In October 2009, Malcolm Turnbull, then leader of the Federal Opposition made the statement: “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.” Tying his leadership to this single issue was too much for the halfwit climate change deniers in the Coalition1. It was, with the bizarre OzCar Affair2, to lead to Turnbull’s demise as Opposition Leader at the hands of Tony Abbott.
Abbott, as Opposition Leader, won the 2013 Federal Election, and turned out to be such a disaster that he was dumped in September 2015 and replaced by Turnbull, after almost losing the leadership to an empty chair some months earlier3. Abbott has been sniping at Turnbull ever since, and is part of the reason the Government has just lost its 38th Newspoll in a row, eight more than Abbott when the latter was rolled4.
One could be forgiven for assuming that with the demise of Abbott, his policies, such as they were, would have been replaced by policies vaguely more sensible. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Turnbull has turned out the be a massive disappointment3, seemingly only being concerned with being Prime Minister, and nothing else. The jettisoning of his principle of not leading a party uncommitted to dealing with climate change was exemplified by the development of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) policy, which is essentially a policy you have when you have to be seen to have a policy but don’t want to have one5, for fear of upsetting the climate change deniers in the Coalition.
Although the NEG is essentially designed to do nothing, the far-right religious rump of climate change deniers in the Coalition still seem to think it will do too much, especially in decreasing emissions by legislating the Paris decrease. Several have suggested that they would cross the floor should the current version of the NEG come up for a vote on the floor of Parliament, which would not be a good look for Turnbull. So what did Turnbull do? He caved in and removed the Paris emissions targets from the legislation and will include them in regulations. This is something he sneered at last Tuesday: “ Labor wants to have it done by regulation so that the Parliament would not have a voice… Now, we believe in democracy. We believe that Parliament should have a say in this and so, if we legislate that, then a subsequent government…would have to persuade both houses of parliament to make any change to it, and that is great security”6. The removal of these targets and including them in regulations rather than the legislation is something that the Labor opposition and the states have been demanding. This will be to allow them to more easily ratchet up the targets in future7. If Turnbull can get the Labor Party to vote for the NEG, then all the climate change denying fruitcakes could cross the floor and it would be to no avail. Turnbull may have actually outmanoeuvred the far right of the Coalition. There has to be a first time for everything.