Loy Yang power station in the La Trobe Valley east of Melbourne
Loy Yang power station in the La Trobe Valley east of Melbourne

Libs, Nats on collision course over coal power

MOST voters in Nationals-held seats support new-coal fired power stations, leaked internal polling reveals, setting up a showdown within the Coalition.

An all-out war between the Liberals and the Nationals, and Conservatives in Victoria and Queensland, is threatening to tear the Coalition apart in the lead-up to April's crucial Budget and the May election.

The Courier-Mail revealed yesterday Queensland Nationals broke ranks and wrote to Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack and Energy Minister Angus Taylor to demand the Government underwrite a coal-fired power station.

Some Nationals are privately annoyed with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is being blamed for retreating on the "big stick" legislation because coal is a vote killer in Victoria.

Polling in Nationals seats in Queensland, NSW and Victoria show a new coal-fired generation would be supported.

Asked "what type of initiatives will help to differentiate from Labor in a positive way?" and how they felt about "encouraging private investment in new generation coal-fired power stations based on clean-coal technology", 51 per cent of the 900 respondents said they were supportive, 29 per cent were neutral and 20 per cent were opposed.

In all states more were supportive than opposed.



When central and north Queensland voters were asked about whether they supported a new clean-coal power station, their response was overwhelming: 69 per cent would support the initiative.

Broken down by area, Mackay and the Burdekin, which is partly in the marginal seat of Dawson, held by George Christensen, a whopping 76 per cent of respondents wanted a new coal-fired generator. Townsville and Whitsunday respondents recorded 59 and 57 per cent respectively.

It comes as Labor has drawn up an anti-privatisation scare campaign to use against Queensland Liberal National MPs who are pushing for the Federal Government to underwrite new coal fired power stations and revive laws to break up state-owned generators.

The Government has previously ruled out using its "big stick" laws to force privatisation but a backlash over asset sales including from state LNP leader Deb Frecklington helped kill off the plans.

Six Liberal National MPs - Keith Pitt, Michelle Landry, Ken O'Dowd, Llew O'Brien, Mr Christensen and retiring Senator Barry O'Sullivan - have demanded the Government put its shelved "big stick" laws to a vote and back a new generator to force competition in regional Queensland.


Loy Yang power station in the La Trobe Valley east of Melbourne
Loy Yang power station in the La Trobe Valley east of Melbourne


Mr Pitt said the move, which could force power companies that price gouge to divest assets, would help lower electricity prices in much of Queensland where there is a state-owned monopoly.

But the move has been rebuffed by the Government and has handed ammunition to Labor.

Queensland Labor sources said they were already drawing up plans to target the five MPs who are recontesting their seats over the push.

Opposition energy spokesman Mark Butler said the LNP push was a privatisation agenda that "would make former Queensland premier (Campbell) Newman blush".

"These LNP MPs are attempting to throw their weight around, pressuring their own colleagues to force the sale of Queenslanders' power assets against the will of the people," he said.

While the Government claims the "big stick" laws are still its policy, it will stand firm against demands from Nationals to debate them in the final three sitting days because this would likely lead to another embarrassing loss on the floor of parliament.

Mr Frydenberg told The Courier-Mail last night: "The Government has a laser like focus on driving down power prices and our policies are working with prices coming down in July last year and January this year."