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.
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.