Illustration: Matt Golding.
Illustration: Matt Golding.

Greg Hunt was forced into a humiliating backflip by senior
colleagues after the Environment Minister re-announced a
half-billion-dollar solar-power policy without the Prime Minister's

The Sunday Age can reveal that Mr Hunt took his
colleagues by surprise when he announced to an industry gathering last
November that the Coalition was committed to its $500 million ''1
Million Solar Roofs'' program. Mr Hunt described the flagship solar
program - which was to have provided $500 rebates for installing 1
million rooftop solar-energy systems over the next 10 years - as a
''shining beacon'' of the Abbott government's Direct Action climate

But Mr Hunt's ''shining beacon'', a leftover from the 2010
election campaign, had not been approved by Prime Minister Tony Abbott
or his top economic ministers.

Mr Abbott's lack of interest in climate change is keenly
understood by his colleagues, and has been a focus of media attention in
the past week as he met US President Barack Obama.

Yet Mr Hunt effectively ''went around'' the Coalition
leadership by announcing the policy, sources say, and in the months
after his public pledge he was told the money would not be forthcoming.
The Abbott government's budget ''razor gang'' - the expenditure review
committee - had already told ministers that unless a policy had been
specifically confirmed at the 2013 election, it was no longer official
government policy.

Mr Hunt either ignored or did not receive that message. In
his presentation to the Clean Energy Council on November 29 last year,
the Environment Minister declared: ''The government will provide $500
million for the 1 Million Solar Roofs program. And a further $50 million
each,'' he added, would be given to ''the Solar Towns and Solar Schools

''Each of these three new programs is being prepared for implementation and will commence in the 2014-15 financial year.''

As the budget drew closer, Mr Hunt continued to assure
industry figures that the solar policies would proceed, but bureaucrats
in his department were privately conveying their pessimism.

Mr Hunt was ultimately forced to abandon all but $2 million of his $600 million in promised policies.

The 2014-15 budget allocated no money for solar roofs and
nothing for solar schools. Just $2.1 million was given to the solar
towns policy despite Mr Hunt promising $50 million in November.

Mr Hunt declined to respond to questions from The Sunday Age.

Solar industry sources say they wonder how they can take the
Environment Minister's promises seriously. A senior figure in the solar
industry said Mr Hunt was ''fighting to the end'' but the same optimism
was not shared by bureaucrats in his department.