September 27, 2015

What Will A New Prime Minister Mean For Australia’s Renewable Energy Industry?

Australia’s Liberal Party has elected a new leader, Malcolm Turnbull, which will soon mean a new Prime Minister for Australia — a move which has every chance to have a positive impact on the country’s renewable energy industry which has suffered heavily under the now-previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

Australian Politics 101

The fact that the leader of a country can be swapped out for a newer or better model by a country’s politicians was a new way to look at things for many people a few years ago. However, in 2010, the world saw the Australian Labor Party — the political party in charge at the time — express no-confidence in the leader of the party, and therefore the leader of the country, Kevin Rudd. This gave rise to Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who suffered a similar “leadership spill” in June of 2013, which saw the return of Kevin Rudd to the leader of the Labor Party, and the country. (Though this was a short-lived position, as he subsequently lost the next national election only three months later.)

Such change in leadership — a change in leadership that is carried out entirely by the few elected politicians rather than the whole nation — is an odd notion, but one that is uniquely representative of the vicious way in which politics has been played out in Australia for the last decade.

Today, Monday the 14th, the Australian Liberal Party (which, ironically, are a politically-conservative party) voted to make Malcolm Turnbull its leader — which has the run-on effect of giving Australia a new Prime Minister. (Actually a Prime Minister-designate until he is officially made Prime Minister, which should happen Tuesday.)

The move comes after many months of political infighting, bickering, and rumour — not to mention yet another Liberal Party leadership spill in February of 2015, which saw then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott face a similar vote of no-confidence, which he managed to escape by the skin of his teeth. Tony Abbott has faced much criticism as a result of his very conservative policy decisions on a range of issues — most obviously issues of immigration, defence, national security, environment and renewable energy, and same-sex marriage.
Malcolm Turnbull vs. Tony Abbott

Biographies of all those involved — former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, newly raised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and the long-serving (and more importantly still-serving) Julie Bishop — are readily available online, so we can skip that and move on to the more specific nature of what Malcolm Turnbull’s new position as leader of Australia might mean for the country’s policy towards the environment and renewable energy.

I have not been quiet in my distaste for Tony Abbott, who I believe has run a campaign of anti-science and pro-fossil fuel. Mr Abbott successfuly repealed the (admittedly flawed) carbon tax in July of 2014, which began a long series of policy decisions and public declarations of support for fossil fuels — specifically a stance in favour of coal as Australia’s primary form of electricity generation — which ran hand-in-hand with a dismissal of support for renewable energy. This dismissal took the form of a number of reforms to Australia’s renewable energy policy which saw an increasing lack of support for the technology, resulting in a massive drop in investment (77% by the end of 2014), global condemnation from national leaders, and numerous reports demonstrating Australia’s deteriorating global standing.

Will Malcolm Turnbull reverse all of Tony Abbott’s seemingly-out of touch policy decisions?

Probably not, sadly. Questioned in a press event less than an hour after he won the leadership vote, Prime Minister-designate Malcolm Turnbull praised the existing climate policy, claiming it was “very well designed” and “a very good piece of law”. Of course, the bill was designed in part by his newly-elected deputy, Julie Bishop (along with Environment Minister Greg Hunt), so it’s unsurprising that in his first press conference following the successful leadership vote that he would praise all previous policy. However, as has been made very clear, Australia’s current environmental policy is not good at all.

However, interestingly, Malcolm Turnbull has long been at odds with his party leader over his views on climate change.

In an op-ed written back in 2009 (prior to the crafting of the environment policy he praised tonight), Mr Turnbull described Tony Abbott’s climate change policy as “bullshit” (which says all you need to know about Australian politics, right there).

“Second, as we are being blunt, the fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human caused global warming. As Tony observed on one occasion “climate change is crap” or if you consider his mentor, Senator Minchin, the world is not warming, its cooling and the climate change issue is part of a vast left wing conspiracy to deindustrialise the world.”

Furthermore, Malcolm Turnbull is a businessman — a successful one at that — and he will focus on ensuring Australia has a strong economy, business policy, and more besides.

This could mean that renewable energy will once again be seen as a favourable investment opportunity in Australia, if Malcolm Turnbull is to turn his love for business on to the renewable energy industry. We know that Malcolm Turnbull is a big fan of electric vehicles and energy storage, but whether that will stretch to include renewable energy is an answer to a question we will simply have to wait out and see.

However, as has been outlined by website They Vote For You, Malcolm Turnbull’s voting record on renewable energy has not been very impressive, so at the end of the day, Australia may have a new Prime Minister, but the country’s renewable energy industry may remain as stagnant as it was with Tony Abbott at the helm.

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