5min read
PREVIOUS ARTICLE ACCC boss wants more home loan... NEXT ARTICLE GST carve up winners and loser...

At least Lance Armstrong admitted ‘it’s not about the bike’ before everyone found out it was actually about the drugs.

In Canberra – it’s not about the coal.

If it was, the debate about building a taxpayer-funded coal power station might have addressed air quality.

Anyone who has visited Victoria’s coal-burning Latrobe Valley on a bad day can see it, smell it, breathe it, taste it.

The debate might have addressed worrying temperature rises seen globally, or whether low emissions coal plants can actually stack up financially.

But it didn’t – because it’s not about the coal.

It kicked off when a squad of backbenchers gave themselves a cool name and demanded taxpayers stump up $4 billion to build a new coal plant.

The self-described ‘Monash Forum’ included the usual suspects from the Tony Abbott opposition, with new recruit Barnaby Joyce jumping on board.

The idea was pretty quickly slapped down, and the descendants of Sir John Monash were upset at the use of his name by an ‘anti-science and anti-intellectual’ group.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said it was ‘false’ to think a new coal plant would generate cheap power like older plants, and refused to throw money into it.

‘The days of subsidies in energy are over, whether it is for coal, wind, solar, any of them,’ he told a banking forum.

The coal plant idea fell over quickly – because it isn’t about the coal.

It’s about making life difficult for Malcolm Turnbull as his 30th Newspoll looms.

Turnbull had some clear air over the summer and the coalition’s poll numbers lifted – Abbott’s wrecking crew seem determined to make sure he doesn’t get clear air again.

The prime minister got involved in coal himself, pushing AGL to sell its ageing Liddell power station to Alinta, in a bid to keep it open past 2022.

‘AGL should do the right thing … and either keep this plant going for another four or five years, or sell it to somebody who is prepared to do so,’ Mr Turnbull told reporters on Wednesday.

Turnbull hasn’t exactly been a pro-coal campaigner, so why is he pushing for a coal power station to stay open?

Because it’s not about the coal – it’s the fear of voter backlash when power prices spike.

The unexpectedly fast closure of the Hazelwood power station in Victoria in 2017 forced up prices across the nation, sparking a wave of anger from voters.

Liddell’s closure has been flagged for three years, it still has four years to run, and AGL is preparing to replace all the lost power generation, but keeping it open longer gives Turnbull something to point to.

When power prices inevitably rise, the coalition wants to be able to say it kept Liddell open for longer to keep downward pressure on prices – not because of an ideological commitment to coal.

Turnbull’s national energy guarantee was his response to the power price crisis, and energy ministers will examine it in April.

The Australian Energy Market Operator says the industry must have investment certainty by the end of 2018.

Labor is prepared to do a bipartisan deal on energy – but as Bill Shorten pointed out, it’s not about the deal.

‘We’re absolutely up for a bipartisan plan, but which part of the Liberal party do we deal with?’ he told reporters on Thursday.

‘The chaos and division in the Liberal party is driving higher prices for energy.’

The Greens weighed in, with leader Richard Di Natale exploring a plan for a state-owned energy retailer in a speech calling for interventionist governments.

But even that speech was really about shoring up Di Natale’s leadership after internal criticism.

Abbott brought down Turnbull in 2009 over the Emissions Trading Scheme. He helped bring down Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard over the carbon tax.

Energy policy is a tried and true strategy for bringing down prime ministers and the wrecking crew has gone back to the well again.

John Howard’s ‘disunity is death’ is no longer a warning but a rallying cry for Turnbull’s internal enemies.

It’s not about the 30th Newspoll, and it’s certainly not about coal.

It’s about an internal campaign to make sure Turnbull cannot recover to win the next election.