Is Tony Abbott genuine in his Hazelwood plea – or just playing politics – or both?

Former Prime Minister and current government backbencher Tony Abbott has made an eleventh hour plea for the federal and Victorian governments to provide a multimillion dollar bailout to stop the Hazelwood coal mine from closing.

This morning Mr Abbott’s opinion piece calling for the bailout was published in several News Limited papers. He also took to the airwaves to further articulate his position. Speaking to RN’s Fran Kelly, and sounding more like an opposition leader, Mr Abbott’s central argument was the 2000 megawatts of power needed for the energy grid which will eventually be provided by the renewed Snowy Hydro Scheme can be provided by Hazelwood in the meantime. This he said would help ensure that we could ‘keep the lights on’ across Australia.

“We have a very serious problem the lights have been going off in central Australia. The hydro solution wont be available for many years. Instead of closing down Hazelwood we need to talk to the company about keeping it open until Hydro starts. If we have 2000 megs of generated capacity and its about to close, then surely we keep it open,” said Mr Abbott.

However Hazelwood plants French operators, Engie in Australia,  don’t agree and believe it cannot be saved at this late stage. “It would still be a very expensive way to keep the doors open given the multimillion dollar injection needed to keep the plant safe and operational,” said Engie in Australia’s Chief Executive Alex Keisser.

In a statement last night the Australian Energy Market Operator said the closure of Hazelwood will not affect the Victorian or national power supply. However Mr Abbott disputes this and pointed to the regulators track record.

“The regulator wasn’t able to keep the lights on in South Australia….This isn’t something that has happened once it has happened numerous times. Prices are going through the roof and reliability is going through the floor, that’s the problem we have,” said Mr Abbott.

While Mr Abbott’s argument may have merit, the likelihood it will ever be agreed to by either government is incredibly slim. Mr Abbott’s advocacy on this issue and publicly putting himself at odds with the government will only further play into the hands of his critics who say he is trying to destabilise Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership and will do nothing to repair internal damage with his party colleagues who hold that view.

As has been shown to many political parties and governments time and time again at the ballot box, in politics, disunity is death.

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