Nuclear ‘Power Plays’

With the release of their long-awaited nuclear power plan, the Dutton Opposition has clearly indicated that they intend to make energy policy, climate change and power prices defining issues at the next election.

Peter Dutton’s preference for nuclear power over large scale uptake of renewables is nothing new. Fronting the media in Sydney, Dutton articulated his view on why ‘Australia needs nuclear’. He also  announced the seven locations where a future Coalition Government would place Government owned and operated reactors.

Dutton says that nuclear power being incorporated into Australia’s energy mix will be key for a future where power is ‘cleaner’, ‘cheaper’, and consistently reliable. Under the plan, the opposition wants the first reactors to be operational by the mid-2030s. Still up in the air is the cost of such an ambitious project – although Dutton admitted it will be “a big bill”. The CSIRO predicts that ‘at minimum’ the cost would hit $40bn to $60bn.

Additionally, there are several hurdles to nuclear power in Australia – including State and Federal legislative restrictions on nuclear power, building a nuclear workforce, and a management plan for the waste – that are not addressed in the Coalition’s policy document.

The policy has already been highly divisive. By and large, the state premiers have all lined up against Dutton, and, in some spaces, the opposition to nuclear power is a somewhat bipartisan affair. In Victoria, State Liberal Opposition Leader John Pesutto announced the Victorian Coalition had no plans for nuclear power to be part of the state’s energy mix while also acknowledging he wouldn’t “foreclose that discussion”.

Unsurprisingly, the Albanese Government are not onboard with Dutton’s nuclear vision for Australia, with Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, has labelled Dutton’s plan a ‘risky nuclear scam’. Moreover, federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers stated that the announcement could be the ‘dumbest policy’ ever put forward by a major political party. Dutton says he expected this reaction and welcomes an election that is a “referendum on nuclear”.

Nuclear power already accounts for about 10% of the world’s electricity; with the first commercial nuclear power stations operational in the 1950s. Earlier this month, a Lowy Institute Poll found that six in ten Australians either ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly’ support nuclear power. Whilst 17% of Australians polled strongly oppose the idea, 27% are in strong support. Notably opinions have changed, a decade ago 62% of Australians were said to be against nuclear power.

All the sites put forward by Dutton are aging  coal-fired power plants slated for closure. The Coalition says the sites would therefore save money by utilizing the existing infrastructure. Moreover, the sites are close to water, and have easy connections to the energy grid.

By announcing the locations early, commentators have observed that Dutton may have headed off any widescale scare campaign based on the hypothetical placement of the reactors, but opened the door to targeted attacks on Coalition MPs representing the selected communities. However, cracks have already begun to emerge regarding how a Coalition Government would manage the rights of communities to refuse nuclear power plants in their communities.

On Wednesday, Nationals leader David Littleproud – whose own electorate of Maranoa is slated for a reactor under Dutton’s plan – was forced to publicly overruled his own deputy, Perin Davey, after she said that, “if a community is absolutely adamant, then we will not proceed”. Littleproud later said Davey’s claim was “not correct”.

Potentially hedging their bets when it comes to electoral blow back, five of the seven locations are in safe or very safe Coalition electorates. Additionally, the seat of Calare could be seen in a similar light as Andrew Gee, then a Nationals MP, was re-elected in 2022 with a substantial margin. Subsequently, Gee resigned from the National Party over his support for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, and now sits as an independent.

Interestingly, the only reactor proposed in the marginal seat is the Labor held electorate of Hunter. This suggests that either the Coalition believe they are unlikely to wrestle the seat away from Labor at the election, or that they are confident its largely pro-mining constituents would be pleased with such an initiative.

22 June 2024 | Authored by Connor Andreatidis, Consultant, and Sarah Coward, Principal Consultant, Precision Public Affairs

Related Posts

Parliament Introduces New Defence Committee

This week, the Defence Amendment (Parliamentary Joint Committee on Defence) Bill 2024 was introduced into the House of Representatives, paving the way for the anticipated establishment of the Joint Statutory Committee on Defence (JCD).

PPA Honoured to Support Kyowa Kirin in the PBS Listing of Crysvita

PPA was honoured to support Kyowa Kirin in the listing of their first PBS entry, Crysvita, for the treatment of X-linked hypophosphataemia (XLH).

PPA client Blacktree Technology named Defence Business of the Year

Huge congratulations to PPA client Blacktree Technology on being named Defence Business of the Year at the Space Connect Australian Space Awards last week.