The Inside Word

If you don’t define yourself, you will be defined

Never is it truer than in the art of politics. 

Peter Dutton’s first-strike nuclear energy plan and the economic fallout of rising inflation is causing rising tensions in the Government.

Even the welcome release of WikiLeaks founder and former fugitive Julian Assange was not enough to distract the media from the reality that inflation was heading back up from 3.6 per cent to 4.0 per cent.  

The Government may think it’s in control, but in reality Reserve Bank Governor Michele Bullock is determining interest rates, and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is leading the agenda on energy and climate change. 

The economic consequences of both for PM Anthony Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers are literally radioactive. Cost-of-living is the most important issue affecting all Australians and the key determinant of who wins the next Federal election.

Chalmers’ May Budget was geared to providing cost-of-living relief thorough countless subsidies, including energy relief and sweeteners to support Australia’s faltering manufacturing sector.

In the past 24 hours, the prospect of rising interest rates has already spooked equity and bond markets, a leading indicator that a rate rise is on the cards. For those Australians already under mortgage stress and struggling to make ends meet, the fallout for the Government will be harsh.

Throw in rising energy costs in a colder-than-usual winter, and the choice for some is between heating or eating. Energy market regulator AEMO is also facing challenges: How does it keep the power on this winter with ever-dwindling capacity from the nation’s remaining coal plants and lower-than-expected renewables output, particularly from wind farms.

The Opposition’s nuclear policy is directly challenging the Government’s renewables-only policy. There’s never been more fertile ground for debate, and energy experts are questioning if Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen can reach the 82 per cent electricity target by 2030, let alone net zero by 2050.  

The Opposition’s first-strike nuclear policy on the Government is high-risk, guts-or-glory.

What’s indisputable is that Peter Dutton is setting the political agenda and the Government is scrambling to combat a public that’s not only weary of a renewable-only future, but also more sympathetic to nuclear energy. 

The breathtaking and sudden political appointment of former NSW Liberal Treasurer and renewables warrior Matt Kean to the role of Chair of the Climate Change Authority was seen as a knee-jerk reaction by the Government to head off the growing momentum towards the Opposition’s balanced-energy policy.  

The Opposition has stolen the march on the energy debate. Energy competitiveness is at the core of Australia’s economic future, and Peter Dutton has defined himself again, just like on the failed Voice referendum.

By contrast, PM Anthony Albanese is being defined, perhaps unfairly, as showing poor judgment not only on the Voice, but also on managing the economy. 

The battlelines are being drawn for a ‘nuclear’ election campaign, but each party’s Achilles heel will be cost-of-living challenges.

And never is it truer in politics that if you don’t define yourself, you will be defined.

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