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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the politics of climate change « Previous | |Next »
December 1, 2009

Malcolm Turnbull speaks truth to power, ends up isolated from his party over the ETS, and is forced out of the leadership. The Minchinites link this campaign to cleaning the Wets out of the fractured party, and they argue that this script will deliver them electoral success. What are to make of this scenario?


A three way contest takes place early this morning in Canberra. The rabble that the Liberal opposition has become has changed leaders three times in its first term in the wilderness. Surprisingly, the talk is still about unity in the Liberal party, even though the leadership conflict is also a battle that involves real, and deeply held, ideological and political differences. The politics of climate change has arrived, and it will be increasingly played out over the next decade.

Dennis Glover in The Australian says:

It's not surprising therefore that climate change is starting to pull apart the Liberal Party. Malcolm Turnbull's flawed personality and Tony Abbott's delusional ambition are part of the problem, but the events of the past week can be fully understood only when placed in a wider historical context: this is the first time global warming has produced a leadership struggle in a main political party. Turnbull's agony is the canary in the coalmine, signalling the beginning of the era of climate change politics.

A majority of Liberal Party members appear to agree with the Nationals that electoral victory next year can be achieved by campaigning against the government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.Their talk is that Coalition in a 2010 election could say yes to the idea of combating climate change but no to this ETS model.

So what is their alternative model to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions? Silence. Big silence. All we hear is the talking point that a big tax is going send us all broke--a scare campaign, in other words.

An editorial in The Australian rightly points out the core difficulties in the Minchinite conservative's position:

The Liberals have spent more than a week seriously contemplating fighting the Rudd government in a climate change election, with a policy fashioned by people within their ranks whose position is out of kilter with that of the clear majority of Australians...the Liberals will not regain power without a clear direction as a modern centre-right party, drawing on the traditions of liberalism and conservatism while understanding the changes under way in the electorate.

The editorial says that if the Minchinites prevail, the party will be forced to run parallel campaigns at the next election. A split party will require separate strategies -- one for the bush and provincial seats, where the conservative base rejects the need for action on climate change, and another for suburban seats such as North Sydney and Wentworth.

You would have to reckon that the Minchinites have a big problem in persuading the middle ground of the electorate that it is in Australia's national interest to say no to climate change in 2010. Turnbull was dead right on this. Maybe the Minchinites do want a pared-down, pure party that remains in opposition for a decade or so?

Abbott prevails over Turnbull 42 to 41 with Hockey eliminated on first round. Turnbull looks good in defeat. The Liberal Party will now move to kill off the ETS in the Senate. The 2010 election will be a vote on climate change and not an emissions trading scheme, which Abbott dismisses as a giant energy tax.

Abbott says that so they'll keep the greenhouse reduction targets but Liberals will not support any action that causes pain to the economy or to the energy intensive export industries. The mechanism to achieve targets is unclear. In his Battlelines book Abbott says that his position is a sceptical one and not that of a climate change denier:

Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is man-made and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science, which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations lumbered with major costs, without major cuts in temperatures.

So the issue is is how to achieve this: Abbott, who is a big government conservative and centralist, adds:
It's hard to take climate alarmists all that seriously, though, when they're as ferociously against the one proven technology that could reduce electricity emissions to zero, nuclear power, as they are in favour of urgent reduction in emissions. For many, reducing emissions is a means to achieving a political objective they could not otherwise gain.

He then targets an ETS mechanism:
Another big problem with any Australian emissions reduction scheme is that it would not make a material difference to atmospheric carbon concentrations unless the big international polluters had similar schemes. Australia accounts for about 1 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. At recent rates of growth, China's increase in emissions in about a year could match Australia's entire carbon dioxide output. Without binding universal arrangements, any effort by Australia could turn out to be a futile gesture, damaging local industry but making no appreciable dent in global emissions.

If night is always darkest before the dawn, then Abbott now presents the Liberal Party with an opportunity to recover its conservative soul, and to argue that this is the only way forward for the Liberal Party.

Meanwhile we need to appreciate that virtually nothing has been done to transform Australia’s economy, even though its economy is the most carbon intensive in the world and Australia, emits more than many countries on a per capita basis. Not a single substantive solar energy facility has been built as a result of the current federal government’s policies, though some wind farms have popped up because state governments have committed to having renewable offsets for installations such as desalination plants. Nor have businesses properly prepared themselves to embrace the challenge of energy efficiency.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:58 AM | | Comments (27)


"A majority of Liberal Party members agree with the Nationals that electoral victory can be achieved by campaigning against the government's CPRS".
Thank heaven for that.
I suppose there is always the off chance they'll wake up to themselves, but their absence from government for another three years is certainly a good thought with which to start the day.
Personally, I think the politics of climate change is really just another battle ground on which to fight the old battle of who pays, eg usually the great unwashed.

The Minchinities appears to have forgotten a golden rule of politics that "you fight the battles you can win and minimise the impact of those you can't".---editorial in The Australian

Annabel Crabbe, who has just moved to ABC online (The Drum) from the Sydney Morning Herald, says about the Liberal party:

What is it about this party? Two-and-a-bit years ago, it was running the country. These days, it looks like a speeded-up vaudeville comedy routine, a sort of "Who's on First?" patter in which transitory detail inevitably gives way to the comic effect of the whole.

It's vaudeville

The Liberal party voted for a leadership spill 48 to 34. Then Hockey eliminated Turnbull 26 Abbott 35 Hockey 23. Abbot then wins from Turnbull 42 41. Julie Bishop remains deputy leader. Fran Baily abstained and there was one informal vote.Turnbull comes out of spill with credibility, integrity and reputation intact. ETS martyr. He goes to the backbench and will think about standing for Wentworth in the 2010 election.

That is real closes spill. Liberal party is against climate change, dumps an ETS and are now a 50 50 split party. How can you unify that? The ALP will now draw a clear line between ALP and Coalition on climate change: for and against. The ALP's talking point will be that "The extremists and climate change deniers have taken over the Libs".

The Senate is the current battleground. Around eight Liberal MPs are threatening to cross the floor and vote with Labor on an ETS. What will happen in the Senate? Abbott talks in terms of the ETS as an energy tax and bloated big government. Yet he wants to do something about bipartisan emission reduction targets. A strong and effective climate change policy.

How? What sort of mechanism? Watch this space. I reckon it will unfairly allocate the burden of action to the community instead of the polluters; the Liberal's action will be so weak that it becomes functionally equivalent to inaction; and that the coal-fired generators will keep generating until roughly 2020 or beyond.

There are real electoral consequences here. The ACT Senate seat must now be in play. Gary Humphries the Liberal Senator will have difficult holding this if he does not run against his party's do nothing policy in the next election.

is Humphries up for re-election in the 2010 election? I gather from your comment that he is. Will he be rolled by the Minchin/Abbott Right?

The conflict in the Liberal party hasn’t been resolved, it has shifted gear.

The ALP, who are desperate to have their bad ERTS scheme passed so they don’t have to actually make it focus on reducing emissions. Now they will with a resurgence of The Greens.

Big Business can't be too happy. Turnbull's negotiations gave the corporates their best chance of a massive obligation free cash handout. This is now at risk with Minchin and Abbott dumping it.

The Canberra Press Gallery really got the Liberal leadership struggle dead wrong, even if they were right that Nick Minchin is in charge of the Liberal Party. Here is Michelle Grattan yesterday:

Joe Hockey, the consensus leader-in-waiting, and other Liberal heavies have been trying to persuade Turnbull to abandon his old ways and leave his position without a shoot-out that would further damage his fractured party.Turnbull can't save himself but he can reduce the damage being done by his holding out and insisting he'll run in tomorrow's ballot. His support has gone. Even his hard line supporters know that.

This was the consensus position. They wrote him him off, they all said he'd struggle to get many votes, that he was finished. It was all front, bravado, or perhaps Hitlerian delusion etc etc

Aren't the Canberra Press Gallery supposed to have the inside information from the senior party sources and their finger on the pulse of things? They were not within cooee of what actually happened. iI wasn't even on their radar.

Who would have believed they'd choose Abbott, even if Hockey confused the moderate vote? Loons.

What makes them think Abbott would be any better at uniting them than Turnbull was?

According to Possum, Abbott would have lost if the spill had happened after the upcoming bi-elections, suggesting they'll be split in favour of the moderates next week. Madness.

I take back what I said yesterday about climate change not being a big election issue. but if the ETS is the big election issue, I can't see that working in Labor's favour. Debacle all round.

By jeepers, I wish I had taken closer notice of the cartoon leading the thread.
What a botch.

The botched Labor ETS + the amendments negotiated with Turnbull is now off the table, or soon will be. It will be put to death, thankfully sometime in the next week or so. It deserves to be.

That leaves a space to debate the best mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to the next election; a debate in which The Greens will have a greater say rather than being on the sidelines as they have been.


Territory Senators come up for election with every House of Reps election.

The ACT liberal party does not provide a strong home for Liberals of the Minchin stripe. To get elected they have to represent a middle of the road Liberalism. Think Kate Carnell as their most succesful chief Minister. Not close to Liberal party sources but I would be surprised if he was in any danger from that end.

The problem Gary has is that though he should be safe with Liberal vote of around 35% a couple of points over the quota 33.33% plus one vote - if he drops below the quota by even a minimal amount he is in real danger of getting rolled by either a Green candidate on ALP preferences or the second ALP candidate on Green preferences.

Minchin and Abbot on climate change represent a real problem for him given

Geoffrey Barker reckons that:

turnoil, division and instability seem certain to intensify inside the federal parliamentary Liberal Party following Tony Abbott’s one-vote victory over Malcolm Turnbull in the ballot for the party leadership. If anything, the vote deepens and widens a crippling internal split that has become a struggle for the soul of non-Labor politics.

His position is that the divided Liberals now face the prospect of a catastrophic defeat and years in opposition if Kevin Rudd is tempted to move to an early double dissolution election.

There's still a chance that a sufficient number of Liberals will back the ETS to get it through. Then we'd be stuck with it.

Either way, the Liberal party is going to continue to be the big political story until the next election. That's a bad thing for climate change policy all round, I would think. Anything would appear reasonable with opposition policy being formulated by Minchin and friends.

I've gone to Anthony Green's Election blog and to this DD Half Senate post where the Senate figures for the ACT show Humphries on a quota of 1.03, which is very fine.

Reading Green's post indicates that Labor will increase its primary vote as will The Greens. So the surplus ALP flows to the Greens? That pushes them past Humphries whose primary vote declines below that required for 1.0 quota?

Is that your most likely scenario argument? That is, a more realistic scenario than the ALP gaining 2 quotas, now that the ALP and Greens share power/governance in the ACT?

Green reckons the most likely Green increase comes from Victoria with outside chance in SA (I don't see that SA scenario happening myself)

I cannot see Minchin and Abbott taking too kindly to the social liberals in the Senate crossing the floor to vote for Labor's ETS. I would suspect that the 10 or so who would have done so this morning would have been reduced to a few (Judith Troeth & Susan Boyce) due to political pressure from the party whips.

Despite the strident rhetoric about individual freedom from Abbott and Abetz the preselection of the dissenters would have been threatened, and there is no Howard to protect them, as there was in 2007. How many are prepared to be martyrs? A couple perhaps. Gary Humphries from the ACT, for instance, has backed off fast after having had talks with Abbott.

Abbott is a product of the ‘winner takes all’NSW Liberal Party which so comprehensively and publicly destroyed John Brogden as NSW Opposition Leader a few years ago - knowing that in doing so they were condemning their Party to yet another term in Opposition.

The king is dead!

Long live the king!

Abbott's tune on climate change regularly is different to the quotes in the post. Abbott has attacked as ''climate change alarmists'' those scientists who worked on the peak UN scientific advisory body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and who are warning about the threat from climate change.

Marian Wilkinson in the Age points out that Abbott described them on Four Corners as:

the people who will tell you as if it's as obvious as night following day that we have a huge problem and that unless we dramatically change the way we live, life as we know it will be under massive threat. As I said, there's an evangelical fervour about those people which you don't normally associate with scientists.

And as a member of Malcolm Turnbull's shadow cabinet Abbott cheerfully championed the work of the prominent Australian climate sceptic Professor Ian Plimer:
I think that in response to the IPCC alarmist - ah, in inverted commas - view, there've been quite a lot of other reputable scientific voices. Now not everyone agrees with Ian Plimer's position, but he is a highly credible scientist and he has written what seems like a very well-argued book refuting most of the claims of the climate catastrophists.'

The sceptics inside the party have regained control. They don't believe in climate change and they don't think that we should take any action on climate change.

Yes there is 2 types of skeptics involved here.
We have the climate change skeptics (ccs) and the E.T.S skeptics(etss)
It is foolish to assume that just because a person is an etss they are also a ccs.

Abbott's strategy and message is simple. Fire up the Coalition base with populist crusade in which Abbott and Barnaby Joyce scare the nation about Rudd as a big spending, big taxing Whitlamite, reckless in his pursuit of climate change orthodoxies.

Confronted by an 'unwinnable' election the Liberals will target the old Howard battlers, while the resurgent Nationals would tap into the vein of rural discontent over the CPRS---it is back to the conservative base. They say goodbye to the doctors wives in the cities. No matter the Liberal Party is a conservative party.

Paul Kelly in The Australian says that:

The shift in the Liberal Party has been dramatic and is probably without parallel in the party's history. There were no chiefs and no grand plan behind this result. It is truly the Great Conservative Revolt legitimised by grassroot sentiment.

it is hard to take this seriously in the light of Turnbull's truth to power comments about Minchin's campaign.


The key question is whether the Liberal vote in the ACT drops in response to Abbott and the climate change issue.

If the Liberal vote drops below the quota the Greens will probably get the seat. There is clear evidence from the last election of ALP willingness to give first preference support to a Green candidate given that the other seat in the ACT Senate is safely ALP.

The ALP Senate vote percentge wise, from memory,was below the ALP vote in the Reps seats.

I come back to your original comment that Gary Humphries the Liberal Senator will have difficult holding his seat in the ACT if he does not run against his party's do nothing policy in the next election.

The latest news is that Humphries has backed off crossing the floor of the Senate on the ETS and, by implication, swung in behind Abbot and Minchin anti-ETS stance.

So it looks as if the Liberal Senate vote in the ACT will drop. Humphries is in trouble.

From the Oz Political Forum:

The Liberal Party has gambled.It has elected to be its leader the public's least preferred Liberal candidate, to argue against a position held by a large majority of the population, by trying to scare them into a position that they already hold, and in doing so is betting on the futures of at least 17 marginal seats.

Tough place to be in.

Hockey for shadow treasurer. It would be difficult to measure the damage he's done to his public profile since the Sunrise days.

Is there any truth to the rumour that Bronwyn Bishop could end up on the front bench? In what capacity I wonder? Shadow minister for hair? Spokesperson for frightening small children?


Minister for the Undead?

They could dust off Ruddock and sit them side by side.

And now Barnaby is to move to the front bench. OMG. At least being responsible for something might learn him a thing or two.