John Menadue.  Climate change and the rise and demise of Tony Abbott.

Feb 16, 2015

Opposition to climate change was the vehicle for Tony Abbott to rise to the leadership of the Liberal Party. It is now making a major factor in his demise as Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott regarded climate change as ‘absolute crap’ and in December 2009 he rallied the support of the  right wing of the Liberal Party led my Nick Minchin to overthrow Malcolm Turnbull as the leader. His victory margin was one vote. Malcolm Turnbull had been negotiating with Kevin Rudd for a bipartisan commitment on an emissions trading scheme.

But with the leadership in his grasp and with the media and climate sceptics supporting him, Tony Abbott seized on the carbon tax and did what he does best, attack.

We have never seen such a wrecking ball campaign on such an important issue as climate change and the associated carbon tax. He was joined in his exaggerated campaign against the carbon tax and climate change by News Corp and numerous right-wing ideologues posing as serious business people.

This campaign was highly successful and in government he attacked every arm of government associated with climate change. But the ground was slowly moving around the world as one scientific report after another confirmed the growing threat of climate change induced particularly by coal-fired electricity generation. Even though the ground was moving, Tony Abbott continued to talk about ‘king coal’ and how the world would have to rely on coal for the rest of this century.

Then came President Obama to the G20 meeting in Brisbane in November last year. This meeting of the twenty most powerful economies in the world was hoped to be a crowning success for its Chair, Tony Abbott. But it was not to be.

Before arrival in Brisbane, Barack Obama had announced in Beijing an historic climate change agreement with the Chinese President. But there was more to come. Barack Obama took the platform at the University of Queensland and told the world that Tony Abbott was failing on climate change. Politely and clearly President Obama affirmed the science on climate change that Tony Abbott was denying.  He said that Australia faced longer droughts and more bushfires. He added that the incredible national glory of the Great Barrier Reef was threatened. He spoke of the increased production of carbon emissions and demanded that all countries step up and do more both nationally and internationally on climate change.

Tony Abbott had tried to keep climate change off the G20 agenda. He failed. His PR people, including Julie Bishop, did what Tony Abbott does best – attack. They attacked our principal ally the US for daring to say these things in Australia about climate change.

Lenore Taylor in The Guardian of 13 February 2015 put it this way. ‘An authoritarian leader’s need to attack, even annihilate critics can also be devastatingly self-defeating. Tony Abbott and senior ministers were deeply angry at Barack Obama’s show-stealing climate change speech during the G20 and in true authoritarian style launched an extraordinary onslaught on an ally. They briefed multiple News Ltd columnists to that effect, including graphic accounts of how they rang up afterwards and yelled at State Department officials for failing to give a “heads up” that the president was going to “dump on” the Prime Minister. Julie Bishop said the President clearly hadn’t read a briefing on all the excellent things Australia is doing to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Andrew Robb said the President had been misinformed.’

The denial of climate change and the campaign against a carbon tax to reduce carbon emissions was a central factor in projecting Tony Abbott into the Lodge. But now our principal ally was telling him that he was wrong. President Obama catalysed for all that Tony Abbot was not only denying the science on climate change but that he was out of step with the world.

In the opinion polls Tony Abbott had some minor recovery in the lead up to the G20 in November last year. From then on his personal and his party’s standing have slumped dramatically.

Many factors, including personality, have played a part in Tony Abbott’s demise, but there is no doubt that climate change which facilitated his rise is the most substantial influence in his demise.

Climate change will be written on his epitaph.

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