A Tale of Two Ministers

A tale of two energy ministers is emerging in Canberra.

On the morning of Tuesday 29 November, Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg delivered the keynote address at the ANU Energy Update 2016. An important event for the country’s leading energy analysts and policy makers.

Drawing from an opinion article published in The Australian a day earlier, Minister Frydenberg’s speech was light on renewables and heavy on gas. Frydenberg used the opinion piece to talk up gas and slam the only real policies creating jobs and investment in wind and solar: state renewable energy targets.

It was these comments that disappointed many people in the audience and resulted in heckling from passionate and informed citizens.

In response to the unsolicited audience participation, Mr Frydenberg joked that this is what it’s like to be a politician.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The audience response was a clear sign the community is losing patience with politicians who dither while the need to act on climate change becomes more urgent. In this context, it’s no surprise politicians spruiking risky gas development earn little respect from the public.

In contrast, leaders who serve the community’s vision for a 100 percent renewable energy future such as the ACT’s former Energy Minister Simon Corbell are treated like rockstars.

In July, at a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Energy Council meeting in the capital, Minister Corbell addressed 100 Canberrans who were calling on state and federal energy ministers to end the blame game and back renewables.

The crowd’s rapturous welcome for Corbell on that day – a key player in forging the ACT’s 100% Renewable Energy Target – shows the community will respect politicians who deliver real results on climate change and renewable energy.

In the second half of 2016 we’ve seen vested interests mount a coordinated attack on South Australia’s renewable energy leadership. Fossil fuel backers used a power price spike caused by big power companies “gaming” the market and a statewide blackout caused by a one-in-fifty-year storm to smear renewable energy.

Politicians entered the fray in response to the blackout. Among them were Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and “Trumplings” like Malcolm Roberts whose talking points come straight out of the climate denial handbook. Polling shows the community isn’t buying the anti-renewables spin propagated by politicians.

Without a course correction, Minister Frydenberg risks further reputational damage.

Simon Corbell’s rockstar reputation presents an alternative path for Minister Frydenberg. The community is looking for politicians to champion renewables in the face of fossil fuel sector attacks on South Australia.

If another event disrupts the energy system during the hot Australian summer, will Minister Frydenberg keep a cool head, end the blame game, and back renewables? His reputation relies on it.



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