“Malcolm, whatever happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull on climate change? You were so impressive when you were leading on climate change. Now you are just implementing Tony Abbott’s policies.”
And with that, Opposition leader Bill Shorten posed the question in the leaders’ debate to which all Australians would like an answer, or at least those who had been hoping that the Turnbull administration might represent a shift from the hardline policies of the Abbott era.
And in the debate on ABC TV last night, we got at least a partial explanation, when Turnbull insisted he was “committed to climate change” but had “paid a high price,” an obvious reference to his removal as Opposition leader in 2009 by Tony Abbott and his climate denying supporters.
And so Turnbull did exactly what Australia has come to expect of him – and the far right of the Coalition has demanded of him – since he replaced Abbott last September: he said Abbott’s policies were more than enough in the current environment – a claim that is called out by The Climate Institute today – that they were costed (!?) and that Australia would take no further action until a bunch of others did.
This is notwithstanding the fact that Australia is a signatory to the Paris climate agreement, and – according to environment minister Greg Hunt’s version of modern history – was instrumental in getting a 1.5°C temperature target in the agreement.
Of course, Australia’s current climate policies get nowhere near what is needed for that target. And when Labor does propose policies that get to the “bare minimum” needed for a 2°C scenario, Turnbull trots out the usual Coalition scare campaign of “huge costs” and “unilateral” decision making.
At least Shorten was refreshing on this matter, pointing to the impacts of taking no action – the sort of impacts that get little or no play in the mainstream media, apart from The Climate Institute’s warning that global warming could impact $88 billion of coastal property.
“That sounds like a scare campaign on climate change again. I feel like we are back in 2013,” Shorten said. “There is a cost to not acting on climate change. We can squib the argument but we won’t. We want to make sure future generations of Australians don’t look back and say, why did you do that?
He went on: “We will have our policies based on the best evidence of the scientists, not the Tony Abbott and the climate change skeptics of the back bench,” and then summed up what those policies would be: a higher renewable energy target (45 per cent by 2030), vehicle efficiency rules, avoided land clearing, an emissions trading scheme.
“We believe you have got to take real action on climate change because we are not going to be a government that passes on harder problems to our kids because we were too scared to act in the best interests of Australia.
“Climate change is not just an issue happening in the Pacific with drowning islands, it is an issue that is affecting cost of living in the next two decades, food security, drought, insurance premiums, sea levels, and the future of the barrier reef.”
These latter points are critical, and in an election campaign that appears focused on “jobs and growth” and “innovation” – seemingly quite fundamental.
In that context it seemed extraordinary that there was no mention of the Coalition’s cut of $1.3 billion from its most innovative agency, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (perhaps because Labor is proposing to cut $1 billion as well), or the heavy handed censorship of the Unesco report on climate impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, particularly as new reports reveal the frightening damage already caused to the reef.
That’s why it would have been good to have Greens leader Richard di Natale in the debate as well. He might have had the presence of mind to ask Turnbull exactly what the costings of his Coalition policy were. No one else seems to know.
But given the wooden performances and the mostly hackneyed slogans of the two leaders of the mainstream parties, it is perhaps not surprising that they don’t want di Natale there. The Greens leader ran rings around deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce and Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon in a “regional debate” on ABC radio last week.
The leaders won’t let that happen to them, they’d rather they kept their cosy duopoly over power than deal with a nosy co-tenant. And mainstream media appears happy for that to be the case.