NSW Coalition Don Harwin
NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin. (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

The New South Wales Liberal government’s decision to distance itself from the Morrison government and its climate denialism, in addition to being another extraordinary moment in a year in which the extraordinary has become the everyday in politics, signals both how toxic Morrison and Co are perceived as being electorally, and how the NSW Liberals won’t be paying any heed to the political prospects of their federal cousins in their efforts to secure victory in the March state election.

The op-ed by NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin, apart from some almost token criticism of federal Labor’s “overly ambitious” and “uncoordinated” emissions reductions target, could have been written by federal Labor’s spokesperson on energy and climate change Mark Butler:

The NSW government did not oppose in principle the emissions intensity scheme that was proposed, nor did we oppose in principle the clean energy target. We made it quite clear that we were happy to support the National Energy Guarantee that the then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and the then energy minister Frydenberg put forward. Indeed, a lot of effort by experts, industry, officials and state and territory ministers was put into getting the National Energy Guarantee right. We expected it to be delivered. But that is not where we are now.

Harwin bluntly says emission have to be part of energy policy, along with reliability and cost, a position entirely at odds with Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor, who are obsessed with an ever-diminishing “big stick” to wave at energy companies. He also links new clean generation projects with price falls, also contradicting the government, which is still trying to work out how to lock in a long-term commitment to coal-fired power before the election.

The Morrison government’s position on the NEG is one of complete isolation. Malcolm Turnbull backs it. Josh Frydenberg designed it. Scott Morrison supported it. Even the Coalition party room backed it. The NSW Liberals back it. Business backs it. Only Morrison and Taylor and the climate denialists in Coalition ranks oppose it. It’s like the captain in Blackadder declaring “opinion is divided” on the need for a ship to have a crew. “All the other captains say it is; I say it isn’t.”

Expect more of this differentiation between now and March, as the NSW Liberals try to put plenty of space between themselves and the shambolic outfit in Canberra. If that means giving the federal Liberals a kicking, so be it. They brought it on themselves.

Not all of the trouble from NSW is coming out of the Liberal Party. Yesterday, NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raided the headquarters of NSW Labor, reportedly in relation to issues around donations from Chinese donors. NSW Labor’s deep financial links with Chinese donors go back a long way, and have demonstrably had an impact on the party’s willingness to bend policy in Beijing’s direction. Why would a raid on NSW Labor — reminding us of how utterly rotten NSW Labor is — be a problem for the federal Liberals? The problem is, ICAC is exactly the model for an “integrity” commission that Morrison and News Corp want to avoid, because it has been independent and assiduous in chasing down political corruption wherever it could find it. Yet again, yesterday, that was on display — but Morrison’s laughable “Commonwealth Integrity Commission” (CIC) would have almost nothing in common with ICAC beyond the word “commission”.

Just to confirm that, the government announced a staggering appointment yesterday: Margaret Cunneen would be on a “panel of experts” to advise on the government’s proposed CIC.

For those with short memories, Cunneen is the Sydney barrister who took ICAC to court because it investigated her over her coaching of her son’s girlfriend to fake chest pains in order to avoid a breathalyser test. Cunneen initially denied the claim, before reversing herself after a recording emerged, and claimed instead that she had merely been joking. The Australian, which has vehemently opposed ICAC for the pettiest of reasons, championed her case.

It was clear from the outset that Morrison’s “integrity” commission is designed to sabotage the creation of an effective Commonwealth anti-corruption body, and that the federal Liberals are in no way serious about it. Cunneen’s appointment confirms that.

Peter Fray

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