Plus ça change. The more it changes, the more it stays the same. Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s tantalising sales pitch ahead of the leadership spill earlier this week, there was no real expectation for quick policy change.
But there was hope that at least the rhetoric might change once Turnbull dislodged Tony Abbott as head of the Liberal Party and as prime minister of Australia. It hasn’t happened. It is pretty much business as usual. Nothing has changed.
On Wednesday, Turnbull attacked Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target as reckless, environment minister Greg Hunt trotted out his usual nonsense about the cost of Labor’s as yet unstated emissions reductions target, while Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald resumed his long-running campaign to describe climate change science as a hoax and a fraud.
If that wasn’t enough, the federal Nationals rejected a motion put forward by progressive members from their Western Australia division to declare support for renewable energy. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the independent Senator John Madigan, head of a Coalition-supported wind inquiry, continued to wage war on the industry.
Turnbull’s comments were particularly alarming, given his presumed support for renewable energy. He has yet to pronounce himself on the future of the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation or the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, three institutions that Abbott tried unsuccessfully to destroy, but Turnbull was already dismissive of Labor’s proposed 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030.
‘The questions from the leader of the opposition get worse and worse,” Turnbull said during question time. “He is highlighting one of the most reckless proposals the Labor party has made. Fancy proposing, without any idea of the cost of the abatement, the cost of proposing that 50 per cent of energy had to come from renewables!”
Turnbull then proceeded to list possible alternatives, including “clean coal”, gas-fired generation, carbon storage and planting trees. Even the coal industry doesn’t believe its own marketing about clean coal.
Such rhetoric is not unexpected in a partisan political system. But more had been hoped of Turnbull, particularly after Abbott’s brutal anti-renewables rhetoric had chased away international investors. But Turnbull’s comments are being accompanied by real policy commitments, as once again he repeated his support of Abbott’s “excellent” Direct Action policy, and dismissed the need for the carbon price he long championed.
Hunt has continued from where he left off in the Abbott regime, putting a $633 billion price on Labor’s emissions reduction targets for 2030, which it hasn’t yet decided on, but which Hunt is presuming will be for a 50 per cent cut.
“And there will be a choice at the next election between a policy that is working without increasing the cost of electricity for Australians and Mr Shorten’s policy, which is a $633 billion dollar hit to the economy – on their own modelling of their own policy when they were in government,” Hunt told journalists.
The CCA’s Clive Hamilton has demolished this claim in this piece “Damned lies, Minister Hunt and climate models. Even the analysis commissioned by the Abbott government, from RBA board member Warwick McKibbin, points to the ever so slight difference in costs between the Coalition’s 26-28 per cent target, and a 45 per cent reduction target. And that included assumptions that renewable energy will cost way more than it costs now.
Labor was damming. Environment spokesman Mark Butler noted that renewables enjoyed strong support among the public, and pointed to a Bloomberg New Energy Outlook report that showed that renewable energy will be at 39 per cent by 2030 with no policy change, driven by the uptake of household solar. And he noted that Turnbull had previously used the word “bullsh*t” to describe the policy he now says is “excellent”.
In the Senate, things were not going any better. Unrepentant climate science denier Macdonald continued his long-running tirade against scientists, saying that Australian kids have been brainwashed about climate change, which he described as “just farcical and fanciful.”
Macdonald said: “The children of Australia have been brainwashed into thinking that if we turn off a light in Australia somehow that is going to stop climate change.” He said Australia was once covered in ice. So there.
Meanwhile, there were extraordinary scenes at the Nationals federal conference in Canberra, where an effort to get the party to declare its support for renewable energy was shot down by critics led by long-serving Queensland Senator Ron Boswell and sitting Hinkley MP Keith Pitt.
The motion was also opposed by Queensland National Party Womens’ president Theresa Craig, who described herself as a “scientist” and then proceeded to quote the Heartland Institute, the notorious US think tank that is the leading voice against climate change, and funded by fossil fuel companies.
Craig said research by the Heartland Institute had also said that every job created by the renewable energy sector meant two to three jobs were lost. This is nonsense and comes from discredited research from an obscure researcher at a Spanish university.
Pitt joined in by saying “every single job in renewables is subsidised to $200,000,” and quoting more nonsense that if renewable energy certificates reached $93, then the whole renewable energy scheme would cost $42 billion.
No, not much has changed.