Alex Turnbull blamed “rent-seekers” backing the coal industry for felling his father Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister, saying it’s “impossible” to vote for the Liberal-National coalition “in good conscience” because of its climate stance.
In a wide-ranging interview just days after his father lost power in a party room putsch, the Singapore-based fund manager told Fairfax Media the Liberal Party faced being hijacked by financial interests that stood to make windfall profits if coal-related assets were bolstered by taxpayers.
Alex Turnbull (left) with wife Yvonne, daughter Isla and parents Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull.
Those interests “have their hooks into the Liberal Party … which has no money”, Mr Turnbull said, adding that returns could be “100 to 1” if policies fall investors’ way.
Mr Turnbull’s experience includes a stint at investment banking giant Goldman Sachs. Some of his work has also involved trading debt for Australian-based coal-fired power plants, giving him insights into that industry’s outlook.
“If you create such an environment – with such a high rate of return – you’ll see a lot more of that [influence peddling],” he said.
Speaking freely now that his father was no longer in power, Mr Turnbull said he was “massively in favour of a federal ICAC”, referring to a Commonwealth equivalent of NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. “I hope they find corruption then I don’t have to believe it’s all stupidity.”
Mr Turnbull defended his father’s efforts to craft an energy policy that sought to combine emissions reductions while boosting reliability of the grid and lowering prices.
The new government under Scott Morrison has split the environment and energy portfolios, with most indicators suggesting the proposed National Energy Guarantee is dead.
“He was snookered,” Mr Turnbull said of his father’s fate. “You don’t know how hard he worked on this issue.”
“It’s impossible to vote for the LNP in good conscience,” Mr Turnbull said, adding he had no intention of entering politics himself. “My father fought the stupid and the stupid won.”
Mr Turnbull was also critical of the government’s overall climate action, saying that pulling the Paris Agreement – as conservative MPs and pundits have been demanding – was irrelevant at this point.
“It’s like being in a university course, final exams are coming and you haven’t done three-quarters of the work,” he said. “You’re going to fail anyway.”
Mr Turnbull also noted the pressure placed by his father’s government on AGL to keep its ailing Liddell power station going beyond its scheduled 2022 closure date.
“This is the behaviour that exists in emerging markets, where the cost of capital is much higher,” he said. “How can you expect people to make long-term investment decisions when clowns trying to game the news cycle are a key driver of investment returns?”
He said efforts to keep ageing coal-fired power stations going were “a terrible failure”, noting Western Australia’s bid to stop the Muja plant which cost $300 million.
“Such spending is like trying to keep crappy cars – like a 1994 Ford Laser – on the road.”
Worse, the operators of such plants as Liddell and Gladstone ran the risk of a “horrific industrial accident” that could literally cook unfortunate employees like a Chinese dumpling.
Such failures “could create ‘human wontons’ of any staff exposed to the 300-400-degree super-heated steam”, he said.
AGL has made little secret of the engineering challenges facing its staff have described as “old lady Liddell”.
Mr Turnbull declined to say much about his father’s current disposition. However, in response to a question about whether he had been disappointed he couldn’t have done more on climate action, he answered “yes”.
The younger Turnbull had positive things to say about Tim Murray, the Labor candidate for Wentworth, his father’s electorate. “He’s a great guy and I know him well,” he said. “[It’s] hard to back a Labor guy but not Tim.”
He predicted Labor’s left would keep that party “honest” on climate change.
Bill Shorten “doesn’t really care about climate change – he just wants the jobs”, Mr Turnbull said, adding that there were lots of them in Victoria and elsewhere as the renewable energy boom rolls on.
Two terms of federal Labor should mean Australia’s electricity sector “would have crossed the magic line” – such as exceeding 40 per cent of supply from wind and solar. “They’re not going to be able to go back.”
Taking serious action on climate change “should be the response of any sane leader”, he said.
Press link for more: SMH