Turnbull, Frydenberg and Abbott's electorates back 50% renewables target

Katharine Murphy Political editor
Cattle graze in front of wind turbines. Polling has found majority support for renewables in blue-ribbon seats. Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

Voters in the electorates held by Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg and Tony Abbott would be more likely to support the government’s new energy policy if it ensured Australia had at least 50% renewable energy by 2030, according to a new opinion poll.

The ReachTel poll, commissioned by progressive thinktank the Australia Institute, shows a majority of voters in those Liberal-held seats support carbon pricing, and would support more policy ambition in driving renewable energy into the power grid.

Federal parliament is due to resume on Monday for a week which could see the high court deliver its much anticipated verdict on the citizenship cases, and also see Queenslanders heading to a state poll.

The debate over energy policy will also continue throughout the week.

The Turnbull government last week unveiled its national energy guarantee, a policy that will impose reliability and emissions reduction obligations on energy retailers from 2020 if the states agree to an overhaul of the national electricity market rules.

The new opinion poll shows 59.4% of voters in the prime minister’s electorate of Wentworth would be more likely to support the national energy guarantee if it drove 50% renewables by 2030. The sample size was 859 residents.

The number for Kooyong, the energy minister’s seat, was 60.5% (sample size 911) and Abbott’s seat of Warringah was 55.7% (879 residents).

The poll suggests voters are not buying the government’s message that the proposed guarantee will lead to lower power prices. Voters were more inclined to believe prices would go up than decrease.

Appearing on the ABC on Sunday, Frydenberg stopped short of guaranteeing prices would come down under his new energy policy, but he said was “absolutely confident” power prices would fall.

Last week the government was claiming wholesale prices would likely decline by 20% to 25% a year between 2020 and 2030 and residential bills would go down “in the order of” $100 to $115 per year over the same period as a consequence of the policy change.

But the government has also requested more detailed modelling work to put to state governments at a forthcoming meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.

The policy has been received positively by business groups and some analysts, including Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which has characterised it as “innovative and elegant” and “a template for policy-makers worldwide”.

But the Labor states, particularly South Australia, have reacted angrily to the new policy, and Labor federally has been critical of elements of the scheme, while leaving its options open about whether to support or oppose it.

On Sunday, the shadow climate change minister Mark Butler kept up his criticism of the policy, characterising it as a “thought bubble” and an “attack on the renewable energy industry that would cost billions of dollars in investment in Australia and thousands and thousands of jobs”.

Butler said if the government’s own figures were to be believed, renewable energy growth would be as low as 0.5% per year in the 2020s.

“That would slash, by two-thirds, the number of households that can get access to rooftop solar and it would mean that there is not a single large-scale renewable energy project built in Australia for 10 years,” Butler said.

The Greens have opposed the policy, and argue the national energy guarantee will be more detrimental to the renewables sector than if the Coalition did nothing.

Ben Oquist, the executive director of the Australia Institute, said the latest poll demonstrated the community wanted to get on with the transition from coal to renewables.

“The key to effective energy and climate policy is as much about the ambition as the design of any scheme and these results show voters back a more ambitious program of emissions reduction,” he said.

Oquist said there was concern that the scheme would only deliver a renewable energy penetration of between 28-36%, which is less than what the chief scientist Alan Finkel modelled would happen without any government policy intervention.

He said the proposed emissions reduction target for electricity, which is 26% on 2005 levels by 2030, “is inadequate and will shift the burden to other sectors like agriculture”.