even suggest a replacement for Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) — which has set a measly target of 23.5% — beyond its 2020 deadline, even though the country is already at around 18%. Realistically, there is simply no political support in the Liberal or National parties to force them to abandon their long-held beliefs.
Unfortunately, one of the most significant examples of Australia’s continued reliance on fossil fuels — the proposed Adani coal mine in Carmichael, Queensland, in the country’s northeast — was not voted on as a climate issue, but rather as a jobs issue. Queensland voters surprisingly supported the Coalition Government — when everyone had seen this as a likely Labor soft spot — but Queenslanders, especially those in the surrounding towns and councils, see the Adani coal mine as a potential job creation tool, a tool which is desperately needed for thousands of Queenslanders.
“The Coalition government will focus on reducing energy prices, underwriting new power stations which are likely to be low-cost coal and study a new low-emissions coal generator in Queensland,” said Wood Mackenzie senior research manager Adele Long, writing to journalists. “This scheme attempts to reduce electricity prices – which rose approximately 122% from 2014 to 2017 – through increasing the base supply of power from cheap coal.”
“The Coalition’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) remains in force, with a renewable energy generation target mix of 23.5% by 2020. Currently, the renewable energy generation mix is around 18%. The RET expires by 2020 and the Coalition has not set any clear targets beyond this.
“We expect the new government to continue to support the oil and gas and coal industries, due to the amount of export income, flow-on economic activity, employment and, ultimately, government revenue they provide.”
“The Coalition government’s shock victory indicates that its simple emphasis on the economic risks of change trumped Labor’s ambitious reform agenda,” added Joseph Parkes, analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and strategic consulting firm. “The long-expected swing to Labor did not materialise, and pre-election polling seriously failed to capture the electorate’s mood.”
“Prime Minister Scott Morrison has decisively consolidated his position as the leader of the Liberal party by turning a seemingly hopeless position into an historic win. By defying the pre-election opinion poll trend, he has insulated himself from the damage that lagging poll ratings did to his predecessors.
“Morrison should be spared the relentless leadership speculation which derailed Australia’s last four prime ministers, at least until the next federal election comes into view.
“The Coalition ran a policy-light campaign leaving few clear signposts for what to expect from the next parliament. We anticipate broad policy continuity, and tax cuts will be front and centre as one of the Coalition’s few flagship policy offerings.
“The prospect of Australia passing a significant climate policy framework is likely off the table following Labor’s defeat, and with the Coalition’s divisions over climate change still unresolved,” Parkes continued. “The government will again lack a majority in the Senate, and conservative Crossbench senators will continue to play an influential role in shaping legislation.”