Is it Grimes or Greg Hunt who is misleading us?

Environment Minister Greg Hunt claimed yesterday that the Solar Council chief was dishonest because Hunt was 'crystal clear' about the government's commitment to the renewables target. So why can't Hunt answer my questions about what this commitment actually means?

The Environment Minister Greg Hunt went to the extraordinary step yesterday of describing the head of the Australian Solar Council, John  Grimes, as “deceptive” and “misleading”, adding that he "says one thing in private and another in public” and should be “ashamed of himself”.

According to Hunt, he and Grimes spoke a week ago at which time, Hunt says, “I was absolutely crystal clear that we remain committed to the Renewable Energy Target. He [Grimes] knows that”.

Is this the case?

To understand this we first need to ask what does Greg Hunt mean when he says that his government “remain committed to the Renewable Energy Target”.

A few days ago, after The AFR ran a story claiming the Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the Warburton RET Review to focus on a recommendation to close the RET rather just substantially reduce it, Climate Spectator put this question to Hunt’s office:

In light of the report on the front page of the Australian Financial Review, are you able to rule out the possibility that the government would abolish the RET or otherwise close it to new entrants as per the RET Review scenario? 

We were given the following response, in its entirety, from a spokesperson in Hunt’s office:

The Government will receive the review shortly and will carefully consider it.

Does that strike you as the kind of response you’d give if you were crystal clear that the government was committed to the Renewable Energy Target?

Given one of Australia’s major newspapers had just run a story on the front page headlined, Abbott’s plan to axe the RET, if you wanted to be crystal clear about your commitment to the Renewable Energy Target and say the same thing in public as in private, wouldn’t you instead respond with something like: ‘the report in that newspaper is wrong and we have no intention whatsoever of abolishing the RET or closing it to new entrants’?

If I go back further to September 24, 2012  – prior to the election – Climate Spectator put this question to Hunt:

Is the Coalition committed to a renewable energy target that maintains at least the same amount of gigawatt-hours worth of demand for renewable energy from 2013 to 2030 as contained in the current legislation?

I received the following response, which artfully dodged around any mention of ‘gigawatt-hours’:

 We are committed to the 20% RET and have no plans to change the current arrangements.

Given the legislated target was referred to colloquially as the ‘20 per cent Renewable Energy Target’ then you’d think you could take this to mean they did not intend to change the legislation. But it was also well understood then, as well as now, that the legislated target will likely lead to a level of renewables that exceeds 20 per cent share of electricity demand. In order to avoid overshooting 20 per cent market share the target specified in the legislation would need to be dramatically cut – effectively halving the amount of new renewable energy capacity required.

The Coalition continued to use this phrase ‘we support the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target’ all the way to election day while consistently dodging efforts by journalists and other stakeholders to get them to define the precise level of the target they had in mind.

So when Hunt says he made it crystal clear to Grimes that the government remains committed to the Renewable Energy Target, you have to ask: exactly what kind of renewable energy target?

Just yesterday afternoon I put questions to ministers Hunt and Macfarlane’s offices asking whether Hunt’s statement that “we remain committed to the Renewable Energy Target" meant that the government could rule out closing the RET to new entrants, and whether this meant they were ruling out making material reductions to the level of the legislated target.

The response I received did not provide any answer to the question asked. Instead it said that a review of the scheme was consistent with legislative requirements; therefore nothing to see here. But the thing is, it’s not consistent with the legislation because this specifies that the review be done by the Climate Change Authority. But instead the government appointed a review team likely to be hostile to the Renewable Energy Target.

If John Grimes is being so dishonest in claiming that the government will slash support for renewable energy, then why does the Coalition have so much trouble directly and unambiguously answering fundamental questions about their election commitments on renewable energy?