A Coalition game of intimidation

Andrew Robb and Greg Hunt have sent a letter to the CEFC calling for it to sit idle until the election or risk having agreements voided upon a Coalition victory. Such meddling sets a worrisome precedent.

The Coalition’s finance spokesperson, Andrew Robb, and climate spokesperson, Greg Hunt, have written to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation urging the body to effectively make no funding commitments at all this year – or risk the Coalition cancelling any contracts executed.

It sets a dangerous precedent.

The opposition of the day should not be looking to intimidate government staff to ignore their legislated duties even if it is confident it can get rid of said legislation in a matter of months.

The opposition argument is that the government will be in “caretaker mode” from July 1 and as such spending should cease. Coincidentally the July 1 date – not an official date, but one concocted by the opposition – just happens to be when the CEFC can begin spending money.

“The Coalition considers that any funds committed or agreements reached after 1 July will be during what will effectively be a caretaker period and as such we will neither allocate funds nor accept any agreements struck in the event that the Coalition forms the next federal government,” the letter, seen by Climate Spectator, warns.

The so-called “caretaker period” really begins when writs are issued for the election, which the Prime Minister has stated will occur on August 12. If the Coalition were to get its way then the body would essentially be sitting idle for two and a half months before it potentially would be shut down. The taxpayers will of course be paying for the CEFC to do next to nothing were that to eventuate.

It is likely the threat of not accepting any agreements struck pre-election will prove an idle one. After all, if a contract is signed between a company and a government body before the caretaker period, it is surely just as secure after the election as it is prior.

Those involved with the CEFC have the right and expectation to do the task they have been legislated to do. They have $10 billion in finance available to loan to viable energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. That is to start on July 1, 2013.

Being pressured by the opposition of the day because they think they’ll win the election is, to say the least, disappointing. It creates further unnecessary tension.

The Coalition has, after all, already made clear it will scrap the CEFC if it wins power – a point Robb and Hunt didn’t shy away from in the letter.

“We also reemphasise that should the Coalition form government we will disband the CEFC as it has no role to play in our forward plans,” it says.

There have been suggestions the CEFC might push through as much spending as possible before September to make the body harder to unwind should the election go the way of the Coalition. This too would be disappointing.

The last thing the clean energy sector needs is rushed investment decisions and one expects (and hopes) the CEFC board would be only too aware of that. A look at the background of the members of the board suggests these rumours are baseless.

That being said, the CEFC would have had plenty of time to discuss viable projects in the lead up to July 1 such that it will be ready to invest in a number of developments pre-election. It should continue to do this as legislated, until such legislation is no longer in place.