Turnbull ends week on a high, but it might not last long

Updated September 15, 2017 14:02:36

As Malcolm Turnbull concluded his final answer during Question Time on Thursday, after two weeks of political rough and tumble, his backbench literally thumped their desks in support.

It was a rare sight for a party which usually spends way too much time staring despondently at their phones, led by a man who, since taking on the job of Prime Minister two years ago, has fallen well short of voters’ expectations.

Just before Question Time got underway, the PM had gathered his troops in the atrium adjoining the chamber to congratulate them for their efforts over the gruelling fortnight in Canberra.

He was right to do so.

It has in fact been one of his best parliamentary sessions in many months.

The week ended with the Senate passing the full suite of media reforms that previous governments have been trying to land for many, many years.

“It is another example of making the 45th Parliament work,” the Prime Minister beamed from the courtyard outside his Parliamentary office.

Concerns about long-term risks

A strong finish for a Government that began the fortnight in the grip of chaos.

Labor had gone the nuclear option on Barnaby Joyce’s citizenship status, disrupting every day of last week’s Parliament with gag motions and attempts to suspend debate.

But the Tony Abbott-inspired tactic hurt Labor as much as the Government and this week the Opposition finally stepped onto the Coalition’s preferred battleground.

Rather than the citizenship crisis and the divisive issue of same-sex marriage, the Government and Opposition became fully engaged on the issue of energy.

The Government wants to be seen to be fighting on behalf of voters who are paying too much for electricity.

Hence AGL boss Andy Vesey became the latest energy executive to be hauled unceremoniously to Canberra for a stern talking to.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg went toe-to-toe with Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon in the corridors of the press gallery. And the Government continued its puerile attacks on “Blackout Bill” Shorten, “Brownout [Mark] Butler” and “No Coal Joel” Fitzgibbon.

It doesn’t seem matter to them who they’re fighting, as long as they’re seen to be taking up arms.

A big and complex problem

For now, it’s a tactic that is working for the Government, but several members of Cabinet are concerned about the longer-term risks.

All pretence of an “energy trilemma” has now been dropped.

Consideration of low carbon emissions now comes a distant third to power prices and reliability of supply.

In fact, a sizable number of MPs believe the Chief Scientist’s preferred option of a Clean Energy Target is now “dead”.

But with nothing to replace it, the uncertainty that continues to repel potential investors in the energy sector remains, as does the risk of price spikes and blackouts.

The Federal Government has fought all year to take ownership of energy, an issue that used to be the domain of the states.

Now Mr Turnbull owns a big and complex problem.

If he actually delivers lower power bills and reliability of supply, while meeting our Paris climate commitments, he’ll be seen in a very good light indeed.

But if there are blackouts this summer and further electricity price spikes to come, he’ll rightly cop the blame and this fortnight’s tactical win in Parliament will mean nothing.

Topics: government-and-politics, energy, environment, alternative-energy, electricity-energy-and-utilities, canberra-2600

First posted September 15, 2017 12:56:39