20 March, 2017
Courtesy of the Advertiser
IT WAS the political dust-up of 2017. A startling event that left most viewers feeling two parts shock and three parts pleasure. Here was a politician standing up for something.
Jay Weatherill, positioning himself as the lord and saviour of South Australia’s energy woes, stuck the boot into the dastardly federal government. He unashamedly gave them a piece of his mind.
It was an excellent picture of where politics is at the moment. Weatherill — the state — taking up the underdog fight and speaking straight to the heartland, pinning the blame on the feds and looking like the lion we’ve so long desired.
And then in the federal corner you had Josh Frydenberg. He just stood there for two horrible minutes that must have felt like an eternity. He was being masterfully flogged while he stood in the corner, blindsided and devoid of emotion.
Much like the boring, impotent, no-agenda government he represents, Frydenberg had no steam. He didn’t turn around and interrupt Weatherill or tell him to knock it off. He took the bollocking.
That is the most important piece of this political puzzle. Frydenberg’s silence is, rightly or wrongly, interpreted as an admission. An acceptance that, yes, we buggered up the national energy market and, yes, we’ve been an overtly anti-SA government.
It wasn’t until after the dressing-down that Frydenberg delivered a not-quite-there retort and later took to Twitter to say it was “poor form” for Weatherill to “gatecrash” his press conference.
Much like the Turnbull government’s approach to nearly every issue thus far, it was a case of too little, too late. There is but a moment to grab a bull by the horns and that moment had well and truly passed.
This kind of softly-softly, reserved approach almost consigned the Coalition to one-term history. You’d think they’d learn from their mistakes, but this weakness is playing straight into their opposition’s hands.
Outside of South Australian borders, Weatherill’s outburst has been interpreted as petulant. Rightly so. But the only thing that matters is what South Australian voters think — and this was a political win.
South Australians have long had a chip on their shoulder. There is an undercurrent of disdain for the eastern seaboard that gets its jollies out of calling Adelaide a backwater and making jokes about us being the murder capital of Australia.
For them, Weatherill’s attack was a courageous display of leadership. With the state election now just a year away, the premier knows he has to go hard or go home.
One small hitch: the substance of Weatherill’s argument is nonsense.
He essentially told the Turnbull government, to its face, that it was to blame for SA’s energy crisis, they had abandoned us in our time of need, and we wouldn’t be in this pickle if they’d pulled their finger out and fixed the national grid.
Weatherill went too hard, too early on renewable energy and we’re now paying the price. Frydenberg, had he any wits about him, would have turned around and reminded the premier of this fact.
He’d have brought up the fact Alinta offered to keep its baseload, coal-fired power station at Port Augusta open until 2018 to allow a smooth transition to renewables, and that when the government refused that offer they spectacularly blew the station up as a visible “get lost” to cheap, reliable power.
And best of all, it has come to the point where a renewables-mad Premier has to spend $350 million on a power plant fuelled by gas — a non-renewable resource — just to keep the lights on.
It is one hell of an expensive admission that we aren’t ready for the renewables rush.
But instead, Weatherill gets away with it. He’s dudding the state every step of the way but simultaneously appearing to be its saviour.
In an argument where he should look like the clown, he successfully set himself up as the hero.
If someone doesn’t start pulling him up, Weatherill might just scrape home for another term of government.
Remember how everyone thought he was dead in 2014? Food for thought.