‘It is not simply that we are optimistic about an agreement, we are optimistic because we believe we have, as a global community, as humanity, the ability to innovate and imagine the technologies to enable to make these big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.’ Malcolm Turnbull at the United Nations Convention on Climate Change 1 December 2015.
‘From Australia we come from confidence and optimism’, barks PM Turnbull, our very own super-woofer. Now he’s top dog, he won’t stop yapping and nipping at everyone’s heels about how success is just a matter of how you hold your mouth; your positive mind-set, your attitude; how imagining things brings them into being. And it’s free.
Turnbull’s full up to pussy’s bow with rampant corpo-silicon valley technobabble and thinking outside of boxes. You won’t hear a peep, however, about Faustian compromises he’s had to make along the way. These rapidly reveal themselves this week when his promises to the Nationals to keep Abbott’s climate policies, or to repay Mal Brough’s loyalty to his coup help invite an insubordination that could scuttle Captain Smirk along with his starship enterprise.
In Paris he’s as flash as a rat with a gold tooth. An habitual power dresser, he wears the Canali that won him the leadership spill, a suit that could run the country by itself. And possibly still is. Like all top brands, the electricity consumed in its manufacture, marketing and counterfeiting could power a Pacific nation for a year. Or drown it forever.
No-one calculates carbon tax or suggests ‘savings’ or applying an ‘efficiency dividend’ on Mal’s wardrobe. We like his rig; the cut of his jib. For Joe Aston, of the AFR, it is because ‘we are happy to have someone who can dress himself as a PM rather than a theatre usher’. Or an ‘Ansett purser’. Yet ‘Turners’ Turnbull’s climate policy is pure Abbott in its capitulation to the Minerals Council of Australia and the powerful mining industries and interests it represents.
For many Paris is just another form of up-market tag team wrestling match where the theatre of cruelty still matters. Looking the part, too, is almost as important as the size of your backers’ bank accounts. Turnbull, however, knows it pays to play nice to those in the cheap seats; the developing nations. You never know they could get into bed with the Chinese, like all those nations who have rocketed from developing to Chinese satellite status in Africa.
Julie Bishop is tasked with water damage control after Dutton’s sea-water-lapping-at-your-back- door gaffe. She commits a gaffe and a half of her own in the house when she fluffs her rebuttal of Tanya Plibersek by confusing Eneko with Anebok, an island in the Marshalls which has long succumbed to rising water levels. Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum is said to be keen to straighten her out.
Bishop will fix things with the Pacific Islanders when she replaces our Direct Action Man Greg Hunt, Australia’s anti-environment minister in the second week of talks. She is to bring her own mop and bucket. Mal won’t let either of them spend a red cent more. Hunt and Bishop’s air fares alone this year could buy a decent size island in the Marshall group.
Bishop’s foreign aid piggy bank is raided yet again. Australia commits $1 billion over five years to help Pacific nations and other developing countries ‘prepare’ to fight climate change – out of money it is already giving. Canada, by contrast, has pledged a genuine $2.5 billion.
In another piece of shonky accountancy Australia will carve its $1 billion out of the pittance of our aid budget. Also included is the paltry $200 million over four years the government has already stumped up for the UN’s Green Climate Fund. Yet all this giving by taking away and fiddling the figures amounts to a policy masterpiece, according to Hunt.
‘Julie Bishop is a master in this space of delivery of Australian aid in a way which meets our global objectives, our regional objectives, but their national needs,’ he said, yet Bishop has allowed her budget to be plundered twice so that we can spend $3.7 billion more on security and defence over four years. Australian aid will fall to 0.22% of Gross National Income in 2017-18, the lowest level in Australia’s history and against a world trend of increasing commitment. The UK has passed a law to see it meets its increased target of 0.7% of GDP.
As for meeting our regional objectives, most Australians (75%) say ‘helping reduce poverty in poor countries’ is the most important objective. Only 20% of Australians, surveyed by the Lowy Institute, identify ‘promoting Australia’s foreign policy objectives’ as the most important objective of the program.
None of this matters to Turnbull – yet. Things have never looked so rosy to our PM, our own lonely little petunia in an onion patch, posing as the incorrigible optimist on stage. A wayward wisp of comb-over like a fraying silver thread unwinds in the spotlight, hinted at the veteran con-man in Turnbull, a chap more at home dealing in derivatives or finance than clean energy or climate.
Spectacles slightly askew, the former merchant banker could be a superannuated Clark Kent, condemned by age and nature to be cut off forever from any transformative phone-booth. The glad-handed elder salesman you see before you is what you get. Or less. Australia seeks concessions as it did in Kyoto in 1997 to weasel out of any real commitment.
His spiel all down pat, Turnbull moves to the boxy lectern, grasping its sides with both hands, to steady himself, like an up-market delivery boy bearing some over-priced, over-packaged Christmas gift from Macy’s.
Turnbull under-delivers. His spray merely reprises his now far from new innovation evangelist shtick in the Loire room at the Paris Convention on Climate Change, while in the Seine room in a simultaneous but sincere and well-received speech, Canadian PM Trudeau, is pledging his nation to real action, ‘Canada can do more and will.’ Turnbull, on the other hand, might be giving us a heads-up on the first line of some dull new national anthem or corporate-state team song he has just devised. ‘From Australia, we come …’
‘We are not daunted by our challenge’, he postures, while Hunt negotiates to get us off the hook. Australia need do nothing until 2020 about curbing its carbon emissions after it persuades St Lucia and South Africa to allow it the accountancy dodge of carrying over Kyoto credits. In return Hunt won’t commit to a 1.5% rise but instead settles to ‘reference 1.5% in the text’
It inspires us, it energises us’, he says despite mounting evidence of his evading challenges on the domestic front. He is unable to control a growing chorus of dissidents sapping his authority within his own party. His domestic audience will never forgive his indulgent support of Mal Brough, nor his failure to bring a hostile and increasingly insubordinate Tony Abbott to heel. Increasingly, he appears unable and unwilling to put his money where his mouth is.
Mal’s contortionism and his Silicon Valley vocabulary make him a ready crowd-pleaser, a popularity boosted at home and abroad by not being Tony Abbott. For his star turn at the international climate circus, he springs another surprise. Turnbull emerges from the change room in a Leghorn rooster costume. Where is the superman outfit everyone expected? What of Greg’ Hunt’s adenoidal, preppy promises that further climate change pledges would be revealed? World audiences, are, however, not entirely disappointed. Turnbull is to perform his signature routine.
The PM executes a virtuoso performance of his innovative trick unicycle act, wobbling atop a fraying tightrope while pursued by a crazy clown in budgie smugglers bearing a feather duster and a rolled up copy of The Daily Telegraph. Pedalling desperately to stay upright, Mal must negotiate a barrage of inflated Cory Bernardi and Ian McFarlane balloons while side-stepping a deflating, saggy Mal Brough doll which threatens to fall on him from a great height.
Turnbull does not fall. He tips a scuttle of coal all over a New Zealand-led pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. In a great show of tidying up, he tears up the unsigned document from the land of the long white cloud before pulling a ‘Kyoto 2020’ a cute Hello Kitty kawaii type toy rabbit out his hat which overflows with Kyoto carbon credits carried over.
L’Équipe Australie (Team Australia) exits stage right, borne off by a team of Gina Rinehart lookalikes in hard hats singing It’s been a hard day’s night. I’ve been working like a dog to earn my 2 million dollars an hour.‘ Silence. The curtain goes down to a smattering of polite applause, Gallic shrugs and other gesticulations of multicultural bewilderment.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, NAB chief economist and killjoy Alan Oster, reports an unwinding of business confidence with the resolution of the LNP’s leadership jitters while confidence in mining, construction and finance continues to fall because the nation has avoided reality, trusting instead in the hope that resources boom will last forever, a myopia encouraged by our political masters who squandered the proceeds buying votes with tax cuts.
Despite the odd blemish, however, in areas such as export receipts and an economy that needs rebuilding, Oster was all for looking at the bright side of things. We were not a basket case yet. Things may be looking up. Especially if you are in banking – or baskets.
While our big-talking PM is clearly making no ‘big cuts’ to his rhetoric to leaders in Paris, at home all bets on change are off as party deputy Julie Bishop executes the Liberal leadership’s ‘good cop bad cop routine’. For all Environment Minister Hunt’s prior hints that in Paris we might at last get real about our carbon reduction targets, Foreign Minister Bishop abruptly drops her emoji transmission to rise in the lower house on Monday to scotch all rumour of change.
Ethiopia and Rwanda are now doing more for climate change than Australia. Australia is bludging on the efforts of others, Kofi Annan complains. Or sabotaging them.
Bishop publicly reassures the restive right in her own party and its fossil fuel backers, that LNP dinosaurs will still rule. Using Parliamentary privilege, she spells out coalition intentions. Her coal-fired government will not be changing its soft target of 5% reduction, a target too feeble to begin to abate a jot of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions will continue to increase in fact, since Direct Action without a carbon price mechanism provides no means of controlling carbon emitters. It will also continue to Hunt down and crush any upstart renewable energy start-ups.
Innovation is fine as a buzzword it seems, just as long as coal and oil keep their duopoly over Australia’s energy options. Any brash new solar or wind Johnny- come-lately that challenges the dominance of the privileged, government sponsored fossil fuel industry in Australia can expect open opposition from the Abbott/Turnbull coalition. The government will continue to give $7 billion-a-year in fuel tax credits alone to mining and agriculture.
A triumphant Bishop boasts that her government will stick to Tony Abbott’s pledge to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation. After all these will only encourage emerging clean energy technology, Let Turnbull blow his bags abroad about Australia ‘meeting the climate challenge’ through ‘innovation’. It can’t and won’t.
Bishop leaves out the best bit. Given the workload in soothing party throwbacks, hacks and backers, not to mention the psychic energy required to stare down Tony Abbott’s after his recent accusations of deceit and treachery, it is, perhaps, understandable that Ms Bishop neglected to publicly salute her government’s heroic commitment to global warming over the next four years. That’s right. Australia will turn up the thermostat while expecting other countries to dial down their carbon emissions.
Australia will spend money it can’t afford creating future problems no-one needs. $47 billion of government hand-outs is ear-marked for the production and use of fossil fuels such as the Fuel Tax Credit scheme ($27.9 billion over four years), the concessional rate of excise on aviation fuel ($5.5 billion), accelerated depreciation rules ($1.5 billion) and the removal of the carbon price ($12.5 billion).
Turnbull came to power promising better economic leadership. Not only has he failed to show any climate change leadership whatsoever in Paris, a leadership which is now widely seen as fundamental to economic growth and sustainability, he has failed to show he has the bottle to lead his own LNP.
Cracks are appearing in the PM’s charismatic but largely cosmetic authority, a gloss which makes him popular in the nonsense of opinion polls but which does not carry over into day to day political leadership or management. Ian McFarlane is jumping into a Truss-warmed bed with the Nationals in order to get back into Cabinet out of a sense of his own entitlement rather than any notion of service to his nation or party.
Mal Brough’s tawdry involvement in the Slipper affair was sufficiently well-known prior to Turnbull’s rise to power to pre-empt his selection as a supporter by any prudent leader in the making. Once again, Turnbull’s lack of judgement is out in the open.
Tony Abbott just won’t shut up. Whether he opens division and threatens party unity on defence and security doesn’t matter, he is openly defying the authority of his PM. He needs to be brought into line. Then there is the nightmare that is Greg Hunt, a minister who has committed the Turnbull government to an exorbitantly over-priced, unproven and ultimately unworkable emission reduction scheme.
Hunt will return from Paris boasting of illusory victories and the admiration of all nations. Yet he has nothing but bad news for Turnbull. Hunt’s specious arguments and spurious, outrageously far-fetched claims merely serve to highlight the government’s mendacity and its contempt for the electorate’s intelligence. Both of these brought Abbott undone.
Despite the superior cut of his suit and the fluency of his Pollyanna techno-optimism, Turnbull has some serious thinking to do over Christmas if he wants to remain PM after the election that is coming as certainly as the New Year. The ability to bloviate or to ‘imagine and to innovate’ even if it were more than a figment of the PM’s advertising puffery imagination is no substitute for good government.