Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has hit out at right-wing media outlets and former coalition colleagues for their advocacy for the fossil fuel sector, accusing them of ‘fetishising’ coal.
“What has happened on the sort of right of politics, coal has become fetishised,” Turnbull said during a webinar hosted by The Australia Institute on Tuesday. “Instead of us looking at coal and global warming in an objective way, and treating it as a question of physics … it’s become an issue of ideology and identity”.
“That’s the fundamental problem. It has fetishised something that should be an objective thing, into a religious thing. It’s that horrible, toxic combination of right-wing politics, right-wing media, mostly owned by Murdoch, and the fossil fuel lobby, and they just keep on feeding and supporting each other.”
Turnbull was ousted as prime minister in 2018 after failing to win support amongst some defiant members of the Coalition government for the proposed National Energy Guarantee, which included what amounted to an ’emissions intensity scheme’ designed to cut emissions in the electricity sector, dubbed an ’emissions guarantee’.
With government members threatening to cross the floor to vote against the plan in parliament, Turnbull shelved plans to legislate the National Energy Guarantee, but was replaced as prime minister by Scott Morrison after a week of chaos triggered by a competing challenge led by Peter Dutton. Turnbull has since sought to advocate for stronger action on climate change and has been an open critic of positions held by the current Morrison government, which included a decision to abandon the ’emissions guarantee’ altogether.
During the webinar on Tuesday, Turnbull hit out at right-wing media outlets for their proactive advocacy for the fossil fuel sector and their moves to attack those who advocate for an economic transition to net zero emissions. Turnbull has joined forces with former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd in a campaign calling for inventions to reduce the market dominance of News Limited owned media outlets, including a call for a Royal Commission.
“I thought one of the most poignant moments recently was when the Daily Telegraph and News [Limited] were campaigning furiously, objecting to me being chairman of an advisory committee on the net zero transition,” Turnbull said. “Apparently, the qualification for that is to be a supporter of the unconstrained expansion of coal mining, which is rather odd.”
Turnbull blamed News Limited media outlets for his removal as chair of a NSW government advisory body, that is to provide advice to the state government on a transition to zero net emissions. NSW energy minister Matt Kean had appointed Turnbull to chair the advisory body but quickly rescinded that appointment following internal pressure from right-wing members of the NSW Liberal-National coalition.
“I only agreed to do it as a favour to Matt Kean. But poor old Matt, having been beaten up by News [Limited], he had to go on Sky News and say, ‘Oh, no, the pressure from News Corp, and the Telegraph had nothing to do with it’,” Turnbull said.
“It really was like somebody that is beaten up by a crooked cop until they sign a fake confession, and the last line of which is ‘I confirm I have done so of my own free will’.”
Turnbull reiterated a call for increased scrutiny and accountability for media outlets that use their position to advocate for the fossil fuel industry and industries that are working against the wider public interest.
“We can’t allow ourselves to be bullied out of this by people that are literally undermining our environment and our democracy. For, let’s assume, just commercial reasons,” Turnbull said.
“That’s not a defence. If you are a drug company and you are selling drugs that hurt people, it isn’t a defence to say ‘I’m just I was just trying to make money’. I mean, people have to be responsible for their actions, and we have to hold them to account.”
“[Murdoch] has essentially monetised the market for crazy. He’s abandoning all responsibility, other than to himself and his own profitability,” Turnbull added.