Tony Abbott is completely out of touch with “the base” on renewable energy

Tony Abbott is completely out of touch with “the base” on renewable energy

For two people who claim to be in touch with “the base”, it’s astounding how out of touch Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin are. In their blind determination to blast Malcolm Turnbull from the prime ministership using whatever issue or policy best does the job, the two have missed the fatal flaw in the latest stanza of their Kill Malcolm campaign, which involves the demonisation of renewable energy.

In an “exclusive” interview last night with one Murdoch media outlet, and comments today in another, Abbott has sought to escalate tensions with Turnbull over renewables by calling for the proposed Clean Energy Target to be dropped. Abbott also reportedly threatened to cross the floor against any government attempt to legislate a CET.

As much as Abbott claims his position is about reliable electricity and the need to establish product differentiation with Labor, his anti-renewables campaign is all too obviously about the Liberal leadership.

Until now, every issue thrown in Turnbull’s way by Abbott and his enablers — in order to bring on a leadership crisis — has been avoided by the embattled Prime Minister. Instead of resisting the demands of Abbott’s far-right supporters, Turnbull has accommodated almost every one of them. He agreed to water down section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (although the Senate blocked the changes), ended funding for Safe Schools, and persisted with a plebiscite on marriage equality.

Turnbull and his Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg also initially appeared to back down under pressure from Abbott’s camp on a clean energy target mooted to replace the renewable energy target in 2020. However the concept is being considered again after it was revived by the chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, in his report to the government on the future security of the national electricity market.

If implemented, Finkel’s CET recommendation would fill the policy vacuum created by Abbott when he scrapped the carbon tax and created a lopsided market that only provided policy certainty to renewable energy providers. It’s no coincidence that not one coal-fired power station has been built since then.

Having created the policy settings that brought on the current “energy crisis”, Abbott is now trying to frame the best solution to the problem as yet another test of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership — rather than an indictment of Abbott’s own.

The problem for Abbott and co. is that voters, especially those in some of the Coalition’s most marginal seats, love renewable energy — not necessarily for environmental reasons, but economic ones. And, for this reason, they are likely to have a dim view of Abbott’s anti-renewables stance.

These voters reside in the 1.7 million households with rooftop solar. To them, renewable energy means economic freedom — from the electricity bills that break the budget, and from the energy companies who gouge their customers. When Tony Abbott rails against renewables for causing blackouts or high power bills, these voters compare their reality with his rhetoric. And they know he’s talking through his hat.

This of course has political implications. Of the 20 Australian postcode areas with the highest number of rooftop solar installations (from 5900 rooftop solar units per postcode to almost 12,000), 13 are in Queensland. The postcodes cover two Coalition marginal seats and another 4-5 seats that would be at risk to One Nation.

Other data has shown that around 40% of rooftop solar installations occurred in rural and regional Australia, and that low-income households including older Australians feature heavily as adopters of the technology.

This explains the high number of Coalition voters that support renewables in the opinion polls. According to an Essential Poll in June, 57% of Coalition voters preferred more investment in renewables to meet Australia’s future energy needs compared with 26% who preferred more coal-fired electricity.

Another poll by the same organisation found in February that 58% of Coalition voters thought renewables were the solution to our energy needs, while 20% saw them as a threat to future energy supply. That’s an improvement on the same question four months earlier, when 52% of Coalition supporters saw renewables as a solution and 25% as a threat.

Even more interestingly, according to Essential, a majority of Coalition voters also support Labor’s 50% renewable target, with 48% approving in October last year, and 55% in February this year.

This would suggest that on the issue of renewables, Abbott and Credlin’s political antennae have yet again failed them. Even if Abbott argued that renewables are OK as long as the “subsidies” are scrapped, this would go down like a lead balloon with the 1.7 million households currently benefiting from small-scale certificates under the RET.

If Tony “Let’s Give the Prince a Knighthood” Abbott and Peta “Needs More Flags” Credlin really were in touch with the Liberal base, they’d know that renewable energy is a strength for Turnbull (and the Coalition) instead of a weakness.

This probably explains why Essential has also found the proportion of Coalition voters who want Abbott to resign from parliament has grown from 18% in August last year, to 31% in April this year and then 35% this July.

Originally published at Crikey.

Is Peta Credlin telling porkies about her “cabinet” source?

Is Peta Credlin telling porkies about her “cabinet” source?

Much has been made of comments by Tony Abbott’s enabler, Peta Credlin, on Andrew Bolt’s show last night, particularly her attribution of a damning assessment of Malcolm Turnbull to one of his “cabinet colleagues”.

Credlin’s claim has been quoted in today’s Daily Telegraph, which I’ve reproduced below:

“(The weekend’s comments) reinforced this question mark people have always had over the Prime Minister that it’s not about the Liberal Party, it’s not about conservative values, it’s actually about Malcolm, and as one of his cabinet colleagues said to me today, and this is extraordinary, he said; ‘This is the guy that knifed Peter King to get the seat, knifed Brendan (Nelson) to become leader, knifed Tony Abbott to become Prime Minister, and the next knife’s obviously coming the Liberal Party’s way,’ and I thought if colleagues are prepared to say that sort of stuff now, I’m not a journalist, I’m a former staffer, so they know me well, but that’s a pretty extraordinary comment to come from a cabinet colleague,” Ms Credlin said.

Almost 12 hours earlier another Abbott-enabler and Credlin’s co-host at Sky News, Alan Jones, uttered the same phrase, almost verbatim.

“Let me just make a point here – the elephant in the room – but no-one’s prepared to say this but I am because I’m sick to death of the stuff that I read. And Tony Abbott won’t say it. Peta Credlin half alluded to it. From the moment Abbott became prime minister of this country Malcolm Turnbull was white-anting him at every turn. Malcolm Turnbull knifed Peter King in the back to win the seat of Wentworth. He knifed Brendan Nelson in the back to win the leadership of the Liberal Party. He knifed Abbott in the back to become to prime minister. And that has to be the starting point of any discussion about the mess that we’re in.

The similarity is uncanny.

Did the anonymous cabinet colleague simply parrot the Jones line to Credlin, or did he make the same comment to Jones first?

Or is Jones actually Credlin’s “cabinet” source, with the two having concocted the line to drive a wedge between conservative cabinet members and Turnbull?

For it’s hard to see which Liberal cabinet minister would make such a comment, given they (Cormann, Dutton, Porter and Frydenberg) have been publicly defensive of Turnbull in recent months. The only other conservatives in cabinet are Nationals, but even then it is difficult to see any of them giving Credlin this type of ammunition.

Even so, it’s fair to say the Turnbull camp will now be looking askance at the former Abbott supporters in cabinet, which is what Abbott needs to cleave the conservatives away from his successor.

 

 

Credlin’s feminist posturing rings hollow

Credlin’s feminist posturing rings hollow

Regrettably, it’s standard operating procedure in politics, business and the media to respond to criticism by trying to destroy the credibility of the critic. Attack is almost always considered the best form of defence — just ask Gillian Triggs.

So it should come as no surprise that only days after Abbott proxy Peta Credlin was essentially accused of undermining another Liberal woman, Credlin in turn lashed out at PM Malcolm Turnbull with the claim that female Liberal supporters were deserting him.

Interestingly, Credlin used the Australian Election Study (AES), the nation’s only longitudinal survey of voters, to justify her claims. The AES is an imperfect tool — as are all surveys — with one of its limitations being that its data is collected straight after each federal election, when the news media is brimming with post-fact analysis and attempts by political players to frame the outcome in their favour.

According to Credlin’s interpretation of the most recent AES, which shows a lower proportion of women saying they voted for the Coalition in 2016 than 2013, Malcolm Turnbull has a worse “women problem” than Tony Abbott.

There could be many reasons for the drop in female voter support for the Coalition under Turnbull, not the least of which is the national trend of women moving away from the Coalition since the days of John Howard, and which is in line with the global trend of women moving away from right-of-centre parties.

Then there’s the fact that Turnbull has proven to be the most disappointing prime minister since Kevin Rudd — perhaps even more so.

Whatever the reason for the Coalition falling out with women, it suited Credlin to emphasise the change to deflect criticism of her being involved in a challenge against cabinet minister and new mother, Kelly O’Dwyer.

Credlin works hard to cultivate the impression that she’s an advocate and supporter of the advancement of women. So it was a very bad look for her to be associated — even if it was only in name — with a plot to bring down O’Dwyer.

The women Credlin did support during her time with Abbott, in the workplace and in the media, are steadfastly loyal. And Credlin reportedly repaid that loyalty with patronage. She was known to provide favoured female journalists with click-worthy leaks and exclusive stories, and over-rule ministers to appoint her own female friends and supporters to ministerial offices.

However, there’s another cohort of women whose careers Credlin thwarted during her time in Abbott’s office. One doesn’t have to look too far to find the stories of female Coalition staffers whose appointments or promotions were blocked by Credlin, as well as those who clashed with her, only to suddenly go on leave and then quietly disappear altogether.

And then there are the female MPs, who, under Credlin and Abbott, were not “good enough” for the junior ministry or cabinet, but who miraculously qualified for promotion once Turnbull became PM.

Even the women who managed to get into Abbott’s ministry were reportedly given rough treatment by Abbott’s gatekeeper. One well-connected female journalist wrote that Credlin’s relationship with Julie Bishop was “toxic”, and that “younger women, including Victorian Liberal frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer, seemed to spend years in the deep freeze”.

Credlin also demanded the sacking of a female journalist who was close to O’Dwyer, for having the temerity to write that the chief of staff had snubbed Julie Bishop by not inviting her to the launch of a mentoring program for female Liberal staffers.

The genesis of the mentoring scheme also points to the mixed feelings women had about Credlin during her time with Abbott. Credlin reportedly created the support program for conservative women after noting “the sisterhood” failed to come to her defence when Clive Palmer launched a sexist attack against her. (For the record, this writer was one of several women who did criticise Palmer for the attack.)

As is often the case with Credlin, there were different views as to whether this was the real reason for her starting the scheme. She may have also been attempting to address Abbott’s “women problem” by cultivating female staffers, or perhaps even trying to build a network of supporters to kickstart her own political career.

We’ll never know for sure, given the mentoring program barely lasted a year after the man who launched it — then-minister for women Tony Abbott — was removed from the Liberal leadership by his colleagues.

Speaking of Tony Abbott, the vengeful former PM obviously didn’t get the memo that he was meant to take the high moral ground on women this week. Credlin may have been more interested in settling scores with the Turnbull camp over the alleged O’Dwyer smear, but Abbott was busy repelling women voters by dog-whistling to the MRA-types who’ve shifted to One Nation.

Abbott used his new fortnightly slot with tabloid radio host Ray Hadley to take another whack at the Human Rights Commission, which would be scrapped under Abbott’s five-point plan to make the Coalition Great Again.

This time, Abbott took aim at the Turnbull-appointed Sex Discrimination Commissioner who’d proposed the government could help to promote women in the workforce by requiring “contracted organisations to demonstrate efforts to improve gender balance, with an ultimate goal of reaching a 40:40:20 gender balance”.

According to Abbott, proposals such as this were PC rubbish and “anti men”. The former PM apparently forgot his own administration retained the previous Labor government’s 40:40:20 policy (40% men, 40% women and 20% unspecified “to allow for flexibility”) for women on government boards, although it seems to have only paid lip service to the policy given the proportion of women on government boards dropped under Abbott’s watch.

That situation was reversed under Malcolm Turnbull and his cabinet-level Minister for Women Michaelia Cash who also strengthened the policy to 50:50 across all government boards with a minimum of 40% women for each board.

Unsurprisingly, Credlin dropped the “women’s problem” line of attack against Turnbull after Abbott flaunted his unreconstructed chauvinism to lure male voters away from Pauline Hanson.

She’s already framing the next battle with the Turnbull camp, suggesting Scott Morrison’s “good debt/bad debt” approach makes the government look “dodgy”.

Originally published at Crikey.