So Malcolm Turnbull has taken a position on climate change — well, sort of and up to a point.
He does not support the government’s Emissions Trading Scheme, at least not in its present form or on its current timetable. But that doesn’t mean he’s suddenly become a climate change sceptic; no, perish the thought.
He definitely wants to do something but he’s not sure quite what or when. It’s just that he believes the government’s scheme will cost jobs and won’t save the environment. He, in contrast, wants a scheme which will cost nothing and achieve everything, and he’s going to continue to look for it.
And right after he’s perfected clean coal and controlled nuclear fusion, he’ll be able to announce something, that is if it’s acceptable to the party room and okay with Barnaby Joyce and Peter Costello, not to mention various anonymous donors to the Liberal Party.
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We should not, however, hold our collective breath. The last even vaguely coherent position Turnbull held on climate change was dedicated support for an Emissions Trading Scheme, but not yet — not until 2011 or better still 2012, and that was before the global financial crisis hit. Now, of course, it will almost certainly have to be postponed still further, whatever it is that he actually wants to do.
Thus, it would seem that if Turnbull has not become a climate change sceptic, he has at least become a climate change procrastinator. But incredibly, the double talk which received rapturous applause at the Liberal Party’s weekend talkfest and even more fulsome (yes, fulsome; check its original meaning) praise from Tony Abbott was also welcomed by the Greens. Christine Milne said it meant the real climate change debate could now begin.
But the way, it is now shaping up it looks less like a debate than what our Prime Minister might describe as a political shitstorm. The Greens, of course, want serious action, and they want it now. The coalition, on the contrary, wants to do nothing of any moment for as long as possible. The only ground they have in common is the stated conviction that the government’s plan will not save the environment.
And of course they are both right, but at least it’s an acknowledgement that the problem is urgent, and a start has to be made, and surely this, in Penny Wong’s somewhat half-hearted call to arms, is better than nothing. The 5% reduction target was a huge disappointment to those who had hoped Kevin Rudd was preparing to lead an international crusade, when it was announced last year, but in the present context of looming recession it can be seen as an act of political realism.
The landscape has changed, which is why Turnbull feels able to take the stance he has; his party’s hardening attitude against climate change coincides with an increasing reluctance in the electorate to pay any economic or social cost for attacking it, although the majority still accepts that the threat exists and has to be faced.
To some extent, this waning in public support for serious and urgent action is Kevin Rudd’s own fault. As Treasury modelling has shown, the real cost of the government plan is minimal, and would still be paltry even if the target was increased fivefold. And as the report by Sir Nicholas Stern that set the ball rolling a year and a half ago made clear, action on climate change should not be seen as an unalloyed burden; viewed properly it can be seen as an opportunity to develop new industries and infrastructure and provide a long term alternative to the current fossil-fuelled international economy.
There is a strong case for effective action that will not cost a lot of jobs and in any case even the most hidebound economists agree that if climate change is real, the cost of tackling it immediately will be far less than the cost of holding off until things really go bad.
But Rudd, preoccupied with saving the world from what he now calls the global financial cyclone, has effectively removed himself from the debate, leaving the ground to the vested interests of industry and to the man who has now become their mouthpiece, Malcolm Turnbull.
When we elected him we expected better and some of us still do. Kevin, get the finger out.
We know he is still capable of genuine reform; the government’s decision to end the ban on foreign aid for family planning which might include some form of abortion proves it.
Scrapping this grubby deal made by John Howard to ensure the support of the fanatical senator Brian Harradine was long overdue, and the fact that Rudd was prepared to do it against his personal belief shows a real commitment to the democratic process.
Zealots have warned of an electoral backlash, and there is some risk of it, but the government has acted rationally, courageously and correctly and deserves due credit.
Which is more than can be said for The Australian newspaper, which last week expressed shock, horror and outrage that a handful of prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay had actually returned to Afghanistan and were fighting for the Taliban — indeed, one had become a commander.
Gee, you’d think a few years of solitary confinement, abuse and a spot of soft torture would have taught them to love and respect the American way, wouldn’t you. Ungrateful bastards. It just goes to show you can’t negotiate with them. Send in more troops and take no prisoners. The war on terror will never end.