Yesterday was a perfect encapsulation of Malcolm Turnbull’s problems on climate change.
He’s up against a highly-skilled political opponent at the top of his game and who is gunning for him, in the Prime Minister. And his own support in the party is being undermined by a clutch of self-serving conservatives who are politically tone-deaf.
Robert Hill’s appointment to head the Carbon Trust is a particularly Ruddian masterstroke, different from anything John Howard did even when he was at the height of his political wizardry in 2001-04. It continues Rudd’s eager but selective embrace of bipartisanship, but is directed at the wholly partisan goal of increasing pressure on the Coalition by demonstrating one of its own — and one of Turnbull’s predecessors in the Environment portfolio, yet — is in the Labor tent on the issue.
Not that Hill will have much to do. The Carbon Trust is the Government’s surreal response to the complaint that under an ETS your average punter could reduce their emissions all they liked and it would only reduce the cost of the permits big polluters will buy to continue pumping out more and more carbon. Under the Trust, you’ll be able to donate to a fund that will buy and retire permits.
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The catch is that the biggest polluters are getting nearly all their permits for free and the price of the remainder won’t be affected by anything the Carbon Trust does because polluters can buy permits on the international market. Having spent good money buying a solar unit or increasing your energy efficiency, would you then go and waste money buying permits that won’t affect the carbon price anyway?
That’s almost as addled an idea as what Wilson Tuckey must have been thinking when he decided to email all his colleagues yesterday afternoon attacking the “arrogance and inexperience of our Leader”. Tuckey’s complaint — although he didn’t voice it in the email, but separately — is that Turnbull is moving beyond the position agreed in the joint party room that there would be no vote on the Government’s ETS until 2010.
“Our leader is again out there shifting the goal posts, well beyond the decision taken in the partyroom,” Tuckey told the ABC.
This echoes Ron Boswell’s complaint yesterday. “The Coalition joint partyroom decided that the legislation would be opposed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate,” Boswell, presumably drawing himself up to his full height, declared. “Any decision to change that policy must be taken by the joint partyroom to have authority.”
What a couple of hypocrites.
It’s barely a month since Wilson Tuckey, in defiance of the partyroom decision not to oppose the Government’s alcopops excise increase, insisted on a vote in the House of Representatives on the relevant bill and crossed the floor. And it’s little more than a week since Ron Boswell defied the joint partyroom to insist that the Nationals did not yet support a 20% Renewable Energy Target, which the Coalition has backed if and when the Government ends its crass stunt of linking it to the CPRS bill.
Clearly the will of the partyroom is only sacrosanct for Boswell and Tuckey when they agree with it.
Boswell and the Nationals don’t really matter. They’re not going to vote for anything. Tuckey, the mad uncle of Parliament, doesn’t matter much either. But — as some Coalition respondents to Tuckey immediately pointed out — it creates the impression of disunity, which Penny Wong is eager to foster.
“The Coalition is in disarray,” she declared this morning, before going on to make the inevitable point that it was all about Malcolm Turnbull. It’d be blatant political point-scoring except that we know the Opposition is always just a brain explosion away from another stupidity on climate change. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Tony Abbott — allegedly now all better after eighteen months of being a tiresome loudmouth — decided, without prompting, to declare on a blog that he wanted a carbon tax rather than an ETS.
If the issue isn’t dealt with in August, those sorts of things — the dumb emails, the interventions from shadow ministers like Abbott who can’t manage to stay interested in their own portfolios, the blathering of the Nationals — will continue, keeping the focus on the Opposition rather than on the Government, which has been a huge problem for the Coalition since November 2007.
It’s not entirely about a double dissolution trigger. The Government will get one from its electoral reform bill, if Michael Ronaldson continues to insist on opposing reforms like a $1000 threshold for reporting donations and a ban on foreign donations. That bill has been knocked back once this year already and will come back between now and the end of the year. But the Government wouldn’t be able to go to an election before early next year anyway, and by then it’s getting close to full term. However, Turnbull will be aware that climate change is an open wound for the Coalition. It’s not particularly serious, but it will continue to bleed until some form of ETS is passed.
Those who want to wait until February or March for a vote must think a strange and entirely unprecedented attack of discipline will overcome Coalition MPs between now and then. Maybe Tuckey’s email will disabuse them of that idea. Turnbull is right to try to get the issue resolved one way or the other as quickly as possible.