Malcolm Turnbull is facing the biggest challenge to his Prime Ministership, which marks two years tomorrow, with between five and 10 Coalition MPs thinking about crossing the floor and voting against any new or remodelled renewable energy scheme.
As debate about the future of energy policy rages, former prime minister Tony Abbott has been doing the rounds of his colleagues in a bid to get support for dumping all government funding for renewables.
It’s understood Mr Abbott has also canvassed the idea of the Government walking away from the Paris Agreement – something he signed up to when he was in power.
Last weekend, the Nationals adopted a policy to dismiss the last recommendation of Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s report calling for a clean energy target.
This extension, and probably replacement, of the renewable energy target – which was adopted by the Gillard government and kept by Mr Abbott – is now so unpopular, ministers are desperately searching for a way to reshape it, starting with a new name that doesn’t mention clean or renewable power.
If the Government keeps renewables in its final energy policy mix there is likely to be a backbench revolt with Mr Abbott as its figurehead.
Mr Turnbull and his Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg are committed to having an element of clean, renewable energy in the final mix with some older technology base-load generation from coal.
Yesterday Mr Frydenberg reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the Paris targets which aim for a 2 degree reduction in greenhouse emissions.
While any revolt on clean energy would be embarrassing, it shouldn’t mean the policy would be defeated because of likely support from Labor for a package that contains renewables.
The Government has already twice put off any party room consideration of this most contentious of the Finkel recommendations – it was to be considered in June and then in August – and it could be pushed further out from the latest deadline of Christmas set by Mr Turnbull last month.
The Government says its thinking on the final energy policy mix has changed after the Australian Energy Market Operator’s report last week suggested a shortfall of about 1000 megawatts of readily available power by 2022.