Malcolm Turnbull will be sorely missed by the Liberal Party. I fear that, without him, the Liberals will be stuck for longer than they otherwise might have been in the far right and anti-environmental groove John Howard created for them.
But while remembering and mourning Malcolm and eulogising his commitment to climate action, let’s remember his final act, the principled stand which he staked – and lost – his leadership on: a dirty deal on the CPRS.
I was one of many, it seems, who was extremely impressed by Turnbull’s statement the night he didn’t lose the leadership of his party, and, later, his speech in the House of Reps before crossing the floor to support the CPRS. He undoubtedly communicated boldly and strongly and set out the unequivocal need to act on the climate crisis. But it stuck in my craw that he was talking about a policy that would do none of what he argued for.
The CPRS was a disaster before the Liberal Party got to it, but it was even more of a disaster afterwards. With extended handouts to the biggest polluters, and a pile of new cash for some small but politically sensitive polluters, 94% of the new money in the deal was to further entrench the polluting economy, not price it out of the market. Handouts for trade exposed polluters was locked in for a longer period of time, making it more difficult for a future government to strengthen the scheme. The use of offsets – to hide the inaction locked in by the scheme – was opened out even further.
Malcolm Turnbull did his best to keep the sceptics and anti-environmentalists in his party down, it’s true. And, over time, he may have vanquished them. But the deal he signed off on for the CPRS would have ensured that Australia kept on its high-polluting trajectory for years to come, with the complete lack of domestic action disguised by unlimited overseas offsets.
I believe Turnbull was arguing for this deal effectively from the position that to oppose the CPRS would have been characterised as opposing climate action altogether by a superficial government and compliant media. How right he was in that estimation, if that is the case, and it is a great shame for us all. I can’t help but wonder, however, if Malcolm – being who he was – had argued persuasively against this policy that he must have known was crap, and in favour of more economically sensible action, whether it might have changed the dynamic. We will never know.
Malcolm Turnbull will be missed. But it is such a pity his great principled stand was over a deal which was so unprincipled, which was based on no sound economic or scientific principles.
Tim Hollo is an advisor to the Greens.