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Turnbull punts Abbott, but don’t expect any instant miracles

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What goes around, comes around. In Opposition, Tony Abbott displaced then Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull by a single vote, just one week before the Copenhagen climate conference. The issue at hand – Turnbull’s support for Labor’s emissions trading scheme.

In government, Turnbull has now displaced Abbott, by 10 votes, just two months before the Paris climate change conference. Climate change is not the only contention, but it is central to Turnbull’s plea for an end to government by slogans.

History will judge Abbott’s reign, and most likely it will do so harshly. He often gave the impression of an Australian Chauncey Gardiner, the Peter Sellers’ character in the film Being There, repeating the same phrases and finding himself an unlikely president.

Abbott’s departure signals the demise of a brief period of policy dominated – possibly for the first time in Australian history – by the Far Right. This will be Turnbull’s biggest threat.

They despise him, to the point that lead right wing commentator Andrew Bolt wondered if it wouldn’t be best to lose power again to a Labor government in order to reboot the Coalition’s far right agenda. And as several Tweeters’ pointed out, 30 of the party voted for Kevin Andrews as deputy, even after Abbott was rolled.

This is, of course, Labor’s worse nightmare. Bill Shorten will likely struggle against the erudite Turnbull. Even Rupert Murdoch advised through Twitter that the Coalition should go to the polls soon before Labor dump Shorten.

What, though, does Turnbull’s leadership mean for climate change policy and renewable energy?

Not a lot of change in the immediate term, one suspects, but a complete change in atmospherics, and of perspective, particularly in the lead up to Paris.

It will mean no more slogans, no more “coal is good for humanity” and we “axed the tax”.

As we noted earlier today, the market for renewable energy, wind farms in particular, is moribund, because no investor or financier trusted the Abbott government.

Turnbull delivers a promise that the renewables target will not be weakened further, and will likely be strengthened. Developers like Meridian Energy may re-enter the market.

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Turnbull is certainly not afraid of new technology. He test drove the Tesla, and loved it. He is the first Australian PM to have driven a Tesla. In his speech before the spill, he spoke of the “excitement” of economic change. The very least we can expect is an encouragement of electric vehicles and a vision to deal with the energy revolution towards solar and storage, although there is plenty of resistance from vested interests to be overcome.

Turnbull is also the first former environment minister to be elected PM. But on the issue of climate change, Turnbull has pledged not to bring back an emissions trading scheme. This evening he said the Abbott government’s “climate policy is one that has been very well designed, a very, very good piece of work.”

This is a sop to the right, but there is a lot he can do within those parameters.

As we noted in February, when Turnbull’s camp was plotting a leadership coup,

Turnbull would sweep away the cabal of climate deniers that have installed themselves in and around the PM’s office and dominated the government’s policy making.

This would include Abbott’s main business advisor, Maurice Newman, who was at it again on Friday, writing in The Australian that 2014 was NOT the hottest year on record, and that NASA, NOAA, the World Meteorological Organisation, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Japan’s Meteorological Agency, and the UK Met Office were all wrong for thinking so. Why? Because he had read as much on an obscure though notorious climate denier website favoured by the Mad Right.

So, one suspects we can count on Turnbull to sweep a broom through the likes of Newman, Dick Warburton, Tony Shepherd and David Murray – all climate deniers in charge of advising the government on key policy areas.

What Turnbull won’t do is reverse Abbott’s dumping of the carbon price. The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor gives a good explanation of why here. While Turnbull has been a fierce critic of Direct Action, he also believes it can be adapted into a baseline and credit scheme of the type he has long favoured. In effect, it will be a trading scheme without the word tax.

The mechanism to do so is already built into Direct Action with the so-called “Safeguards” – which means that companies are capped on the amount of emissions they can produce.

This “baseline” can be tightened as needed – particularly if Australia needs to meet a more ambitious target in light of the Paris climate talks – and companies that meet their target could sell their “surplus” to other companies that struggle.

Turnbull could also open up the international market to allow corporates to buy offsets (not a bad idea at the moment considering how cheap they are). And we can be sure that Turnbull would bring a more constructive Australian approach to those climate talks in the lead-up to Paris.

Not much has changed from that, except that the safeguards mechanism proposed by Abbott last week was so weak, it invited polluters to increase their emissions. Turnbull will have a big margin to tighten that mechanism to introduce a defacto carbon tax.

There is one sobering note, as one university analyst noted this evening: “On the climate front – one hopes Turnbull will inject some sanity into the Coalition, but I can’t see him changing the current policy direction given the conservative rump of 44 votes are so feral on this issue, plus the fossil fuel lock-in which dominates both Coalition and Labor.”

One point of interest. Environment minister Greg Hunt walked into the party room meeting on Monday night with Tony Abbott’s confident looking group. He was not to be seen when most of them walked out after their defeat.

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  • lin

    Logical, science based climate policy would be a good start, and a welcome change. Fingers crossed.

  • Jacob

    Turnbull has been in favour of an ETS for years.

    It would be shocking if AUS does not get a carbon price on 1 July 2016.

    • trackdaze

      It will be hard to unwind given he has had to concede in retaining climate proposals for paris to win over a proportion of the rightwing loonies in the party in combination with the senate.

      I suspect though once we are at the paris and rightfully get lamblasted for our lowball poor offer it will be negotiated up. Had it been rightwing loony backed tony it would have been nope, nope, nope. The consequences and collateral damage of that stance would have set australia back 35years… (at least it was cooler then!)

      It will be interesting who has to pick up the environment portfolio off the floor.

  • Jacob

    So when is AUS getting a computer chip factory or a lithium battery factory under Turnbull.

    Look how many high tech products Israel, Ireland, Singapore, and South Korea make.

    • Barri Mundee

      Or even tax rebates or similar inducements to make EV’s more affordable and speed up the uptake.

      There’s so a great chance to tighten emission standard on IC vehicles, to worlds best practice. They will all be imported soon anyway.

  • Coley

    Thought this pace would be hopping with delight an Abbots downfall?

    • suthnsun

      I am delighted.

    • Chris Fraser

      Didn’t we always know ? Its the natural apotheosis for any narcissistic grab for power !

  • trackdaze

    A few apologies might be in order

    Sorry on broken promises on hospitals, schools, abc, infrastructure etc etc
    Sorry for wanting to make the unemployed wait 6 mths
    Sorry for botched medicare copayment
    Sorry for reducing your super to get the carbon/mining tax repeal through.
    Sorry for continuing to rabbit on about surplus/deficits.
    Sorry to those people and industies & there are many that have been demonised, vilified, and or run out of town.

    Oh and one more. Sorry to coal and utilities for being so blatent and ruthless in carrying out your wishes we appear to have expedited rather than defer your decline and demise.

    Good ridance to the worst leader/government we have ever had.

  • Alan S

    ‘Don’t expect instant miracles’ – but don’t hesitate to contact him and let him know your view.

  • Rebecca Dunn

    Malcolm is also versed on “baseload” concentrated solar thermal power with storage. He was a speaker at the 2010 launch of the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan (100% renewables in 10 years). See transcript below. Let’s see some room in the policy mix for that :)

    http://bze.org.au/media/newswire/zero-carbon-australia-sydney-launch-event-video-bob-carr-and-malcolm-turnbull-100912

  • JeffJL

    Don’t forget for the last two years Mr Turnbull has been supporting all the actions of the government. Hard to believe he actually believes in anything.

    • Ciriindir

      I’ve wondered about that, too. Perhaps he was playing the game in order to stay in the game? Who knows at this point. I’m willing to suspend judgement for a while and see how this turns out.

  • http://muckrack.com/dotcommodity Susan Kraemer

    Maybe I missed it, but is Turnbull from the same party? Is this as radical a change as from Gillard to Abbott? Or is T just less offensive but still RW?

    • Ronald Brakels

      Turnbull is in the same party as Abbott but accepts the existence of global warming and the need to do something about it. Just what he will do remains to be seen, but hopefully we won’t just get Abbott lite, although that is a possibility.

    • JeffJL

      He may have said that he accepted the existence of global warming in the past but in parliament he has just been praising the current policies of the party he just took over which few people say will be able to deliver anywhere near the amount of carbon reduction that would be needed to avert our share of the problem to keep global warming below 2C.

  • John Roderts

    I have and always have had a solid dislike of the LIebrial party and do not enter into any correspondence of any sort with Greedy Liars as such.