At least in 2009, Turnbull left his job as then Opposition leader with his dignity intact.But not now.
On Tuesday, Turnbull survived a spill against Peter Dutton by the less than convincing vote of 48-35. He gets to continue as prime minister, at least for a time, at the cost of his credibility and his dignity and at the behest of the party’s ring wing.
The man who on Monday shredded Australia’s latest attempts to patch together a climate and energy policy admits he is now beholden to every whim and fancy of the right wing, and has abandoned any pretence to lead.
As former PM Tony Abbott observed with more than just a hint of malevolence: “What we want to know is, where are this prime minister’s convictions? We always thought that he was convicted on climate change issues.
“I think he probably still is. And it was a conversion of convenience this morning.”
For once Abbott says something we can agree with. Turnbull commands no respect in his party room, or much beyond it. His business backers are in despair.
It’s worth reminding us what Turnbull said nearly a decade ago after being turfed out his role as head of the Liberal Party.
“Now politics is about conviction and a commitment to carry out those convictions. The Liberal Party is currently led by people whose conviction on climate change is that it is “crap” and you don’t need to do anything about it.
“Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.”
And we thought he was talking about Abbott!
The question is – what’s next?
Australia is now an embarrassment on the world stage. Its government is making a virtue of doing nothing on climate change or reducing emissions.
The Nationals scream “coal, coal, coal” during a press conference called to justify its support for drought-afflicated farms. The NEG has been reduced to solve a reliability problem that does not exist, and most of its actions on prices will have the opposite effect to that intended.
It’s a madhouse, but it won’t stop there. The right wing are agitating for both the large-scale and small-scale renewable energy targets to be stopped in their tracks, and for every new wind and solar farm to be accompanied by an equivalent amount of storage.
It would have been just as useful for past governments to demand that new-fangled automobiles buy a certain amount of hay. Logic has been turned on its head – ideology and idiocy have taken hold.
How did we get into this mess?
It’s been a decade in the making, but there are echoes in the climate and energy debate of the race debate that has been lingering in the public sphere since the Tampa affair under the Howard government. It has the same potent mix of fear, ignorance and prejudice.
Last week, the Katter Party senator Fraser Anning was pilloried – and rightly so – for his maiden speech in which he used the words “final solution” for his call to ban Muslim immigration.
But as Waleed Aly wrote in the Guardian, the debate fulminated on those two toxic words – and their reference, intended or otherwise, to the Holocaust. But much of what Anning called for – a ban on Muslim immigration and all that that entails – was not. Other politicians echoed that call.
The energy debate has fallen to a similar state of disrepair; lies, misleading information and despair.
It does not have the toxic words of the “final solution,” but current and future generations may be no less appalled by a government that is proud to ignore the science of climate change.
Turnbull is not alone in deserving blame. A deliberate misinformation campaign has been launched in the right-wing media – the talk-back radio stations, Sky News and the Murdoch broadsheets and tabloids – using every possible falsehood about climate and renewable energy.
The rest of the mainstream media has stayed largely mute. I’ve lost count of the number of times that Craig Kelly and others have appeared on the ABC saying that renewables receive $3.6 billion a year in subsidies. It is arrant nonsense and a deliberate lie. Yet, I’ve not heard a
You can also blame vested interests – the Minerals Council comes to mind, having taken great care to lacquer the lump of coal proudly held by Treasurer Scott Morisson and others in parliament at the height of last year’s drought, and who sent two backbenchers on a trip to Japan to boost its quest for new coal generators.
It should not be forgotten that there is a rotating door between the MCA and the Coalition government, having swapped advisors from former environment minister Greg Hunt to the MCA and back again to the PMs office.
Big business has also shown an appalling lack of leadership, guided by short-term profit interest and their huge option packages. Having urged Abbott to kill the carbon price, they now feign horror and surprise when Turnbull pulls the weak emissions package from his NEG.
Business wanted certainty – the certainty that they would have to do little or nothing for the next decade. Trust us on the details, they said. Now they are left to stew and complain about the obvious consequence of their rampant greed: more government intervention.
The Energy Security Board, ostensibly an independent body of “experts,” also deserves censure.
One, for conspiring with the business lobby to produce such a crock of a policy, and secondly, for deliberately doctoring modeling to pretend that the NEG was something it was not. Lie, piled upon lie, and they wonder why it blew up in their faces.
As Simon Corbell notes in his article today, Australia will now be looking for leadership. But they won’t expect it to come from the federal Coalition.
It will come instead from the states and territories, with their individual renewable and emissions targets, and from other forms of government.
It will also come from consumers – from the big corporates leading the charge to the clean energy transition – based as much around costs as it is on the environment, and from individual consumers.
As David Leitch points out, the fact that emissions can be reduced at the same time as prices – by embracing the uptake of renewables rather than halting them – is a gift. It should not be shunned.
There could never be a greater time to install rooftop solar – and adopt battery storage and EVs as the prices come down. This is no longer a sector where the general population need to stay mute.
It’s time for all consumers to take matters into their own hands, and for state and local governments to encourage them where they can. And to hope for a change in government.
This article first appeared in RenewEconomy