Hard to Have Rational Debate Around Feasibility of Climate Change Action: Dutton

Hard to Have Rational Debate Around Feasibility of Climate Change Action: Dutton
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party Sussan Ley (right) listens to newly elected Leader of the Liberal Party Peter Dutton speak to the media after a party room meeting at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on May 30, 2022. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Daniel Y. Teng

Opposition leader Peter Dutton has said Australians need to be more realistic about reconfiguring the entire power grid to reach net-zero.

"It's hard to have a rational conversation on this topic with people because you're shouted down for being a backward-looking person," he told 2GB radio on June 2.

"The fact is if a city like Sydney mandated electric cars tomorrow ... the electricity grid would collapse because of people plugging their cars in at six o'clock at night, they'd go home, have a shower, have some dinner, sit down and watch TV ... just the peak load of that—it just scientifically can't work," he said.

Dutton said he was supportive of renewable energy, but the technology was not advanced enough to consistently support the current way of life.

 The Tesla electric car charging station in the car park at The Star Casino in Pyrmont in Sydney, Australia, on April 14, 2015. (Ben Rushton/Getty Images)
The Tesla electric car charging station in the car park at The Star Casino in Pyrmont in Sydney, Australia, on April 14, 2015. (Ben Rushton/Getty Images)

"If a discovery was made tomorrow and batteries could give your car a range of 700 kilometres instead of 270 ... let's hope that happens one day, but I think we need a sober conversation about this topic.

"Yes, we want to reduce emissions, we want responsible environmentalism—it's all a given .. but I'm not going to stand by and watch families go broke because they can't pay their electricity bills."

The global energy crisis has caused wholesale electricity prices to spike by 141 percent in Australia. While a polar vortex in the southern parts of the country has sent electricity demands soaring, leaving households and small business owners deadling with rapidly rising power bills.
Volatile wholesale prices have also led small energy retailers to turn away new customers to reduce the cost to their business.

"By leaving, you are helping yourself while helping to protect those who remain with us because we have no choice but to pass on the wholesale costs we’re facing," Luke Blincoe, CEO of ReAmped Energy, said in a statement.

Renewable energy advocates have blamed the price hikes on the country failing to develop alternative energy sources—wind, solar, and hydro—fast enough.

However, critics like Queensland Senator Matt Canavan say political intervention in the energy market, which is hampering the opening of new coal-fired generators and offshore drilling plants, has left the market without enough leeway to deal with increased demand for electricity.

 File photo showing a gas stove. (John Stillwell/PA)
File photo showing a gas stove. (John Stillwell/PA)

"This is not complicated. When green policies, like net-zero, shut down coal, gas, and oil supplies, the price of energy goes up. When you restrict the supply of something useful, the price of that thing goes up," he wrote on Twitter on June 1.

Dutton also warned that investors would benefit most from increased investment in the renewable sector, not consumers.

"We've got to have a frank jolt into reality in Australia about where we're headed," he said. "When you look at the billions of dollars being made by all of these traders on different renewable energy proposals—they don't have any regard whether the lights go on or not—they're making money.

Dutton called for the new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, to explain to Australians how the country will reach net-zero.

"I really think [Prime Minister] Anthony Albanese has to explain properly to the Australian people what he's proposing because I think prices will go up and jobs will go offshore.

"If businesses can't get assurances around electricity supply—if there are brownouts or blackouts, and if their bills double—they will just pack up and go to another country where electricity is cheaper and supply is guaranteed."

Increasing climate change action is a focal point of the new Labor government with the centre-left party already pledging to legislate a new emissions reduction target of 43 percent by 2030, instead of the current 26-28 percent.

The Albanese government will also push for renewable energy to account for 82 percent of the nation's electricity market by 2030—currently, Australia sources 64.67 percent (pdf) of its electricity from coal-fired generation.

Such a pledge could spell an end—or slow down—in approvals for new coal, oil, and gas production in the country.

Meanwhile, Chris Bowen, the new minister for climate change, said the party would end the "climate wars."

"The Albanese Labor government will seek to end the climate wars by real action on climate change, bringing Australians together and listening to Australians of all walks of life," he told reporters on June 2.

"We have been elected with a mandate for real action on climate change, ambitious but achievable action, as outlined in the policies we sought a mandate for and will implement."

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].