Anthony Albanese, Peter Dutton add to the energy pile on as nuclear debate heats up in Question Time

Ellen Ransley
The Nightly
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton squared off over nuclear energy in Parliament during Question Time.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton squared off over nuclear energy in Parliament during Question Time. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Anthony Albanese has danced around questions on the cost of Labor’s renewables transition in a heated Question Time, as the Coalition sought to poke holes in the government’s anti-nuclear stance.

With the first details of Peter Dutton’s nuclear plan now released, and the Coalition seeking a mandate for an alternative path to net-zero at the next election, both sides of politics are ramping up their attacks on each other.

On the back of new polling suggesting there is support for nuclear power in the Australian community, Labor used the first Question Time of the parliamentary sitting fortnight to attack the Coalition’s policy as “expensive”, “risky” and “economic insanity”.

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In return, the Coalition sought to put the pressure back on the Government, with Defence Minister Richard Marles bearing much of the brunt.

The opposition demanded to know why if Labor was so concerned by the safety of nuclear — as evidenced by a series of memes shared last week — it was comfortable putting submariners on a nuclear-powered submarine.

Mr Marles accused the Coalition of waging a “culture war”, saying there were stark differences between the AUKUS program and what the Opposition had put forward.

(L-R) Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Sussan Ley unveil details of proposed nuclear energy plan during a press conference at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Sydney, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi) NO ARCHIVING
The Coalition questioned Labor on its own nuclear policy. Credit: BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAPIMAGE

“To draw an equivalence between eight nuclear reactors which will power eight single machines, against what those opposite are proposing which are meant to be powering cities... is like drawing a comparison between a car engine and a coal-fired power station,” Mr Marles said.

“The two couldn’t be more different.”

They also sought answers over where Labor planned to store the nuclear waste from the AUKUS submarines. Mr Marles said that given such a solution wasn’t needed until the 2050s, governments still had time to find the right place.

As Labor used questions to attack the Coalition’s nuclear policy, the Opposition also brought Labor’s renewables plan under the microscope, demanding to know how much it would cost.

Citing a report from the universities of Melbourne, Queensland and Princeton that estimated the cost of the renewables plan would come between $1.3 and $1.5 trillion, the Coalition’s energy spokesman Ted O’Brien demanded to know whether Labor had different figures.

In response, Mr Albanese called to attention that the same report recommended against nuclear energy, and did not provide a dollar figure.

He instead accused the Coalition of seeking to hike Australia’s power bills, rather than lower them.

“When the rest of us are working to get power bills down, he’s picked the one option guaranteed to force prices up,” Mr Albanese said.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen meanwhile sought to poke holes in the Coalition’s nuclear policy, calling to attention that the owners of six of the seven sites Mr Dutton has said will become power plants were against the idea.

“The policy failed at the first hurdle,” he said.

The fiery question time came just hours after the government appointed former NSW treasurer and energy minister Matt Kean - who announced his resignation from politics last week - as the new chief of the Climate Change Authority.

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