'Chaos and confusion': Labor-led jurisdictions blast Turnbull over emissions backdown
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'Chaos and confusion': Labor-led jurisdictions blast Turnbull over emissions backdown

Labor-led jurisdictions have criticised the Turnbull government's abrupt ditching of the emissions component of the National Energy Guarantee, saying the move essentially ends the scheme as a national policy.

"There was chaos and confusion when I walked into cabinet," Anthony Lynham, Queensland's Energy Minister, said on Monday. "There was a new energy policy when I came out."

The states and territories are currently assessing legislation intended to support the reliability component of the scheme.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses the media at Parliament House as he dropped the emissions component of the National Energy Guarantee.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses the media at Parliament House as he dropped the emissions component of the National Energy Guarantee.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Commonwealth government had been preparing the emissions target until Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull formally announced on Monday that it would drop the pollution component in order to focus on bringing down prices alone.

Lily D'Ambrosio, Victoria's Climate and Energy Minister, said it's not clear what the states are meant to be considering: "I'm not sure [Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull knows what the NEG is anymore - or if it still exists."

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Policy is 'dead'

Shane Rattenbury, the ACT's Climate Change minister who is also a Greens MP, said Monday's announcement signalled "the NEG is dead".

“The federal government has now completely capitulated on emissions and climate change, and abandoned the Paris climate change commitments," he said.

Mr Rattenbury said it was "murky" as to what the jurisdictions were being asked to approve. "They are obviously trying to cherry-pick some part of [the NEG]" that may affect what's left.

Fairfax Media sought comment from Coalition-led state governments, each of which had been ready to sign off on the scheme as presented to them at a Council of Australian Governments energy council meeting earlier this month in Sydney.

A spokeswoman for NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin said the Berejiklian government "supports the reliability component of the National Energy Guarantee to provide certainty, drive new investment and put downward pressure on energy prices for consumers".

"The emissions reduction goal is a matter for the federal government," she said.

The Abbott government pledged to cut 2005-level emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030, a target the Turnbull government adopted. Under the energy guarantee, the electricity grid supplying eastern Australia was to have reduced emissions by a "par" level - or 26 per cent - before that aspect of the policy was dropped.

Tasmania said it remained upbeat about overall energy policy, including backing from Canberra for the state's pumped-hydro potential, known as the "Battery of the Nation" projects, and another high-voltage link to the mainland.

“We continue to work cooperatively to achieve these outcomes," Tasmania's Energy Minister Guy Barnett said.

'Propping up'

Queensland Energy Minister Mr Lynham underlined the uncertainty surrounding who would be the country's leader.

"There could be a new PM when I walk out of caucus," Mr Lynham said, adding "our government is focussed on pushing down power bills, not propping up a leader".

At this stage, none of the Labor-led jurisdictions - any of which could veto what remains of the energy policy before them - has rejected cooperation with the Turnbull government.

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"We'll carefully consider whatever energy policy emerges out of the infighting going on up in Canberra," Ms D'Ambrosio said.

For their part, Treasurer Scott Morrison and federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg stressed the focus of the energy policy would now be on driving power prices down.

"The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission estimates that for average customers on an inflated standing offer, the savings for residential customers from moving to the new default offer could range between $183 and $416," they said in a statement.

"We also think that small businesses have the right to the same protections and support.

"The ACCC estimates that savings for the average small to medium sized business on a standing offer could range between $561 and $1457."

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.