MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison once brandished a lump of coal in parliament, crying, “This is coal – don’t be afraid!” His surprise win in what some dubbed the ‘climate election’ may have stunned the country, but voters should know what comes next in energy policy – big coal.
Battered by extended droughts, damaging floods, and more bushfires, Australian voters had been expected to hand a mandate to the Labor party to pursue its ambitious targets for renewable energy and carbon emissions cuts.
Instead, Saturday’s election left them on course to re-elect the Liberal-led center-right coalition headed by Morrison, a devout Pentecostal churchgoer who thanked fellow worshippers for his win at a Sydney church early on Sunday.
The same coalition government last year scrapped a bipartisan national energy plan and dumped then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull because he was viewed as anti-coal.
Power companies and big energy users, who last year rallied behind the national energy plan to end a decade of policy flip-flops, said on Sunday they wanted to work with the coalition anew to find ways to cut energy bills and boost power and gas supply.
“We just need this chaotic environment to stop and give us some real direction,” said Andrew Richards, chief executive of the Energy Users Association of Australia, which represents many of the country’s largest industrial energy users.
The country’s power producers – led by AGL Energy, Origin Energy and EnergyAustralia, owned by Hong Kong’s CLP Holdings – want the government to set long-term goals to give them the confidence to invest an estimated A$25 billion ($17 billion) needed for new power supply.
“Customers are looking to energy companies and the government to get bills down and secure our energy supplies,” said EnergyAustralia Managing Director Catherine Tanna.
“We have an opportunity now to reset our relationships and recommit to working toward a clear, stable and long-term energy policy,” she said in comments emailed to Reuters after Saturday’s election.