Australia's re-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison once brandished a lump of coal in parliament, crying, "This is coal - don't be afraid!" His surprise win in what some dubbed the 'climate election' may have stunned the country, but voters should know what comes next in energy policy - big coal.
Battered by extended droughts, damaging floods, and more bushfires, Australian voters had been expected to hand a mandate to the Labor party to pursue its ambitious targets for renewable energy and carbon emissions cuts.
Instead, Saturday's election left them on course to re-elect the Liberal-led centre-right coalition headed by Morrison, a devout Pentecostal churchgoer who thanked fellow worshippers for his win at a Sydney church early on Sunday.
Its own attempts to fashion a bipartisan national energy policy foundered amid fierce opposition from coal supporters and climate sceptics on its right-wing.
The opposition Labor party campaigned on more aggressive targets, aiming to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reach 50 percent renewable power by 2030. The re-elected Liberal-led coalition has no renewable energy target beyond 2020.
ADANI JOBS = VOTES FOR COALITION
Morrison’s win bodes well for Indian conglomerate Adani Enterprises’ long delayed mega coal mine.
In April, Adani Enterprises took a step closer to the construction of the controversial thermal coal mine after winning federal government approval for its groundwater management plan.
Adani wants to develop the Carmichael coal deposit in Queensland state, but has faced fierce environmental resistance that has turned the project into a political hot potato ahead of the federal election.
A Queensland government official told Reuters in February that Adani may have to wait up to two years for some environmental approvals.
In the election, stopping the coal mine proposed by Adani was the catchword for inner city voters in the south pressing for tough action on climate change.
Labor, torn between its traditional union base and its urban environmentally conscious supporters, made no commitments on the Adani mine. The move backfired in the mining heartland of Queensland, where voters with jobs in mind handed the Liberal-led coalition crucial seats in the election.
Adani's mining chief Lucas Dow was not available on Sunday to comment on whether the election outcome might speed up approvals for the long delayed mine.
"There is now a clear mandate for resources projects that have lawful approvals to proceed, such as the Adani coal mine," the Minerals Council of Australia's chief executive Tania Constable said in a statement on Sunday.
Energy users and the power industry, however, see the transition to cleaner energy as inevitable, with states pushing ambitious targets out of line with the national government.
At the same time, Australia, the world's second-largest exporter of coal for power, faces falling demand for coal as its biggest customers - Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan and India - are shifting towards cleaner energy, said Tim Buckley, a director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
"I would expect the coalition to fight a rearguard action that will slow the transition, but they can't stall it," he said.Adani said last year it would fully fund the coal mine and rail project on its own. It did not give an updated estimate of the cost of the mine, previously estimated at about A$4 billion ($3 billion).