A group of backbenchers have formed an alliance against Malcolm Turnbull over his signature energy policy.
A group of backbenchers have formed an alliance against Malcolm Turnbull over his signature energy policy.

The MPs fighting the PM over coal-fired power stations

THE government's energetic coal fan club wants taxpayers to return to owning power stations at a cost of more than $2.5 billion each with 30 years of financial risk.

The group of backbenchers have apparently formed an alliance against Malcolm Turnbull over his signature energy policy.

Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews and Barnaby Joyce are among the Coalition members who have reportedly thrown their support behind the new faction, The Australian reports.

It's estimated that more than 30 MPs will join the group, which has been named the Monash Forum.

The group will serve to encourage the Government in the construction of coal-fired power stations.

But some colleagues are not impressed.

"It's just the usual suspects. It's a triple-A hit - Abbott, Andrews and Abetz," one Liberal told news.com.au today.

The forum - named after the great Australian general Sir John Monash who encouraged Victorian coal production - announced itself today just a week out from a Newspoll which could be the 30th in a row Mr Turnbull will lose to Labor's Bill Shorten.

Certainly the most prominent members are former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and former ministers Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz - all consistent critics of Mr Turnbull.

The presence of those key players has raised suspicions the group hopes to damage Mr Turnbull's leadership by undermining his attempts to get a National Energy Guarantee deal with states.

Mr Abbott strongly believes electricity prices will be a critical issue next election and that Mr Turnbull has not handled it well. Last year had been set to attack the Prime Minister on adoption of a Clean Energy Target, and when that didn't happen turned on subsidies for renewables.

Members of the forum say they want to overturn 20 years of electricity privatisation to make government again be major electricity generators.

They want coal to have a greater role in national energy production with a reduced policy emphasis on renewable energy.

One member, Craig Kelly, today said they also wanted to counter "so much anti-coal rhetoric around in the community".

Mr Kelly told ABC radio today the job of building a coal-fired generator was too difficult for private companies which would have to fund the construction - variously costed at from $2.5 to $3 billion each - and then accept 20 to 30 years of potential uncertainty from changes in technology and regulations and governments.

Mr Kelly also called for approval of gas from fracking in NSW and Victoria, but declined to say whether he wanted it in his NSW federal seat of Hughes.

And he acknowledged that coal continue to play a major role under the Turnbull NEG - generating just over 50 per cent of electricity to 2030.

And he accepted a finding by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last September that the biggest cause of rising power prices was the cost of "gold plated" poles and wires, and that the cost of renewables contributed much less.

More than 60 per cent of price jumps which anger households and businesses came from rises in network prices and retail margins rather than subsidies for environmental schemes such as solar energy, reported ACCC chairman Rod Simms.

REBEL GROUP TARGETS NEXT ELECTION

Members of the faction believe energy could make or break the next election, and that Mr Turnbull's National Energy Guarantee (NEG) is not going to cut it.

The NEG, which was proposed late last year, targets large energy companies to reduce their usage through including production from low-emission sources.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told The Daily Telegraph he would not "demonise" coal like other political groups.

"Under the NEG there will be no new taxes or trading schemes and it will be technology neutral in its approach, given the need for reliability in our system," he said. "Coal offers the opportunity for reliable baseload power to our system."

Tony Abbott is among the members who have joined the faction.
Tony Abbott is among the members who have joined the faction.

The news comes as Mr Turnbull is facing his 30th consecutive Newspoll loss, with the 29th showing the Coalition trailing the Opposition 47-53.

Poll results of the last three months show that while Mr Turnbull continues to lead Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister, his standing is sliding, prompting speculation over whether his leadership would last.

Mr Turnbull used 30 negative surveys as the reason for deposing Mr Abbott in 2015.

Last week at Pauline Hanson's book launch, Mr Abbott hinted at a desire to return to the leadership when he said: "If I may say so Pauline, adversity has made you a better, deeper person, and you are certainly confirmation of that old adage that you are always better the second time around."

When asked about the remark later, Mr Abbott said: "That's an entirely hypothetical question and I couldn't possibly comment."



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