The Liberal leadership will convince enough backbench MPs to approve the Coalition’s amendments to the Government’s ETS legislation in coming weeks.

Contrary to a campaign by the right-wing media, and plenty of effort by the Government to undermine the chances of a deal, Malcolm Turnbull will get enough of his partyroom over the line to set up a dilemma for the Government — does it further weaken an already-ineffectual CPRS and get it passed, or hold out for a double dissolution trigger and allow the issue to continue to undermine Turnbull?

There are two reasons why it’ll happen: the polls, and Turnbull’s tactics.

No matter how you spin the current polling numbers, an election will be a slaughter for the Coalition. Forget the drivel in The Australian about a surging Coalition regional vote. This is the grim reality for the Coalition, as identified yesterday by Possum Comitatus and by several others subsequently: Labor is likely to win at least 100 seats on current polling numbers, in a Ruddquake that will leave any number of shadow ministers, including Christopher Pyne, looking for a new career.

It would be a two-term defeat.

Refusing to deal on the ETS doesn’t just hand the Government a double dissolution trigger, it hands Kevin Rudd the moral high ground: he can point to a simple pigheaded resistance to doing anything about climate change on the part of the Coalition. Ron Boswell and Barnaby Joyce might fantasise about a successful anti-ETS campaign but only because they can’t read the polls, which all show strong support for addressing climate change.

The other number that’s of importance in Coalition thinking is zero. That’s the number of viable contenders there are for the Coalition leadership other than Malcolm Turnbull. That’s also the number of alternatives who wouldn’t adopt the same position on negotiating with the Government. Tony Abbott supports getting the issue off the agenda as quickly as possible. Joe Hockey strongly supports the Turnbull position and has attacked internal critics. Andrew Robb was the centrepiece of the entire strategy.

Fatally undermining Malcolm Turnbull by rejecting his ETS amendments in the partyroom won’t pave the way for any change in approach, no matter how much a small band of diehard sceptics would like it to.

Turnbull has also ensured that the ETS issue is handled within the Coalition not by Greg Hunt, whose support for genuine efforts to address climate change is well-known and long-standing, but by climate sceptics: first Andrew Robb, and now Ian Macfarlane. Macfarlane was a paid-up member of the greenhouse mafia during the Howard years.

Macfarlane also played an important role in August as Energy spokesman in securing support within the Coalition — over National objections — for the Government’s Renewable Energy Target legislation. On the RET, Hunt led negotiations with the Government. This time around its Macfarlane, but it’s the same triumvirate of Turnbull, Hunt and Macfarlane. And when Macfarlane says the Coalition needs to work out a deal, even the sceptics within his party know he’s speaking from the standpoint of political necessity, not ideological conviction.

Meantime Ron Boswell, whose statements are usually a simple confection of ignorance, innumeracy and stupidity, appears to have started on outright deception over whether the Coalition was committed to an ETS at the last election.

“I don’t believe we took an ETS to the last election,” he said yesterday. “I don’t even recall it going through the party room to be truthful.”

A quick check with Liberal sources indicated that an ETS was approved by the Coalition partyroom before the last election — and not “slipped through” as claimed by Boswell. In fact Boswell’s own leader back then, Mark Vaile, specifically talked about the benefits that could flow to agriculture from a properly-designed ETS, in the wake of the Shergold Report.

The Nats can delude themselves all they like about what they said in 2007 and how successful they’ll be in 2010. Their Liberal colleagues live in the real world, and face a particularly unpleasant reality. The Turnbull strategy will succeed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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