Cheap Power Matters More to Australians Than Climate Change, Poll Says

(Bloomberg) -- A new poll shows Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s focus on getting power bills down may be starting to pay dividends. But it also suggests his failure to establish a coherent narrative on tackling climate change could hurt his government at the ballot box.

Cheap Power Matters More to Australians Than Climate Change, Poll Says

The Fairfax-Ipsos poll shows 47 percent of Australians think reducing power bills should be the main priority for the country’s energy policy, while 39 percent believe the prime focus should be on cutting carbon emissions.

Morrison’s predecessor Malcolm Turnbull was ousted as prime minister in August after an internal rift in the ruling Liberal Party over energy policy -- specifically his plan to include carbon emission reduction targets in the now-abandoned National Energy Guarantee.

When Morrison appointed Angus Taylor to the energy portfolio, he gave him the snappy informal title of “minister for reducing electricity prices.” Morrison and Taylor both say the nation can’t depend on renewable energy, instead touting coal as power you can rely on “when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.”

Monday’s poll will offer Morrison encouragement that he’s closing down the main opposition Labor party’s lead ahead of a national election expected in May next year. The poll showed Labor’s lead over the ruling coalition narrowing to a 52-48 split on a two-party preferred basis, from 55-45 in October.

Cheap Power Matters More to Australians Than Climate Change, Poll Says

Labor leader Bill Shorten wants more ambitious climate targets than the government, but has yet to fully flesh out his energy plans. He’s set to do that this week, when he gives a major speech on energy at a BloombergNEF event in Sydney on Thursday.

Cheap Power Matters More to Australians Than Climate Change, Poll Says

Labor voters are far more likely to see climate change as the most pressing priority for energy policy -- 53 percent in the poll said it should be the main focus -- so in that sense Shorten is playing to his base. The challenge for him now is to simultaneously keep up the pressure on energy suppliers to keep prices contained.

Morrison and Taylor may have earned some credit with voters for exerting pressure on the big energy retailers, but they are also dealing with a backlash over their lukewarm attitude toward renewables. Morrison says he is confident Australia will meet its Paris climate targets -- reducing emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 -- but is yet to articulate a clear policy for achieving that.

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