As Tony Abbott and a group of climate denialists look to hold the government to ransom over energy policy, it’s worth remembering just how comprehensively they’ve failed in policy terms since Abbott destroyed Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership the first time around over the issue in 2009.

Sure, yes, Tony Abbott was a failure as prime minister — the worst in Australia’s history, so godawful his own party dispatched him much faster than Labor punted Kevin Rudd. But not that failure.

[Abbott-Turnbull: it’s on, but there’s a third player]

And, yes, despite Abbott’s insistence “climate science is crap” and that global warming had halted, the five hottest years in human history have occurred since 2009, with 2017 currently on track to be the second hottest year ever after 2016. But not that failure, either.

And, OK, Australia’s emissions, after falling between 2010 and 2015, resumed growing under Abbott’s prime ministership, according to the government’s own data. But no, not that failure.

It’s their failure by their very own metric, according to the very basis on which they blocked effective climate action — power prices. Power prices would fall by 9% as a result of the abolition of Labor’s “great big new tax on everything”, the Abbott government and its hollow opportunists like Greg Hunt blithely predicted.

Prices did fall, true — though very few Australians got the vaunted 9%. Prices in Melbourne fell by around 6% after the repeal in 2014, according to ABS CPI data. They fell just over 7% in Sydney. They didn’t fall in Brisbane — in fact they went up just under 20% (thanks, Campbell Newman). They were flat in Adelaide and fell by around 4.5% in Perth. Only in Hobart did the hype match and beat the forecasts, with prices falling 13%.

[LET the fight begin — Turnbull must defeat Abbott over energy]

Thereafter, of course, prices shot back up. In Perth, they’ve since risen nearly 10%. They fell in South Australia in 2015 and early 2016 but since then they’ve increased by more than they fell. In Brisbane, prices have increased too, though only at a fraction of the Campbell Newman surge. In Melbourne, prices went up 5% in 2015 and up over 7% in the year to March 2017. And in Sydney, in 2016, prices went up over 10%.

Everywhere except in Hobart, the small price falls produced by getting rid of the carbon price have vanished. Bang. Gone. Thanks for coming. Don’t let angry consumers kick you in the bum on the way out.

All wiped out by the ongoing clusterfuck that is energy policy, especially on the east coast. And all that’s before another wave of massive power price rises this year that are rolling out across the eastern states right now.

And while there’s plenty of responsibility to go around, and not just among politicians and bureaucrats, for the debacle of an elaborately designed electricity market that has delivered massive price rises and blackouts, the climate denialists get most of it. It’s the regulatory uncertainty they have engineered and investment drought it led to since 2009 that is delivering the latest round of power prices. Every electricity bill is a hate letter from denialists, who promised cheaper power and delivered rise after rise after rise to households.

Now we’re back for another round of what is dubbed the climate wars but is probably more accurately described as denialists’ war against reality. Fueled by ideology and the donations of fossil fuels companies, they rejected the views of scientists about the existence of climate change, then they rejected the views of economists about using a market-based mechanism; now they’re rejecting the views of investors, who regard funding coal-fired power as having all the appeal of investing in industrial whaling.

[Don’t ignore the profound electoral anger about power prices and corporate greed]

In truth, denialists have never been genuinely interested in the welfare of households — and certainly not of the child occupants of those households, who will inherit a hotter, more extreme and more economically fragile planet from us. Their focus has always been on prosecuting a culture war against the left and protecting the interests of powerful companies that benefit from being able to impose their costs on the rest of us and on future generations. Now we’re back with the long party room meetings, the conflicting accounts of who said what, the leader under pressure, the mutterings about leadership. Except this time it’s within government.

But at least denialists are consistent. They have the same refusal to accept reality that they’ve displayed over the last decade. And they offer the same outcomes to Australian households: ever-higher electricity prices. We must all suffer, it seems, for the ideological fetish of a few angry old men.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW