Federal Liberals blast WA Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup’s ‘lemon’ green energy policy


He said he and his colleagues, including Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor and fellow WA MP Rick Wilson – whose electorate covers the Collie coal region – did not support the policy.

“The WA state Liberal leadership had conceded defeat, so their green energy policy is academic,” he said.

“We are the party who backs working families and industry.

“If we’re being honest about our prospects, we need to be honest about the green energy policy: it’s a lemon.”

Mr Hastie was critical of the policy in an endorsement letter for Liberal candidate for Murray-Wellington Michelle Boylan.

The letter in support of Ms Boylan, whose electorate neighbours Collie’s coal region, is to be sent to voters over the next week.

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“She will stand up for the jobs, industry and traditional energy sources that our region depends on,” the letter read.

Mr Hastie said the party now needed to “save the furniture” to ensure Ms Boylan is elected.

“She’s for jobs, industry and the gas and coal power that support those things,” he said.

Even Ms Boylan herself said she did not support the policy.

“We are the party that backs workers — so I can’t support a policy that undermines their jobs by putting reliable baseload power at risk,” she said.

Mr Wilson was the first to hint that the federal party was not happy with the state promise in a speech to Parliament on February 24.

“I reiterate what Minister Taylor has said: we won’t sacrifice jobs and industries in regional Australia for no global emissions benefits and we won’t impose taxes to get there,” he said.

On Friday, Mr Wilson said the policy gave the Labor Party the licence to go further than they would normally in efforts to wipe coal from the energy mix.

WA Liberal Senator Matt O’Sullivan said some aspects of the plan – like green hydrogen industry investment – were exciting, but the timeframes needed to be revised to ensure it could be realised without sacrificing jobs and increasing the cost of energy.

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The comments will damage Mr Kirkup’s campaign, which abandoned hope of victory and is now focused on convincing voters to stop Labor from gaining total control of WA Parliament.

They also expose a significant split between the two arms of the WA Liberals, which Mr Kirkup downplayed on Friday afternoon.

When asked whether the energy policy was toxic to the state and federal party relationship and whether it was a reason why Prime Minister Scott Morrison had not visited the state he replied: “no and no.”

“I’m very thankful for the support we’ve received federally.”

Mr Kirkup’s electorate sits within the boundaries of Mr Hastie’s federal electorate and he claimed despite Mr Hastie’s comments the pair worked well together fighting for their community.

“I respect his views and appreciate the contest of ideas,” he said.

Another key pillar of the policy was to develop 1500 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2025 in the Mid West with private sector money.

The policy was panned by Labor, who said it would cause rolling blackouts and criticised a lack of transparency around costs.

But it was warmly welcomed by green groups who said it recognised the huge opportunity renewable energy could play in the state.

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“The policy shows that action on climate change and renewable energy does not need to be held back any longer by partisan politicking,” Conservation Council WA director Piers Verstegen said at the time.

The policy was launched at a glitzy press conference earlier this month, which included a professionally created video that compared the vision to that of previous Liberal governments that kick-started the iron ore export and WA gas industries.

At a televised debate on Thursday night, Mr Kirkup did not mention the energy policy once, even after being asked what his party’s main election promise would be.

WAtoday understands the policy was presented to former opposition leader Liza Harvey but she did not act on it.

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Zak Kirkup’s moment has come, but his eyes can’t hide the strain


His words were well chosen, but his eyes could not hide the strain. The stare and long pause before he answered captured the obvious burden he is carrying.

“You’re the 35th Leader of the Opposition in the history of the state, from a background where people like us don’t get ahead, with a Premier who is very popular, in a state that’s gone through a global pandemic and has a very uncertain future,” he said. “It’s a big responsibility.”

Even before replacing Liza Harvey as Liberal leader, Kirkup’s political ambition was well documented.

As a schoolboy in 2004, Kirkup handed prime minister John Howard a business card during a visit to the Midland Town Hall, on the edge of Perth’s Swan Valley wine belt.

“Zak R.F.Kirkup – Young Liberal, Future Prime Minister,” the card read.

The business card WA Liberal leadership contender Zak Kirkup mailed to Gary Adshead as a teenager after handing one like it to then Prime Minister John Howard in the early 2000s.Credit:WAtoday

That precocious moment 16 years ago has served as a marker for Kirkup’s political verve ever since. And here he is now – Leader of the Opposition.

“The business card was a bit of a piss-take from my parents because they couldn’t believe they had a son who was interested in politics,” he explained.

“From what I recall I think he (Howard) said something like ‘When do you think that’s going to happen?’ I said, brazenly, very soon. He said I should at least give him one more term.”

Politics only became Kirkup’s calling after his first career dream was shattered.

“When I was young, I wanted to be a marine biologist,” he said. “I was pretty chubby as a kid and my grandmother told me I was too fat and would be eaten by sharks, and from that point on I had to change career.”

He was a primary school prefect in Forrestfield and believes that sparked “a sense of service”.

By the time he reached Governor Stirling Senior High School, in the historic eastern Perth suburb of Woodbridge, Kirkup was getting comfortable in the language of political discourse.

Zak Kirkup with his dad.

Zak Kirkup with his dad. Credit:Twitter

His father Robert – a tradie and small business operator – had strong opinions about militant unions. From working class roots, Kirkup developed a view that governments should do more to help the individual make their way in the world.

A bond was forged with the Liberal Party, which paved his career path from staffer in the office of former premier Colin Barnett, to his winning preselection for the seat of Dawesville at the 2017 state election.

Almost a year later, he married his girlfriend of seven years – public servant Michelle Gadellaa. It was the picture-perfect wedding in St George’s Cathedral. Abruptly, in late October, 2019, the marriage was over.

“I’m going through the process of separation and that’s difficult,” he said.

“It’s not something I think anyone would expect to see gone through forensically, or anything like that. It’s been tough and it’s not just me. I understand people will say those things. I don’t really want to address the individual things people may or may not say. I think people understand we have a private life.”

Kirkup is happy to address other aspects of his personal back story. He is part indigenous on his father’s side and admits to wanting to know more about his family’s heritage.

Zak Kirkup gives his first press conference at WA Parliament as opposition leader.

Zak Kirkup gives his first press conference at WA Parliament as opposition leader.Credit:Peter de Kruijff

“All of us want to know where we come from,” he said. “It’s not something that’s spoken about when I was younger with my family, and I think that’s to do with my grandfather and what he was like, and it wasn’t well spoken about.”

During the interview for WAtoday and Nine News, Kirkup referred to his start in life on several occasions. There was pride in how far he had come.

“As a kid from the eastern suburbs it’s not something that’s an aspiration for us,” he said. “When you come from those sorts of working suburbs it’s not something that’s usually a goal for people.”

When asked about the considerable challenge of defending his party’s 13 seats in Parliament’s Legislative Assembly, Kirkup’s raw emotion was again on show.

Mr McGowan has successfully steered WA through the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the only state to emerge with an operating surplus.

Even before the election campaign begins in earnest, Labor has announced a new $2 billion fully-funded maternity hospital.

“It’s David versus Goliath,” Kirkup suggested. “We have to provide the plan for the future.

“The sense of responsibility absolutely sits with you. The sense of making sure that you are doing the best you can, with the circumstances that we have. Because it is tough. It’s really hard. It’s a difficult job at the best of times.”

Kirkup was asked if reaching the top office in his party was already enough of an achievement for one so young.

“I was speaking to mum about that,” he recalled. “You say it’s an achievement, right, and it’s a very big honour. But it’s only worth it if we help bring change. I don’t want to let the people of WA down.”

He has 93 days to win them over.

Watch the interview with Gary Adshead on Nine News Perth Thursday night at 6pm.

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