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Sep 29, 2011

Abbott’s climate change Tea Party stirs in Canberra

It’s been fascinating to watch climate change emerge again as a political issue in the US, writes Giles Parkinson, of Climate Spectator.

It’s been fascinating to watch climate change emerge again as a political issue in the US, with President Barack Obama taking potshots at Republican Tea Party favourite and presidential candidate Rick Perry over his denial of climate science.

“You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change,” Obama said this week, revelling in the opportunity of engaging a debate he might actually win. Perry’s camp said the jibe was outrageous. But such was the impact that most US political commentators agreed on one thing: climate change is now back on the political agenda, and will be a key battleground in the 2012 presidentials.

All three Republicans-most likely — Perry, Michelle Bachmann and Mitt Romney — have expressed doubts about the scientific consensus, but Perry has been the most outspoken, accusing scientists of fixing data to help secure funding and seeking to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating emissions. Salon.com noted the irony that for the first time a wildfire erupted within a major city — in the George Bush Park in Houston, the headquarters of the nation’s fossil-fuel industry.

There has been no such striking symbolism in Australia. Even though Australia rivals the US as a hotbed of climate sceptics, the conservatives here have been trying to bury it as a public issue, and it doesn’t even rate a mention in the 34 pages of talking points produced to guide Liberal and National Party MPs on how to demonise the carbon-pricing legislation. And why would it, considering the Coalition has its own plan to reduce emissions by 5% below 1990 levels by 2020 and officially accepts the science?

Well, the answer to that can be found in Hansard. It’s just too dammed hard to keep good sceptics down, especially when there is such fertile material to be gleaned from your favourite sceptics and denialists websites. And party discipline is just not what it used to be.

In the recent parliamentary debate on the Clean Energy Future package, Barnaby Joyce — a noted sceptic — couldn’t help ridiculing the idea of redesigning the economy on a “colourless odourless gas”, South Australian Senator Sean Edwards said reducing emissions wouldn’t lower temperatures for 1000 years, Queensland MP Bertie van Manen said temperatures had fallen since 1998 while Co2 levels rose, and Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald poked fun at Tim Flannery for having a riverside house on the Hawkesbury while warning of rising sea levels.

And Macdonald went on: “I should remind (Labor) Senator (Mark) Furner that his side does not talk about global warming any more. It is climate change, remember, because the science these days is showing that any increase in temperature is minimal, if it is there. I understand the accepted science now is that the temperature over the last decade really has not increased at all.”

The NSW Senator John (Wacka) Williams, the Nationals Whip in the Senate went further: “I totally believe in climate change. In fact, I believe the climate has been changing for millions of years. Just recently I was fortunate to spend three days at Airlie Beach, in the Whitsunday Islands, only to discover that 18,000 years ago the Whitsunday Islands were actually part of the Australian mainland because the sea levels were so low and that, 10,000 years ago, the globe warmed, the ice melted on the mainland and the seas rose and, hence, we now call them the Whitsunday Islands. The climate changed. What caused that climate change? What caused the globe to warm back then, Mr Acting Deputy President? Was it hoons in V8 Mustangs, putting out carbon dioxide and chucking wheelies? No, they did not exist then. Perhaps it was coal-fired generators.”

Etc etc.

And on Tuesday this week, South Australian Liberal Senator Corey Bernardi in a blog hopefully titled “Is scepticism back in fashion?” again was railing against the “futile” policies of “prophets of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” and the “gospel of environmentalism”.

Liberal MP Dennis Jensen is equally hostile — describing climate change science as a “work of fiction” and policies as “worldwide economic sacrifices at the altar of the god of climate change”.

Go back further into Hansard and press clippings and you find Liberal MP Luke Simpkins borrowing Alan Jones’ line about Australian emissions representing 0.0000002% of the atmosphere, Liberal MP Patrick Secker saying more people will die from global cooling, Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield describing proponents of an ETS of having a a theological approach to discussion “more suited to an inquisition”, Nationals Senator Ron Boswell describing the science as fraudulent, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz questioning the science and promoting a bogus petition of 31,000 “climate scientists”,  and Liberal frontbencher Andrew Robb telling the AFR that global warming is just a leftist fad. Nationals MP John Cobb, and Liberal MPs Bob Baldwin, John Cobb and Bronwyn Bishop have also questioned whether the mainstream science has got it right.

The NSW Liberal MP Johanna Gash, one of her party’s appointees to the joint committee reviewing the Clean Energy Future package, is a fan of arch denialist Ian Plimer — “It makes for very interesting and illuminating reading” — she said of his book in 2009. Another appointee to the committee, George Christensen, who won the Queensland seat of Dawson for the Nationals in 2010, said in his maiden speech to parliament last year that the “science is not settled”.

And then, of course, there is Tony Abbott, the Coalition leader who once said the science is crap and has never really sounded convincing in claiming he’s changed his mind.

But this is not merely a game of pinning the tail on the donkey. This is a serious issue for Australian business, because the passage of the carbon price legislation by the end of the year will likely encourage domestic and international corporates to finally push the button on billions of dollars of investment — mostly in energy generation but also elsewhere — that has been held up while the fate of the carbon price remained unclear.

The Labor Party is going to great lengths to ensure that the carbon pricing legislation and the permits are “indefeasible” — which makes it extremely hard, and costly, to unwind.

Abbott has committed his party to repealing the legislation should it win government (as the polls currently suggest is likely) in 2013 and trying to estimate the depth and breadth of the Tea Party rump in a Coalition government will be a critical consideration for some investment multibillion-dollar investment decisions.

The quotes included above suggest at least a quarter of the Coalition members fall into that camp. The reality is that it might be closer to 40%. Take that into consideration with the results of the party vote when Abbott took the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull — the pro-Abbott camp, led by the climate denialist Nick Minchin, gained 35 votes, while the rest (49) were split evenly between Turnbulll and Joe Hockey. That first round vote was considered an informal on whether you accepted the science on not — if you didn’t, you voted for Abbott. If you did, you chose Turnbull or Hockey.

Abbott’s decision to send two sceptics out of five appointees to the joint committee looking at the CEF package may be a fair reflection of his party make-up. His ability to repeal the carbon price will depend on how many of his party faithful support his original proposition that the science is crap, because the Direct Action policy is untenable to anyone who thinks otherwise.

*This article first appeared on Climate Spectator

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20 comments

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20 thoughts on “Abbott’s climate change Tea Party stirs in Canberra

  1. Pedantic, Balwyn

    The Labor Party hierarchy would do well to start wedging the Liberals on this subject.

    Few believe that Tony Abbott has changed his mind about climate change, merely paying lip service to the (small) majority of his Party that remain commited to addressing this serious issue.

    With the Nationals firmly on the side of the deniers and seemingly many right wing Liberals supporting them too, Labor should exploit the difference between them and “wet” Libs at every opportunity.

    It may just resonate with the public and get some momentum for Labor.

  2. Maccas

    It’s about time he came out with some answers if he thinks Labor is lost, why in the hell are the news reporters not asking hard questions, how long since any-one out there read a news-paper thats had a go at the Libral Party, I can’t recall one since they hounded Kevie out of office and trying the same tactic against Julia.I honestly can’t under-stand why people believe the garbage that comes out of his mouth, Phoney Tony has never had time for females or people on welfare so its got me tossed.Maccas

  3. Kieran Crichton

    Pedantic — look what happened the last time Labor wedged the coalition over the CPRS. I don’t recall that having lifted anyone’s respect for the government at the time. Bipartisanship was a ship that sailed too late in the piece to ensure the survival of Rudd or Turnbull, much less the CPRS bill.

    We should have had a carbon pricing regime operating by now, had the original (highly flawed) legislation passed.

    Look at where it’s all ended up and ask yourself this: do we really need to go through all of that again?

  4. heavylambs

    The thought that our legislature is being held hostage by these lightweights is hard to contemplate. The fact that our dominant media organs refuse to expose their nonsense regularly and in brutal detail is even worse. Is the issue really beyond the intellectual resources of most politicians and journalists?

  5. friedkrill

    Bring on the wedgie!

  6. leone

    Something you didn’t see in the media. Tony Abbott visited Port Macquarie on Tuesday and the event – organised by Bill Heffernan – was a dismal failure.

    It was supposed to be an invitation-only forum for ‘community leaders’ to discuss important issues with the Rabbott, but few invitees bothered to show up. The organisers were so desperate to fill the rows of empty seats that they opened the meeting to anyone who was silly enough to want in. Even then only 85 attended, mostly pensioners. The photos on the Port Macquarie News website say it all. I bet Abbott wished they hadn’t taken those shots.

    Sky News showed the whole thing and I bet Abbott wishes they hadn’t too. He looked disinterested and seemed very lacklustre – probably not the audience he had hoped for. Even Mad Bill looked bored to tears. Abbott used the meeting to bad-mouth Rob Oakeshott and to tell everyone that ‘all’ Australians want an election. That was about it, really.

  7. Lord Barry Bonkton

    B.J still thinks the world is Flat and that the scientists are lying to us. We pay these clowns good money to spruce the lies for their Fossil fuel donator mates. America here we come.

  8. Justin

    That’s um (http://www.portnews.com.au/multimedia/29115/346959/tony-abbott-visits-port-macquarie.aspx?Start=10), that’s unfortunate, *cough* really, I feel sorry for him *snort* (posts on FB).

    Labor should keep hitting Tony on the cost of his climate change plan, it’s ineffectiveness, and how our export markets already care about carbon-priced goods, even if our competitors don’t

  9. GocomSys

    If what Guy Rundle believes is true that “climate-change irrationalists” are either : stupid, delusional or malign and nihilistic, which category would you suggest the current federal opposition leader fits into?

    Also, about the proposed (and soon to be enacted?) ETS.

    Let’s consider the current policy a mere START. The infrastructure needs to be implemented NOW to give certainty to industry and consumers.
    Initially a fixed price ETS (purposely misnamed carbon tax) will become a full fledged ETS in a few years.
    The overall impact initially will be relatively minor during the “bedding down” process. Once the ETS is in place, adjustments and even modifications over time are a given, depending on changing domestic and international circumstances.

    The most difficult part is to overcome a conservative and/or uninformed mindset.

  10. CML

    The legislation will pass before the end of the year – the numbers have already been counted. Once the price on carbon pollution comes into effect next year, things will start to settle down. There is no way all that cr*p spouted by rAbbott is going to happen, and people might then see some sense and realise that they have been sold a load of rubbish by the coalition.
    Whether this will lead to a change in Labor’s fortunes is the great unknown. However, I don’t think there will be a change of PM for at least 12 months, probably longer. Maybe early 2013, if the polls remain as bad as they are now. We will just have to wait and see.