“Whatever happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull on climate change?”

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It’s the question – posed by Labor leader Bill Shorten – to which most Australians would like an answer.

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epa05049699 Prime minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull delivers a speech as he attends Heads of States' Statements ceremony of the COP21 World Climate Change Conference 2015 in Le Bourget, north of Paris, France, 30 November 2015. The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) is held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December aimed at reaching an international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and curtail climate change. EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON
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“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.

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“Old Malcolm” Turnbull speaking at the Woodford Folk Festival in 2012

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.

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20 Comments
  1. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    Ah Malcom … a likeable fellow and a great antidote (read pain in the backside) for Abbott during Abbott’s most overzealous days. He just needs to be viciously slapped and trotted out onto Q&A.

  2. howardpatr 3 years ago

    Malcolm and the Malcontents

    Reporter: Sarah Ferguson

    Broadcast: 09/11/2009

    Reporter Sarah Ferguson goes inside the conservative parties to find out what the party members really think about climate change and why they’re so reluctant to back their leader.

    In October Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull said, “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”

    It was a potentially dangerous strategy because it tied his leadership to a single issue.

    Roll on to May 2016 and we can understand why Cayman Turnbull has demonstrated no backbone when it comes to climate change and the renewable energy future.

    Turnbull will not want too many closet Mad Monk Abbott supporters to come out – like Craig Kelly, (well known climate change denier), came out just recently.

  3. Farmer Dave 3 years ago

    I have a friend who says that he would like to see Malcolm have another term as PM to see what he can do with a mandate. It’s possible that many Australians agree with my friend, and the problem is that their thinking is based on wishful thinking: that the chains that the far Right of the Liberal Party have placed around Malcolm would dissolve away with the election and the “real Malcolm” would appear. They are dreaming. Firstly, the Right clearly will not go away, and a reduced majority will only encourage them. Secondly, what real evidence is there that this mythical creature, the “real Malcolm” exists? None, that I can see.

    There is clear evidence that Malcolm has no principles, apart from the usual ones of doing almost anything to get into power and to stay there.

    Oh, and I agree, Giles – di Natale should be part of these debates. I thought “choice” was an important part of our market economy? It clearly isn’t important to the major parties! This is another cosy duopoly that needs to be disrupted.

    • Peter Campbell 3 years ago

      People seem to project onto Turnbull what they imagine him to be. I agree that those people could be seriously wrong. Essentially, they are saying they will vote for him because they expect him to do an about-face and break his election promises, but only the promises they want him to break. I don’t believe it.

      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

        At least with a long campaign there should be more time for voters who still believe (hope?) that Turnbull will show his true colours to be disabused of that starry-eyed notion.

        • Carl Raymond S 3 years ago

          The reverse also applies. Malcolm has till month end to say something definitive on carbon constraint. If it appears that those on the far right to whom Malcolm has sold his soul will lose their seats, then he’s got nothing to lose by speaking his own mind.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            But until then?

    • Rob G 3 years ago

      Totally agree. He’s just not worth the risk. Both Labor and the Greens are 100% supportive of climate action. This government is riddled with deniers.

      • Carl Raymond S 3 years ago

        Really? What’s the new carbon tax rate under Labor?

        • solarguy 3 years ago

          3 cents per tonne!

          • Carl Raymond S 3 years ago

            Ok thanks. That’s enough to get my vote.

        • Rob G 3 years ago

          Carbon tax? Huh? You mean ETS?

          • Carl Raymond S 3 years ago

            I don’t mind, either way. Fixed tax strikes me as less red tape.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Dave, couldn’t agree more.

  4. Rob G 3 years ago

    Malcolm has to sit by in silence as Shorten speaks the climate language the he thinks. Furthermore Shorten is getting some real traction with voters on this issue, those who had hoped MT would show his true colours are now looking to Shorten.

    Should Labor win this election, will the LNP review their hapless position on climate change policy? I’d suggest they’d need to in order to stay relevant and viable. Last Friday I heckled my local Liberal member (at my train station) – saying what a big disappointment MT had become. That Direct action was a joke. He said that they would announce more climate policy nearer the poll date and added that Direct Action was working. I said, I knew the numbers and said it wasn’t. I parted and said the needed to get serious on climate change otherwise they were finished! Given recent polls and polls on the importance of Climate Change in the voters mind – I’d say there is a good chance Direct Action and its rhetoric might cost this government this election.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      yippee! And so it shall be done!

  5. solarguy 3 years ago

    I went to high school with Joel, nice guy, but I don’t think he is truly switched on when it comes to RE, though he tells me he’s for it. Anyway I wish I saw the debate.

  6. Leslie Graham 3 years ago

    Like everyone else in his party Turnbull says whatever the coal corporations tell him to say.

  7. Phil 3 years ago

    It really is up to individuals , not just government , to make a difference.They already are in vast numbers with the huge solar panel uptake in the whole country and adoption of energy efficient appliances.

    The next step for consumers is obviously to do the same with transport by purchasing motor vehicles that consume mostly renewable energy sources. And i have no doubt Australians will embrace these in vast numbers like solar once they are affordable .Especially for commuting where there is no public transport.

    One area i believe there is a huge amount of money to be made is some savvy retailers forming a RENEWABLES LOGO that shows how much energy is consumed in manufacturing the product . And the percentage of that that is renewable and non renewable. The same could apply to services such as public transport . And we could highlight how crazy it is that we cant go off grid to use less energy for services like water and sewer as we are locked into those services as a monopoly in the cities especially.

    Lot’s of opportunities in the Energy revolution going begging.

  8. Dispassionate 3 years ago

    “Australia would take no further action until a bunch of others did.”

    This is spot on, we contribute less than 2% of GHG emissions! I’m all for doing our bit but it is a bit like spitting into the wind doing it on our own. So if we are going to push the emissions reduction crusade then let’s do it in the most economic and rational manner. Lowest cost carbon emission reduction should be what we are all pushing for, let’s stop trying to pick winners and politicising it all and do the best we can at a reasonable cost. I will be voting for LNP this coming election.

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