MUNGO MacCALLUM. Malcolm Turnbull on climate change and coal.

Unfortunately the storms and the heat waves are making it clear to reluctant voters that climate change is not going to disappear. Sooner or later the message will filter through even to the recalcitrants of the coalition. But by then it may be too late for Turnbull – and, for that matter, the rest of us. 

After a couple of days of berating Bill Shorten as a hypocrite, parasite, fake, suck-up and general scumbag, Malcolm Turnbull finally got to the substance of his argument.

The opposition leader’s ultimate, irredeemable sin is that he does not love coal. To prove the point, ministers defied standing orders to handing a chunk of the stuff around parliament last Thursday: Shorten, Scott Morrison declared, suffered from coalaphopia while the aptly named coalition really adores the stuff, wallows in it.

Coal is the modern philosopher’s stone, the cure for all ills; coal will provide cheap, reliable energy for the whole country, the entire world – it would probably power the known universe if we could only export enough of it. And what’s more, coal can be made clean. Well, actually it can’t; it can be made marginally less dirty by through the very expensive technology in which Australian industry has not the slightest interest in investing, but to get rid of the emissions altogether involves tapping and burying them at prohibitive cost – even if, as the government has hinted, taxpayer money is offered for the process.

But forget about the details: coal rules, OK?

The welcome catalyst for Turnbull’s latest harangue were the problems of South Australia, where blackouts have become more frequent recently. There were various reasons for this, mainly the extreme weather events triggered by ongoing climate change, which is in turn caused partly (dare one say it?) by the burning of coal and other fossil fuels.

But for Turnbull it was much more simple: it was all about the state’s embrace of solar and wind power, the dreaded renewables. The fact that the almost entirely coal-fired state of New South Wales had to close down its biggest aluminium smelter to prevent wide spread blackouts at the weekend was, of course, irrelevant: wind farms were the real culprits.

Actually it is a trifle more complicated than Turnbull pretends. The real problem is that what is laughingly called the national energy policy is a complete shemozzle: a tangle of competing states, public and private suppliers, commercial and environmental interests and no clear direction from the top. It is hardly surprising that Jay Weatherill, the embattled South Australian premier, is talking about drastic action – maybe even going it alone.

Turnbull talks continually about the need for reliable and economic energy supply (the third horse in the race, the environment, is a very distant third) but has done very little if anything to ensure either reliability or affordability – the blackouts keep happening and the charges keep going up.

If he was serious he might convene an emergency conference of premiers and suppliers and bang their heads together until they sorted something out, in the manner of Bob Hawke’s famous economic summit. But obviously it is easier and, in the short term at least, more advantageous to just play the politics. Bill Shorten hates coal – the Labor Party hates coal and they are selling out the workers and the families – sorry, the hard-working families – of Australia.

Unfortunately the storms and the heat waves are making it clear to reluctant voters that climate change is not going to disappear. Sooner or later the message will filter through even to the recalcitrants of the coalition. But by then it may be too late for Turnbull – and, for that matter, the rest of us.

Mungo MacCallum is a former senior journalist in the Canberra Press Gallery.

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6 Responses to MUNGO MacCALLUM. Malcolm Turnbull on climate change and coal.

  1. Don Ross says:

    Given the craven mendacity of the coalition it is not beyond belief that the unbelievable failure of the private gas generator to fire up for the forcasted day in hell was the result of a hint from Turnbull .

  2. Rosemary wearing says:

    Brilliant but dispiriting at the same time. We need a Bernie Sanders and an Occupy the Environment movement.

  3. Graham English says:

    Barbara Tuchman on the French before the battle of Crecy, “The provincial estates were reluctant, like most representative bodies to recognize crisis until it was underfoot.” Tuchman made a career pointing out how representative bodies are often the problem not the solution. Nothing has changed.

  4. Colin Cook says:

    ‘…..a tangle of competing states, public and private suppliers, commercial and environmental interests.’ Well said, indeed. Just list Australian Energy Market Operators website. Page of management spread and not a mention of service, of customers, of energy security. But why should we expect such; it proudly proclaims it is ‘stakeholder focused’ and the stakeholders are the 40 or so corporate bodies that it represents and as the name indicates it is there to ‘operate the market’ -not the same as maintaining supply in the interests of the community.

  5. Bruce says:

    Power bills were going up in South Australia, not because of renewables which are cheaper but because AEMO, largely representing for profit private entities was gouging prices at time of need. Ah, the benefit of privatising the energy market.

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