The other week I perhaps foolishly employed the Hitchcockian concept of the MacGuffin to explain why exactly our political system was convulsing over Copenhagen.

This week we’ve gone downmarket into revenge action territory.

You know how those films go. Or, at least, you would if you’d watched as many dud action films as I have. The hero, usually a special forces veteran or career crim, is betrayed by his colleagues and left for dead. Over the next 90 minutes, the old pro, who has forgotten more than most of his young adversaries have ever learnt, exacts grisly revenge. The first reaction is confusion, then confidence the threat can be dealt with, before abject terror overtakes the remaining few as they’re hunted down.

That’s pretty much what Malcolm Turnbull is playing out right now.

Last week he expressed disappointment that the CPRS bills were defeated. Amid the excitement of the new leadership, no one really paid heed to it. But then he pointed out that it was impossible to have an effective emissions reduction program that did not cost something, and an ETS was the least-cost option.

That could’ve been put down to Turnbull’s residual anger at his defeat. But surely, like just about every other defeated leader, he’d fall into line or resign.

Not quite. Yesterday, perhaps after walking the dogs and while he enjoyed a leisurely coffee, he knocked out a blog post that delivered a missile bang into the heart of the Abbott pretence that there was some easy, cost-free solution to climate change.

Turnbull’s comments were all the more savage because everyone knows they’re true. The Liberal Party is now run by climate denialists who only feign interest in addressing carbon emissions for political reasons and whose policies reflect their view that there’s no problem to fix. The media know it, Liberal moderates know it, the Government knows it. To employ a cliché beloved of conservative political commentators, Turnbull has pointed out that the new emperor has no clothes, or perhaps only a wholly inadequate pair of swimmers.

Indeed, in its comprehensive demolition of a costless way to reduce emissions and its hilarious character analysis of Tony Abbott – “mate, mate, I know I’m a weather vane on this” – it could have been written by Labor – except it was better and funnier.

It also served notice that anything said in shadow cabinet on the climate change issue in the last two years by those still remaining may become public. It may be unfair to suggest that Turnbull has any form on the issue of leaking cabinet deliberations, but there are some who have cruelly suggested as much.

Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin set the ground rules for this battle. In short, there are no rules: the conservatives did whatever it took to end Turnbull’s leadership. And, really, that’s the way Turnbull prefers it. He has always had a cavalier approach to the règles de combat. The behaviour of Minchin and Abbott and Abetz and the rest of their reactionary crew have given Turnbull licence to do whatever he likes, and he’s more than happy to use it.

The outburst earned criticism from the right-wing media, but since the same media outlets actively tried to undermine Turnbull’s leadership, that’s hardly surprising.

Abbott immediately called a press conference, and then point-blank refused to mention the name of his tormentor. It’s a tactic from the basics of media management that in this case merely served to show how much Turnbull had rattled Abbott.

Abbott would have been better noting that Turnbull is not used to losing, evidently wasn’t very good at it, but that a secret ballot of his partyroom had confirmed strong opposition to the CPRS deal.

Turnbull may have been a terrible Opposition leader but he’s a brilliant fighter. He’s after Abbott and Minchin. Anyone else who gets in the way, like Greg Hunt, who has suspended his belief in an ETS for the sake of being point man on Abbott’s magic pudding solution, will be collateral damage, but Turnbull won’t care.

Abbott and Minchin are about to join the long line of people who have discovered you pick a fight with this bloke at your peril.

Peter Fray

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