When Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, he promised not to treat the electorate like idiots. But again he has capitulated to the far right of his party — number 428,294 in this ongoing series — by refusing to even consider something the nation’s top scientists, most states and anyone who has actually examined the idea of an emissions intensity scheme knows to be true: that such schemes are effective. Instead, Turnbull has just assumed most Australians will not look beyond the words “emissions” and “scheme”.

Turnbull has in the past few weeks chastised the media and Labor for engaging in the term de rigueur, “post-truth politics” but he is the biggest proponent of it this week.

“We are not going to take any steps that will increase the already too high cost of energy for Australian families and businesses. We will not be imposing a carbon tax and we will not be imposing an emissions trading scheme, however it is called. An emissions intensity scheme is an emissions trading scheme, that’s just another name for it.”

The review, which first flagged a potential carbon emissions scheme, was announced by the government this week after it was revealed Tony Abbott’s key climate change policy — the ineffective Green Army — would likely face the chop in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook later this month. The review itself had long been planned by the Abbott government.

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg didn’t rule out the scheme on Monday, but by Wednesday he denied ever mentioning it, as though transcripts and audio recordings did not exist.

Here it is from Monday, in case he has forgotten:

“We want to make sure we’ve got the right mechanisms, whether it’s the Emissions Reduction Fund, whether it’s the Renewable Energy Target, whether it’s the National Energy Productivity Plan.”

And on Wednesday:

“I didn’t mention an emissions intensity scheme, it’s not in any document that the Coalition has put out, in relation to this review.”

Turnbull claiming, as he did above, that such a scheme would increase prices is true post-truth politics, when his own chief scientist Alan Finkel is delivering a report to Turnbull and the premiers at today’s COAG meeting that says that such a scheme would have the lowest economic cost and lowest impact on electricity prices of all the proposals for Australia to meet its emission reduction targets in the Paris climate agreement. Finkel was backed up by the energy industry in a similar report this week saying electricity bills would be lower using a technology-neutral emissions intensity scheme.

But why listen to experts and the actual industry itself when Cory Bernardi is back from the UN to Make Australia Great Again and can label such an idea as “one of the dumbest things”? That’s all the evidence the PM needs, it seems. Bernardi’s UN jaunt was jokingly said to keep him out of the PM’s hair and quiet for a few turbulent months of government, but having now been emboldened by Trump’s victory, Bernardi is keen to bring Trump’s post-truth politics to Australia. Trump is perhaps the best representation of Bernardi’s blind belief that he speaks for the “silent majority” in that Trump lost the popular vote by millions.

There was a sense when Turnbull became PM that policy issues would be discussed fully and frankly in public before a position was settled on. Once again the government is jumping at shadows, and ruling out an emissions intensity scheme before it is even considered means that whatever the government settles on will likely be more expensive, and less effective. And that will just give more ammunition to the right-wing backbench to argue Australia should pull out of the Paris climate agreement altogether, given the high cost.

Between this and the shock GDP figure, the opposition must be thinking of taking a long break over Christmas. Kick back, drink a VB (now that CUB is no longer scab beer) and wait for the government to trip over itself again.

In the ABC’s review of its election coverage to determine balance, it was noted that the Coalition’s campaign had many more of its own in the media than Labor did, with Labor preferring to focus attention on Shorten.

What went unsaid is that many of the Coalition speakers probably would have been Turnbull’s own backbench arguing against government policy.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey