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Xenophon hopeful slams SA's "vanity politics" on renewables

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A high-profile prospective candidate for Nick Xenophon’s SA Best has described South Australia’s renewable energy mix as “crazy shit” and “gesture politics”, but insists there’s no division in the party’s ranks over a renewable energy target.

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But the state Liberals have seized on comments by retired lawyer Peter Humphries to argue there is “dissent in the Xenophon camp”, after federal NXT MP Rebekha Sharkie today distanced the party from his remarks.

Humphries this morning confirmed he had nominated to represent Xenophon’s new state party as a Legislative Council candidate at next year’s election, as forecast by InDaily last year.

In an outspoken interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, he criticised the Weatherill Government’s “reckless rush to embrace alternative energy targets”, which he said had dealt the business community “a really poor hand”.

“This is really vanity politics, in my opinion, and the state pays the price,” he said, joking that he would have “harsh words” with Xenophon “next time I see him” over his deal with the Federal Government to secure funding for renewable solar thermal plant at Port Augusta in exchange for his support on business tax cuts.

Humphries argued against SA taking an international lead on renewables, saying it was “a bit presumptuous to think you’re going to single-handedly make those sorts of radical changes” because “we don’t produce enough greenhouse gases to be measured”.

“If we turn the state off you wouldn’t be able to measure the difference,” he argued.

It’s just ludicrous to think we’re saving the world, at the cost of buggering up the business environment in SA.

But Sharkie, in a separate interview on the same station, rejected her prospective colleague’s analysis on the state’s renewables mix, saying: “I wouldn’t call it vanity politics.”

“Myself and my team, [senators] Nick, Skye [Kakoschke-Moore] and Stirling [Griff], we agree with a 50 per cent renewable energy target, however there is no doubt that what we’ve seen in the last 12 months have been a huge amount of challenges for businesses,” she said.

Asked about Humphries’ assertion that SA’s greenhouse output didn’t justify taking a lead on renewables, she said: “I don’t agree and I think that SA, Australia and what we’re seeing across Asia is many countries are now saying ‘We’re going to take the lead on renewable energy, that coal is not good for humanity’.

“We need to make sure that within the energy mix there’s a good mix of solar… but I can’t say that I think coal is the future,” she said.

Peter is entitled to speak out as an independent, but he’s not an endorsed candidate

The state Liberals, who are expected to come under siege from Xenophon candidates in hills seats such as Heysen, Kavel and Finniss, were quick to make mileage from the comments, with deputy leader Vickie Chapman declaring: “Quite clearly we have cracks within this new party.”

“There is disquiet and dissent in the Xenophon ranks… this does not augur well for future unity within the Xenophon camp,” she told reporters.

Chapman said the state Liberal position was “clear”.

“We do not support a state [renewables] target – that should be removed,” she said.

Xenophon was quick to distance himself from Humphries, telling InDaily: “Peter is entitled to speak out as an independent, but he’s not an endorsed candidate.”

“If he’s put his name up, that’s great [but] over 100 people have put their hand up [for the Legislative Council nomination],” he said.

“There’s a process to go through, and no-one has any inside running.

“I’m not going to be criticising anyone – Peter Humphries has a terrifically good reputation in Adelaide from his time as a plaintiff lawyer. He’s very smart, very knowledgeable… but it’s not fair on other candidates who put their hands up [to comment about specific nominees].”

He said he didn’t know whether Humphries was a party member, as “I haven’t checked the membership”.

“We have a renewable energy target,” Xenophon said.

“It’s how we achieve that target in a way that ensures grid stability… this is the position – how do we most effectively reduce emissions, while putting downward pressure on prices and providing greater stability?”

Nick Xenophon with his federal parliamentary 'Team': Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie and senators Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Stirling Griff. Photo: Mick Tsikas / AAP

Nick Xenophon with his federal team: Rebekha Sharkie, Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Stirling Griff. Photo: Mick Tsikas / AAP

Humphries later told InDaily he had “spoken to Nick on and off over a long time” about standing for the Upper House under his banner.

“Nick’s been talking to me about this for a very long time… I’ve been a bit uncertain but I’ve decided that I’ll do it,” he said.

“There’s a process that’s in place now… the party’s grown a bit, it’s no longer just Nick. There’s a shortlisting of applicants and then an interview… there’s nothing predetermined – I’m just in the mix.”

He said he was yet to join SA Best but “I obviously will”.

But Humphries denied his views were at odds with the position of Xenophon’s national NXT party.

“I’m not sure that they do have a clear position,” he said.

Humphries, a one-time Labor candidate for Mount Gambier, said he supported the federal ALP’s position of a 50 per cent renewables target by 2030.

“I’m saying a 50 per cent renewables target by 2030 is fine – but not now. In SA now, that’s just crazy shit,” he said.

Technology such as power storage would “come along in leaps and bounds in that time”, he insisted.

“I don’t have an argument with that – my concern is the headlong rush with which it’s been implemented in SA, for no good reason… it’s just gesture politics.”

“We’ve got one power station… it’s just ludicrous to think we’re saving the world, at the cost of buggering up the business environment in SA.

“I can’t imagine for the life of me how by being such a minor player in it we’re going to steal a march and be world leaders; it’s just pie in the sky stuff.

“It’s just Weatherill pushing this bandwagon here.”

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