Australia watches Turnbull Experiment 2.0 on clean energy

Will Turnbull 2.0 support clean energy?    Photo:

Will Turnbull 2.0 support clean energy? Photo:

So what did you think of the dawn of the Turnbull Experiment 2.0? Is this going to be a new way forward for renewable energy in this country? A move away from the scorched earth policy of the Abbott administration? Or will it be a better-dressed, better-spoken continuation of the Abbott government’s war on renewables?

As Finn Peacock has pointed out in these pages, Turnbull is a rare breed, a senior Liberal considered to be an enthusiastic supporter of the renewable energy industry who recognises the need to reduce carbon emissions for the future of the planet. Indeed Turnbull has, in the past, nailed his colours to the mast and repeatedly criticised his own party’s inaction on climate change.

Turnbull 1.0, from his entry into the federal parliament, to his deposing as Leader of the Opposition by one Tony Abbott (remember him?), was characterised by his progressive, liberal (small l) attitude on a range of issues including the need to adapt our energy policy to help mitigate climate change.

Those with a long memory remember his unwavering support for an emissions scheme to regulate polluters was what brought him undone at the hands of the right of the party in 2009.

His utterances of the time were unequivocable: “I will not lead a party that is not committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”

However that was then, this is now. The Turnbull Experiment 1.0. seems to have been replaced with a more circumspect, some would say compromising Turnbull Experiment 2.0. There are others who say Turnbull 2 has sold out to the right on clean energy in the short time he has had his bottom on the PM’s hotseat.

Turnbull (1 &2) has always been viewed with suspicion bordering on disgust by those in his party who consider him a latte-sipping, well-heeled, elitist version of Bob Brown. Loathed for his moderation and progressive ideals by the Thatcherite, authoritian and socially conservative wing, Turnbull views on an emissions trading were particularly galling to this fossil fuel-supporting rump of the Liberal Party.

In a typically erudite slapdown, Turnbull once described the party’s policy as “… an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing”.

So how’s Turnbull 2.0 going on renewable energy policy since last week’s coup? Not great to be honest, for a number of reasons. As newly-installed PM he has flagged a continuation of Direct Action, the flawed climate mitigation strategy previously criticised heavily by Turnbull 1.0. Perhaps more importantly the new PM has retained the ineffectual Greg Hunt as Environment Minister suggesting a continuation of the Abbott government’s war on clean energy.

Many will suggest that Turnbull is playing the waiting game, ensuring he has the conservative wing on side before he backs more progressive values such as renewable energy. The new Turnbull administration may be rapidly overtaken by events though with Tesla fast tracking the roll out of the Powerwall in Australia. It may be a case of jump on board the clean energy bus or be run over by it as impatient Aussies seek a government that will back renewable energy.

The Coalition has shown itself to be well behind the Australian people when it comes to backing renewable energy such as solar. As poll after poll has suggested (the latest conducted in the seat of Canning) Australians want a government that is serious about committing to renewable energy.

Is The Turnbull Experiment 2.0 up to the task then? The polls have consistently shown Turnbull to be popular precisely because of his more progressive stance on these vital issues. While his first experience as leader showed the necessity of placating his right wing, it would be dangerous for Turnbull 2 to ignore the wishes of the Australian people. His poll bounce would suggest the sense of relief that followed the removal of a highly unpopular PM bent on the destruction of the renewable energy industry.

Time waits for no Mal, we watch with interest.


  1. Why do you care what the government of the day does or does not think about solar power? Time and experience have shown us again and again – from the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, the failure of the Soviet Union, the end of neo-Socialism in places like Britain, that it is the private sector that matters, not government support or intervention. As the price of solar comes down, as its efficiency goes up (i.e. reducing the price of the Kwh) then more an more people will embrace renewables.

    • Thanks for the comment jimmec. Interesting and valuable points. I’ve thought though that the government — so long as it maintains a consistent approach — does have a role in supporting new technology such as solar. Indeed the CEFC has brought investment into the sector from the private sector by building a platform of “certainty” allowing private investment to follow.

    • See my reply to Colin Spencer’s very similar comment on the article linked to below:

      Essentially, the Government’s opinion guides the investment of private enterprise, so it’s probably the single biggest factor in solar / renewable energy. Abbott’s stance on renewables saw a huge drop in renewable energy investment.

      Not speaking for anyone else, but that’s why I care about what the Government of the day thinks about solar power.

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