Federal energy chaos leaves WA to play the waiting game

Thursday 22 Nov 2018

It’s been a testing year for all of the Australian energy ministers.

As recently as three months ago, the Federal Government was out and about selling the National Energy Guarantee, it’s latest greatest energy policy set to solve all of the energy woes plaguing the east coast of Australia.

There was talk of progress after a meeting of Commonwealth and eastern states energy ministers to discuss the proposed policy. Things were moving to “the next stage” and they were all “one step closer to cheaper and more reliable energy".

That lasted about three weeks and it ended with the knifing of Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull.

The National Energy Guarantee got the boot almost as soon as Scott Morrison was sworn in.

Making matters worse, when the dust of yet another leadership spill settled, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg found himself promoted to Treasurer. He’s been replaced by Angus Taylor, jumping to his third portfolio in three years.

So after all of this hullabaloo, we have no federal energy policy and no idea what will be put forward next. We have a brand new Federal Energy Minister inheriting an absolute mess of a portfolio. And we have a guarantee that energy policy is set to be a political football all the way until the next Federal Election, whenever that might be.

Like we said, it’s been a testing year if you’re a state energy minister. But spare a thought for WA’s Ben Wyatt.

During all of these events, Mr Wyatt was excluded from meetings between the Federal and state governments, on the basis that WA was not a part of the National Energy Market, which provides wholesale electricity for the South Australia and the eastern states.

As he pointed out at the time, excluding WA from these discussions created uncertainty around what national requirements would be placed on WA’s energy policy and what the broader Australian energy investment environment would look like moving forward.

Unfortunately, WA’s even more in the dark now than it was before.

Leaked draft laws emerged this week that would give Treasurer Josh Frydenberg the unprecedented power to force electricity companies to sell off their assets, while also restricting potential buyers, if it is deemed to be ‘in the public interest’.

The legislation may be rushed through in the final sitting weeks of Federal Parliament, even with the Australian Energy Council questioning the legality of the potential reach of the government’s powers.

Meanwhile, Queensland and Victoria have had enough of the uncertainty and have introduced their own ambitious renewable energy plans, including setting 50 per cent renewable energy targets.

Mr Wyatt ruled out WA going it alone this week, remaining steadfast in his conviction that a truly national approach was needed to create certainty and stability for all the states and territories.

“The Federal Government’s decision to walk away from the national energy guarantee has certainly meant that until after the next Federal election we are unlikely to see any comprehensive national policy that deals with energy emissions,” Mr Wyatt noted.

“However, I remain hopeful that once we have a new Federal government, of either stripe, we will see them embrace a national approach to an emissions reduction strategy.”

Today Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced that Labor will continue to support most of the National Energy Guarantee. Despite admitting it’s not the party’s preferred option, Mr Shorten said "the single most important thing about energy and climate policy right now is to have one".

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor has already criticised the policy. Hopes for a bipartisan outcome any time soon appear to be misplaced.

In the meantime, Mr Wyatt, investors, and the people of WA will continue to watch and wait for an outcome. History says none of us should hold our breath.