Malcolm Turnbull was as frank as any leading Australian politician in living memory when he spoke with Laurie Oakes on the Nine network at the weekend … his Strangelove moment, as Guy Rundle describes it in today’s Crikey edition. It was an exchange that had the whiff of legend about it.

MT: Look the Minchin-ites do not want to delay consideration of the legislation, they do not believe that climate change is real, they do not believe that humans are causing it and they do not want to do anything about it. Nick Minchin made that very clear in the Four Corners programme as did a number of his acolytes. What he is trying, what he is is a climate change denier.  He stands for doing nothing on climate change.  He said a majority of our party room do not believe that humans have any impact on climate change. Now that is a view contrary to the opinion of the vast majority of Australians, contrary to the opinion of every government in the world, and every major political party in the world. Now, if Nick Minchin wins, if he wins this battle, he condemns our party to irrelevance, because what he is saying on one of the greatest issues and challenges of our time, one that will affect the future of the planet and the future of our children and their children, Nick Minchin is staying “do nothing”. He wants us to be the “do nothing on climate change” party and he has been, he’s on the record about that, and when he talks about a delay or a deferral, what that means is denial.

LO: But if you …

MT: That is political death for us.

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LO: If you agree to delay, you could probably save your leadership and live to fight another day.  You must know in your heart that you are going to get done on Tuesday?

MT: Laurie, I will win on Tuesday and I am not interested in becoming a mouth piece or a Patsy or a tool for people whose views are completely wrong and are contrary to the best interests of our nation, our planet and indeed the Liberal Party. Just remember this, John Howard was a noted sceptic about climate change, he had doubts about the science. But John was enough of a leader to recognise that we had to act. And the emissions trading scheme that is currently in the Parliament this coming week and which must be passed this week is one which is very similar to the scheme that John Howard took to the last election, John Howard himself has said that. Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews for that matter, were in that Cabinet. They didn’t object, they went along with it and now they say “We didn’t ever believe in it”.  What does that say about their integrity.

LO: But this is destroying the Liberal Party.

MT: Well they are destroying the Liberal Party, there is a recklessness and a wilfulness in these men which is going to destroy the Liberal Party. Remember this: we took an ETS to the last election.  John Howard did.  We then had a party room meeting back in October in which we overwhelmingly agreed to take a set of amendments, Rudd’s ETS to the government. And the basis of that negotiation was if you agree with what we’re asking, or enough of it, to satisfy us, then we will vote it through.  Then we will give you what we want, we will pass the bill with our amendments. We achieved massive concessions, everyone was amazed how much the government gave us. We went back to the party room, and as you have note in your column the party room, by a majority, not a huge majority to be fair, but by a majority, agreed with the recommendation of the Shadow Cabinet. So we shook hands with the government, an agreement was done and we agreed to support those amendments.

LO: Then the Liberal Party fell apart, now…

MT: No, no, no, what …

LO: If you survive on Tuesday, the Liberal Party will remain bitterly divided, it will remain in meltdown won’t it?

MT: Laurie that’s not the… look, the only way the Liberal Party can get over this is to get this issue passed. If this issue is not resolved, the climate change war that Nick Minchin and his wreckers have started will continue to destroy the Liberal Party until such time as we are destroyed by Kevin Rudd in an election.

We reckon he’s on the money, but as we now know, Turnbull’s view of both ecological and political reality is unlikely to hold sway. His passing … it seems inevitable now … is a sad one. Sad for Turnbull, sad for the Liberals and sad for public life in this country. A public life that may never see his like, and on the basis of his unhappy experience may struggle in the future to attract a man of his mettle.

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