Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership authority is again under threat from the Coalition’s never-ending energy and climate wars. A backbench revolt over carbon emissions policy has the potential to grow into a leadership crisis for the Prime Minister if he can’t placate the coal-fired energy rebels or strand them by doing a deal with Bill Shorten.
As it was in 2009 when Turnbull was Liberal leader, it is the Labor leader who can decide his fate. Although he won a significant victory in passing the principle of the national energy guarantee through the Coalition partyroom yesterday, Turnbull is facing a rearguard revolt from at least 10 Coalition lower and upper house MPs who could derail the policy if Labor were to oppose it.
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has set an almost impossible deadline of October to get all the states to agree, produce and pass the legislation in the House of Representatives and then get the Coalition’s make-or-break plan through a hostile Senate. If the rebels can’t be turned, then Turnbull has to do a deal with the Opposition Leader or bully Labor into submission.
At this stage, the fight within the Coalition is about mandating emissions targets and assisting new coal-fired power stations but should Turnbull fail to get agreement from the states, Labor, the Senate or his own colleagues, or fail to convince the public his plan will lower electricity prices, it will gut his authority and end his leadership.
Turnbull and Frydenberg passed the initial test but within hours the Prime Minister was meeting MPs who had threatened to cross the floor of parliament and oppose the NEG legislation because it mandated the Paris emissions reduction target of 26 per cent and didn’t do enough for coal-fired power. With a majority of just one seat, Turnbull cannot afford one defector — Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce or anyone else — if he doesn’t have Labor or some independent support in the house.
Turnbull is trying to put the pressure on Labor to agree to the NEG so that the Labor states will come on board and he can neutralise the threat of a Coalition revolt in both the house and Senate. But both the Labor states and the federal ALP can draw out the process well beyond the October deadline by demanding details of the policy and insisting on a Senate inquiry to prolong Turnbull’s exposure to internal destabilisation.
Already, Labor has declared “We cannot support a smashing of renewables” — legislating a 26 per cent emissions target only half of Labor’s — or “channelling tax payers’ funds into coal” — a government guarantee for new coal-fired power stations.
While the Opposition Leader is tactically holding back a general declaration, his climate spokesman, Mark Butler, is setting out clear and immediate objections and accusing Turnbull of “capitulation” to conservatives and an “abject weakness” of leadership. […]
There is still a long way to go for Turnbull to seal his “energy victory” and the longer it goes, the more likely it threatens not just his authority but also his leadership within a Coalition increasingly fearing defeat.