POLITICS

Turnbull Shifts To Cost Of Living Pressures While Marriage Equality Burns

The PM has called a meeting of power companies amid an internal party tussle over same-sex marriage.

03/08/2017 10:26 PM AEST | Updated 03/08/2017 10:26 PM AEST
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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called a meeting of major power companies for next Wednesday.

CANBERRA -- Been hearing frustrated Turnbull Government MPs say recently they want to talk about pretty much anything else but same-sex marriage?

There's general agreement on that view, but for different reasons. The firm voices from opposing perspectives just want the issue dealt with. Some, including Government MPs, don't want to be talking about tinkering with marriage, full stop. It is, bring in marriage equality for same-sex attracted people or put the issue to bed once and for all. Well, for this term of parliament at least.

Just as a frustrated Prime Minister calls a special Monday afternoon meeting of Liberal MPs - the day before Parliament resumes - to try and end the internal war over same-sex marriage, Malcolm Turnbull is returning to political ground that he thinks can be a winner for him - tackling rising power prices.

Turnbull wants his MPs, Senators - and the media - to stop talking about same-sex marriage. He has made that absolutely clear.

So, he's called a meeting of major power companies in Canberra next Wednesday morning, the day after a rousing joint party room meeting with Liberals and Nationals is due to be held.

Power prices recently jumped, especially in NSW, the ACT and SA. Some experts blame the lack of a carbon price in Australia, but others and Turnbull have targeted a domestic gas shortage.

Turnbull has written to head of companies, including Energy Australia, Origin Energy, AGL and Snowy Hydro, to see what the "electricity sector can do to ensure no family pays any more for electricity than it needs to".

The decision to call the meeting demonstrates that the Prime Minister is determined not to be knocked off course and intends to remain focused on the hip pocket concerns; at least, that's Turnbull's political tactic he hopes will work.

The meeting, which also includes the Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, insists rising power prices is putting a serious strain on families and must be addressed "urgently and directly".

"Australia is blessed with abundant energy so it is simply not good enough that some families and businesses cannot always afford to turn on their lights, heating and equipment," the Prime Minister said in the letter, seen by HuffPost Australia.

"Disconnections have risen sharply in some states, and there are reports of spikes in the number of people suffering sever financial stress.

"We acknowledge your companies are operating hardship programs to assist but more need to be done".

Energy is not a safe area for Turnbull by any means.

Conservatives are determined to hold off any further move towards renewable energy. The Government, via the party room has accepted all but one recommendation of the Finkle Review into energy security. The final one being the most crucial, the clean energy target (CET), a new climate policy mechanism designed to stimulate new investment in power generation and take Australia's renewable energy use to 42 percent by 2030.

But first, Turnbull has to navigate the Government MPs and Senators through the increasingly muddy waters of marriage equality.

The Coalition's policy on same-sex marriage is to "let the Australian people have a say" through a plebiscite. In 2015, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott said government MPs should not be bound on same-sex marriage in the next parliament, but he is now backtracking, declaring on Wednesday that the Coalition should take a plebiscite policy to the next federal election.

The party now appears headed towards a postal plebiscite, rather than a plebiscite which requires legislation, but nothing is certain. Both plebiscite options have been condemned by pro-marriage advocates as non-binding, non-representative, a waste of money and potentially harmful. A postal plebiscite could be subjected to legal challenge. A handful of Liberal MPs and senator Dean Smith want the party to dump the plebiscite policy altogether and hold a free vote based on a private members bill authored by Smith.

On Monday afternoon, the special party room - which is expected to be lengthy - members will be free to stand up and have their say. A secret ballot to further direct government policy is a live option.

The Nationals are holding their own party meeting on Friday, with concern that Nationals MP Andrew Broad my leave the Coalition if the plebiscite is abandoned.

No one with a seat in parliament needs reminding that the Government holds the lower house with a paper thin one seat majority.

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