Australia

Australian politicians clash in awkward press briefing

Jay Weatherill criticises Josh Frydenberg at a press conference in Adelaide Image copyright ABC
Image caption Jay Weatherill, left, said it was "galling" to stand beside Josh Frydenberg

Australian politicians are known to trade stinging barbs, but rarely does their antagonism unfold like this.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill were holding a press conference on Thursday when it descended into a bizarre confrontation.

The two men, on opposite sides of politics, had been discussing an energy crisis that has dominated national discussion this week.

Their feuding governments have spent months criticising each other - from afar, that is - since a storm blacked out South Australia last year.

But as the pair stood side-by-side in an Adelaide garage, at the launch of a new solar power network, the quarrel reached an awkward climax.

"I've got to say it is a little galling to be standing here next to a man who has been standing with his prime minister, bagging South Australia at every step of the way," said Mr Weatherill, as Mr Frydenberg stood silently.

"To be standing here on this occasion, him [Mr Frydenberg] suggesting we want to work together, is a disgrace.

"The way in which your government has treated our state, is the most anti-South Australian Commonwealth government we have seen in living memory."

Mr Frydenberg did not look at Mr Weatherill, fixing his gaze ahead before appearing to stifle an uneasy smile.

The minister then accused Mr Weatherill of "crash-tackling" his press conference, which soon ended. As Mr Frydenberg moved outside, he called his opponent's behaviour "unbecoming and childish".

Local media reported that Mr Frydenberg's office had been told Mr Weatherill would be at the briefing.

Their exchange whipped up a flurry of reactions.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp described Mr Weatherill's attack as a "shirtfront", a word formerly associated with the rough and tumble of Australian sport.

Image copyright @m_jns
Image copyright @juliettemm
Image copyright @nyates_music

A short time later, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government would spend up to A$2bn (£1.3bn; $1.5bn) to expand the huge hydro power scheme.

The planned 2,000-megawatt increase could power the equivalent of 500,000 homes, he said.

The Snowy Hydro expansion remains subject to a feasibility study.

The existing Snowy Hydro scheme, built over 25 years and completed in 1974, comprises 16 dams and seven power stations in New South Wales and Victoria.

On Tuesday, Mr Weatherill announced his government would spend $500m to build 250-megawatt gas-fired power plant.

South Australia would also enlist the private sector to build Australia's largest battery before the end of the year.

"We think that a secure energy system should have multiple sources. It is a question of speed as well," he said.

More on this story