Gatecrashing Premier in slanging match with federal minister

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Snowy Hydro CEO Paul Broad (centre) before taking a tour of the region via helicopter during his visit to the Snowy Hydro Tumut 3 power station, at Talbingo, NSW, on Thursday 16 March 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Snowy Hydro CEO Paul Broad (centre) before taking a tour of the region via helicopter during his visit to the Snowy Hydro Tumut 3 power station, at Talbingo, NSW, on Thursday 16 March 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Relations between the Commonwealth and South Australia have turned toxic after an angry row between the federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and the state's Labor Premier, Jay Weatherill, played out on live television.

In bizarre scenes, the two figures stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they exchanged claims of hypocrisy, panic, and abject failure in the increasingly fraught energy policy debate.

The face-off followed the Commonwealth's announcement of a massive $2 billion upgrade to the government-owned Snowy Hydro Scheme using public money, which had come just 48 hours after the Turnbull government rounded on SA for promising to use public funds to build a gas-fired generator.

Mr Frydenberg described the Premier's performance in the unseemly stoush as "pretty unbecoming, pretty childish" and suggested he would soon be replaced by voters as a result.

Mr Weatherill, who described Mr Frydenberg's aggression towards SA as "disgraceful", claimed the minister had been forced to disown an electricity sector carbon price by the Liberal Party's right wing, which he also said dictates terms to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The spat sent Commonwealth-State relations into their sharpest nose-dive in memory.

It materialised in an extraordinary if unplanned "joint" press conference in Adelaide on Thursday morning in which the two men appeared before reporters at what was intended to be a good news story about renewable energy - the launch of a federal government supported AGL "virtual power station".

However, the SA Premier's late inclusion, having not been on the original guest list, took Mr Frydenberg by surprise, prompting him to accuse Mr Weatherill of trying to "crash tackle" the launch.

What transpired ensured it was the politicians rather than the green technology that garnered attention.

Decrying as irresponsible South Australia's "go-it-alone" energy security plan released on Tuesday, Mr Frydenberg called it a $550 million admission of failure.

An indignant Mr Weatherill, who had remained inscrutable through those comments, hit back with a verbal assault rarely seen, even in Australia's generally robust political culture.

He described the Snowy Hydro expansion as a fear-driven response and a "$2 billion insult" to South Australia designed to keep the lights on in Sydney ahead of those in Adelaide.

"It shows that the Commonwealth government are in a white-knuckle panic about national energy policy. It is a $2 billion admission that the national energy market has broken and there needs to be public investments to actually fix it up," Mr Weatherill said.

Mr Weatherill said it was "galling" that the Commonwealth had endlessly "bagged" the state and now said "we want to work together".

"It is a disgrace the way in which your government has treated our state," he told Mr Frydenberg, as both men played to the cameras and avoided eye contact.

"It is the most anti-SA government we have seen from a Commonwealth government in living memory," Mr Weatherill said.

Mr Frydenberg responded, declaring the Premier "had made a $550 million admission of failure ... to solve a problem that they created themselves with initiatives which won't in fact completely solve the problem for SA".

"I feel that the Premier trying to come into this to crash tackle us at this announcement where he hasn't put any money into this important initiative, which the Commonwealth and AGL have, just shows you, unfortunately, how desperate he is," he said.

Mr Turnbull also showed no inclination to smooth over the differences when asked about the Weatherill comments: "I understand that the Premier's conduct spoke volumes about the Premier's state of mind at the moment," he said.

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This story Gatecrashing Premier in slanging match with federal minister first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.