A future historian, looking back on the present day Liberal Party, will almost certainly see a dispirited and self-serving rabble fighting for a lost cause.

The always unspoken c-word is at the crux of the debate over action to stem climate change — capitalism. The rampant, freebooting plunder of resources, social as well as physical, that have characterised the economic activity of most western nations for the greater part of the past century and a half has hit a natural barrier. The climate change sceptics, many of whom are in the Liberal Party, are sceptical because their very raison d’etre is under challenge.

A future historian might look with puzzlement at the great pains to which Bob Menzies went to try to hide the special interests that the party of capital really represented, and the ways in which later leaders such as John Howard threw caution to the wind and simply attacked working men and women in a return to overt class war.

The current Liberal Party is resisting change because it simply threatens, for very good reason, the free ride that their form of unlimited capitalist exploitation and expansion has had at the planet’s expense.

Turnbull and company keep on talking about the need to save jobs — as if they care — but what they are really saying is the need to protect profits. Of course, the Liberals will argue that the two are inextricably linked (which they are under present arrangements), but if a future socially minded government (Green, perhaps?) enacted laws that would place restrictions on wildcat strikes by capital, as has been done to virtually outlaw labour strikes, then the equation shifts. If management can no longer run companies, then they should be offered to those who do the actual work, as has happened in some Latin American countries. This would be a genuine democratic advance.

Capitalism, unfortunately, is always resilient and it will evolve, but if a semblance of democracy is to survive then capitalism’s ways and means will increasingly have to be accountable to the people if the planet is to provide sustenance for all and not just the rapacious profits of a powerful few at the majority’s expense. The Liberal Party of 2009 cannot and will not acknowledge this; it simply resorts to scare and fear tactics.

A future historian will look back at the gung-ho neoliberal era of circa 1975-2006 and wonder about its wild excesses and its selective blindness; the present day Liberal Party will no doubt be part of that curious museum exhibit.

Dr Norman Abjorensen is a Visiting Fellow in the School of Social Sciences at the ANU, is author of ‘Leadership and the Liberal Revival: Bolte, Askin and the Post-war Ascendancy’.