“You won’t find an economist anywhere that will tell you anything other than that the most efficient and effective way to cut emissions is by putting a price on carbon.”
Malcolm Turnbull Q&A 5 July 2010
Dark clouds descend over Malcolm Turnbull’s future and over any vestige of hope his government will do anything real to reduce carbon pollution as the worst week of the PM’s disappointing political career exposes the disturbing truth of his utter captivity by the right-wing of his party. His bad week ends not with a bang but a whimper.
“Say it ain’t so Bro,” he tweets his pal John Key, on hearing of the Kiwi PM’s decision to abandon his very neoliberal ship. It’s a message his bestie could easily have sent him on report of his week’s epic failure.
Forced to choose between his Chief Scientist’s advice and an ETS which could help save Australia and the planet from global warming, or appeasing Cory Bernardi and the lunatic right, the PM plumps for keeping the nut jobs on side. It’s not so much political pragmatism as total capitulation. And political suicide.
Turnbull’s monumental failure of ticker triggers a chorus of scorn and disbelief. There is just too much on public record of Turnbull’s earlier passionate advocacy of carbon pricing to leave him a skerrick of credibility. He is too quick, moreover, to throw Josh Frydenberg under a bus.
Turnbull is “the most ineffective conservative prime minister since Billy McMahon” says Kevin Rudd whose record is obligingly besmirched this week by a fake report purporting to come from Treasury which challenges his stewardship of the economy in the GFC. Even Michelle Grattan reckons he’s run up a credibility deficit. Katherine Murphy drops the torch she holds for her PM to tell him he’s “gutless” and “talking crap”.
An expired Liberal leader, resurrected as leader with fanfare, primarily because he was not Tony Abbott, his stocks boosted by the willing suspension of disbelief and the wilful suppression of any memory of his original failure, Turnbull’s prime ministership is beginning to look a bit like the dead parrot in the Monty Python sketch.
“… (the) only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there…”
Nailing the lid on the environmental and economic management coffin, is news that Adani is to proceed with its Carmichael mine, thanks to a generous government coal lobby love-in subsidy, in the form of a $1 billion rail loan from the slush fund created by the grandly titled pie in the sky North Australia Infrastructure Facility. Who could now heed a coalition which cries poor to make its case to cut funds to health, welfare and education and slash its public service workforce?
And how doubly untrue Sunday, is its claim funding two weeks’ domestic violence leave will damage the great god the economy? As Labor’s family violence spokeswoman, Terri Butler, point outs “It’s domestic violence, not domestic violence leave, that costs our economy and harms our international competitiveness, citing KPMG research that estimated domestic violence cost Australia $13b a year.
In one stroke, the Turnbull government proves it does not give a fig for the environment, global warming or its responsibilities as a world citizen and that it is prepared to tear up any social contract, renounce any commitment to a fair and just society. Let it regurgitate the propaganda of the mining and business lobbies. The Adani approval is a fatal error.
Federal Northern Australia Minister, Matt Canavan, tellingly says it is the “biggest news for North Queensland since the Beatles came to Australia”. Sadly, his government’s view of the environment is also stuck in 1964.
Mainstream media spins outrageous fictions, long disproved, about the mine creating masses of jobs despite Adani’s own testimony in the Queensland Land Court last year of 1464 full-time jobs. “Bring millions of Indians out of poverty” recites Adani Australia chief executive officer Jeyakumar Janakaraj in a bare-faced lie straight from Peabody Energy’s website, a wilful piece of coal industry propaganda which flies entirely in the face of the facts. 84% of India’s poor live in rural areas beyond the reach of the grid. Those who don’t, can’t afford the prices.
Coal is a slayer not a saviour of the poor. One Indian study found that in 2011-12 exposure to pollution from coal-fired power plants killed at least 80,000 Indians and inflicted health problems on tens of millions more. In Queensland, last year, black lung was reported to have returned to the industry, causing the deaths of four miners and potentially putting thousands more at risk. The monitoring system appears to have failed.
Failing us too are our leaders. Nowhere in the national energy conversation is there room for truth. Along with Resources Minister Matt Canavan, Labor Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk ought to be charged with wilful deception. She keenly recycles the mining lobby’s lies of ten thousand jobs. Nowhere is there mention of the adverse effects on the Great Barrier Reef due to the mine’s use.
Nor are miners good tax payers. Energy and resources sectors have the highest level of non-payment. Fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil Australia, Chevron Australia, Peabody Australia, and Whitehaven are among those that paid no tax for 2013-14.
If they can’t be good corporate citizens, bugger the planet. Last year, in a brilliant bit of sophistry, Greg Hunt argued that the global warming achieved by burning the coal exported from Carmichael was not significant when calculating environmental effects.
Nowhere is there any admission that no Australian bank is prepared to fund the world’s largest new mine. The railway subsidy offer is received with great ceremony but Adani is in no state to begin digging. A sense of national leadership in abdication, a commonwealth in disarray is heightened as Australia is torn between appeasing the demands of the declining mining states of Queensland and Western Australia and the needs of the rest of the Commonwealth. Above all is the stench of appeasement at any price.
Crushed by the burden of a nation’s unmet expectations and led on a leash by the rabid right, the weary PM picks his way out of COAG alone, Friday, cursing his self-inflicted, self-funded fate and his overweening ambition for leading him to believe he could be PM at any price. Any price except a carbon price.
Monday begins well, for the planet and common sense. Josh Frydenberg is a model of reasoned moderation on ABC radio, “We know that there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We’ll look at that.”
Frydenberg is merely faintly reflecting his own party’s former policy. The record is clear. “The Liberal Party has a policy of both protecting the planet and protecting Australia. We support, in principle, an Emissions Trading Scheme” trills Julie Bishop in an electorate newsletter, September 2008.
Greg Hunt, best minister in Dubai’s view of world 2015, ever generous with superlative, gushes with praise for St John Howard, Liberator of Iraq, spinning his crafty bet-hedging on carbon tax in May 2008 as visionary , “Perhaps the most important domestic policy was the decision of the Howard government that Australia will implement a national carbon trading system. … We hope that the new government will take up this proposal.”
Federal Treasurer Scott “pothole” Morrison was all for embracing an ETS in June 2009. “There are a suite of tools we need to embrace to reduce emissions. I believe an emissions trading scheme, in one form or another, is one of those tools. Placing a price on carbon … is inevitable.”
Even captain turn-back himself was on board with an ETS. “You cannot have a climate change policy without supporting this ETS at this time,” Tony Abbott babbled in 2009, support the suppository of wisdom now says he never gave. Onya, Tone. Play your cards right and you’ll be back on the PM perch in no time. Dead set.
In the same year, Steve Ciobo, who has since moved on to lead the free trade happy clappers church, was all prophetic vision and pious intent “We want to work constructively because we recognise that in the future around the world in most developed economies if not all there will be an ETS of some sort.”
“We went to the last election with an ETS policy—many have forgotten that fact,” Sussan Ley lectures in 2009. Little did she know then how completely her party would renounce its vision. Malcolm Turnbull has not forgotten. Although his defeat was largely because then, as now, he was unable to unite and lead his team, he still needs to blame his defeat on his support of an ETS. It couldn’t have been his leadership.
Hansard records many other Coalition politicians who were to deny their faith; becoming hypocrites and converts to the Direct Action boondoggle as the price of their loyalty to Abbott; pinning their hopes to their party’s dazzling, rising star in lycra Tony Abbott who won his ascendancy over Turnbull by one vote and sealed it with a crusade against what he falsely called a carbon tax and its supporters in the 2013 election.
With all of its previous advocacy on board, the Coalition’s modern allergy to anything to do with an ETS is even more shocking – and yet another toxic legacy of the hyper-partisan Abbott era where carbon emissions were a stick to beat Labor.
Barely has Frydenberg shut his mouth before the air is filled with shrieks of heresy and the grinding of pitchforks. By Wednesday, after cabinet meets to force him to recant, the early worm is given the bird; Fry-in-hell Frydenberg is forced to retract, rescind and disavow in a Hobart news conference. He ships out to Antarctica, as you do. An ETS, his PM thunders, rising to cleanse the broad church of the Liberal Party from the sulphuric stench of climate apostasy, is dead buried and cremated. Wash your mouth out with coal tar soap.
Craig Kelly, coal fire in his belly, goes on ABC to reprise a Tony Abbott standard about power bills, lamb roasts and a Bee Gees’ inspired song about the lights all going out in old Whyalla. Barnaby Joyce echoes his former master’s voice. Even Turnbull lapdog, mincing poodle Christopher Pyne, yaps in time to the music, nipping the hand that feeds him along with a small army of defence contractors who are laughing all the way to the bank.
It’s all too much for South Australian PM, jolting Jay Weatherill, who publicly rebukes the PM for heading a government “clearly bought and sold by the coal club”. He invokes Turnbull’s commitment to “mature evidence-based policy” communicated “through sophisticated explanation rather than infantile slogans”. He says “that’s all we are asking for here”. Turnbull looks as if he’s made to look a complete fraud and a fool. He has.
Weatherill accuses the PM of ignoring his own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, and for “mischievous” lying about an ETS pushing prices up. Finkel and others have the figures to show it won’t. Weatherill won’t let up. “Many Australians were optimistic that Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership would provide us with sensible policy debate and action in the national interest. After this week’s events, any remaining optimism has now evaporated.”
The truth clearly hurts. Yet repeating the myths and clichés of coal lobby propaganda will cost more. Weatherill warns Turnbull his job is at stake. “The Prime Minister lost his job in relation to a decision back a few years ago. It would be a great irony if he was to lose his job for a second time being on the opposite side of the debate.” Ouch.
Turnbull’s coal-powered government has been attacking Weatherill for months, assisted by the ABC and led by News Corp’s The Australian, falsely accusing him of setting “reckless” and “ideologically-driven” targets for renewable energy generation which have compounded the state’s massive power outage and threatened the state’s “energy security.” In reality, electricity prices soared when power was privatised and were helpfully boosted by Tony Abbott’s 2013 ten per cent bonus to power companies for investment in poles and wires which has raised costs to consumers by fifty per cent.
Now Turnbull backs into the blades of a spinning wind turbine. Or several. He, again, shows his utter contempt for the electorate. As Bernard Keane points out, “he has ratified an international agreement to reduce our emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030 and has nothing that will achieve even that unambitious target.”
Less popular now than his predecessor Tony Abbott, when he deposed him, his political credit long spent, a weak, forsaken leader of a bitterly divided Coalition, he further shrinks to a bad Abbott caricature over carbon. His humiliating back-down on just a hint of a discussion paper on an emissions trading scheme, provokes a storm of media criticism and bad publicity. SA talks of going it alone on carbon pricing and Victoria pleads for real leadership. Has ever a Prime Minister been so comprehensively routed?
Monday’s announcement of his government’s long scheduled review of Direct Action which would include a system of baseline and credit carbon permits for electricity generators only is rescinded, even denied by Josh Frydenberg but 36 hours later, an ignoble retreat in panic at the prospect of a party room revolt.
Cory Bernardi, his courage up after three months in New York observing the UN and the rise of Donald Trump, spearheads the attack calling his government’s plans to consider some form of ETS, “one of the dumbest things he had ever heard”. From Beastie Boy Cory Bernardi, that is saying something.
Sunday, Cory’s all over the media protesting that Centrelink is authorising polygamy, by making payments to Muslims with several wives. Miranda Devine and Peta Credlin quickly leap on the Muslim-PC-welfare bashing bandwagon. “Just completely ridiculous” barks Belgian Shepherd Mathias Cormann, the alternative is a single parent payment which is more expensive than a partner payment. But it’s about the Islamophobic dog-whistle not the cost to the budget. Imagine what these gurus could do if 18C were repealed.
Environmental warrior Bernardi echoes Trump in calling for Australia to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, “for the good of the country”. He also falsely claims the move would drive down power prices, a line coalition members are queuing up to repeat in the most recent set of government post-truth talking points.
“Hardworking Australians”, as Turnbull likes to divide us, are left to wonder who is running the country, a puzzle which is not eased by the release of figures showing a quarter of negative growth, a contraction in GDP of 0.5%. By cutting public spending and failing to invest in infrastructure, Scott Morrison is depressing the economy; sloganeering about jobs and growth yet delivering neither. He pretends the news is a surprise.
In an admission, surely, that his government has been asleep at the wheel for the past four years, he candidly calls the bad figures as a “wake-up call”. What he means is that Labor should get behind the corporate tax cuts, an imperative which is somewhat undermined by the release this week by the ATO of figures which show that a third of companies paid no tax last financial year with QANTAS heading the list.
Who is in charge? It’s “The Cory Bernardi government” runs a popular tweet as Turnbull’s right wing masters, yank him ignominiously into line with their climate-change denying, coal-industry serving and anti-Labor stance. We won’t meet our Paris climate change targets, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel warns COAG, and avoiding an ETS will add $15 billion to the cost of electricity, over a decade, but our government plans to do nothing about it.
Instead, in another capitulation to the Nationals, COAG agrees to import the Adler shotgun. A press release Friday, stresses “heavy restrictions” in an indictment of the Federal government’s evasion of real leadership and effective decision-making unrivalled since its backpacker tax fiasco last week.
The seven-shot model Adler A110 is restricted to professional shooters prompting howls of outrage from the shooters, fishers and farmers party yet the five-shot model is re-classified B, from A where it sat alongside air rifles, yet still putting a semi-automatic shotgun within the reach of a wide sector of the population. Experts attest to the ease with which this model can be modified to an eleven-shot without reloading weapon. Somehow, Turnbull tries to spin the result as a good thing.
‘This is the first time the national firearms agreement has been strengthened in this way in 20 years,’ he tells reporters.
Turnbull is not alone in his humiliating carbon back down. Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is forced to deny from Antarctica that he ever suggested emission trading schemes, despite clearly announcing this Monday in foreshadowing his government’s proposed review of energy policy scheduled for 2017.
It’s “an extraordinary, gutless capitulation” writes Turnbull admirer Katharine Murphy. Frydenberg’s lie is quickly exposed by ABC TV and radio news which replays recording of the Minister’s Monday media release.
Help is on its way. Pauline Hanson’s recent flying visit to Launceston confirms reports that One Nation plans to expand into Tasmania. Although her party invariably votes for the government it is nice to offer the people of Tasmania the illusion of choice. Interviewed in her bathers, as she subjects the Great Barrier Reef to her empirical testing, only 1300 km south of where the coral is bleaching, she is a model of lucidity:
“We are being controlled by the UN and these agreements that have been done for people’s self-interest and where they are driving our nation as a sovereignty and the economics of the whole lot,” Hanson tells an adoring media in her best, incoherent, manner. Please explain? You can’t. But it makes as much sense as current flip-flop, appease-the-right-at-all-costs, post-truth coal-lobby Coalition policy.