This week the government executed a massive policy backflip and its backbenchers weakened a leader who they despise and will probably knife quite soon. The opposition rolled its eyes and sighed and secretly squealed with delight. There were assurances that Australia is on track to meet its international obligations on emissions reductions when in fact it is a gazillion miles away. Meanwhile the media piled in and business stood there mouths agape like a goldfish whose bowl is ever more full of… dirty water. Economists slammed inch-think reports on desks. The scientists and environmentalists bleated about ecological catastrophe, but everybody ignored them for the fun of the horse-race politics.
So, a normal week in Australian climate politics then?
An abnormally normal week perhaps, but yes, point taken.
Then why is everyone running around as if it’s the end of the world?
Because – as Lenore Taylor has been exhaustively reporting (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), the last environment minister, Greg Hunt, had spent ages trying to slip the framework – or the necessary ambiguity – for an “emissions intensity scheme” into the government’s policy. Of course, it had to be done in a way that wouldn’t lead to a bloodbath. Julie Bishop had pointed to possible carbon trading after 2020 when she was in Paris last year for some international meeting. It was a very very badly kept secret, but economists, business lobbyists and even some greenies hoped it might work.
On Monday morning, at just after 8am in an ABC radio station, it all went Very Horribly Wrong.
Yeah, I think I heard something about that. So the new environment minister – Josh Frydenberg’s few words- “We know that there’s been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We’ll look at that.”– are as fatal as Gillard’s February 24 2011 ill-fated agreement that a fixed price for an emissions trading scheme could be considered a ‘tax’?
We will see. Probably. But before using poor Josh as a pinata, remember the wiggle room to skirt around the issue was always going to shrink. The can had been kicked down the road as far as it could. Someone was going to have to piss or get off the pot. The boil was so big that it…
Yes, yes, thanks, we get it. But surely people like Julie Bishop and Greg Hunt manned… sorry, staffed the barricades, belted out ‘La Marseillaise‘ and stiffened their innovative leader’s spine when the spittle started flying?
How odd. So,moving on – which pundits said what?
Well, you’ll be shocked to learn that ink was spilt in the Saturday papers, and electrons set to work. The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor reminded Malcolm of his fine words in 2009. The Fin’s Laura Tingle had already commented that the Turnbull government had achieved a ‘rare’ trifecta.
Oh, more Tingle gold, you know – or you should – “governments sometimes get policy right but the politics wrong; or the politics right but then stuff up on process. But the statements of Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg – and the even more strident statements of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday – have managed to stuff policy, process and politics all in one deft manoeuvre.”
Annabel Crabb had fun, sharpening her knives in that kitchen of hers, with a wry piece about political correctness and trigger warnings preventing proper debate of issues. Jacqueline Maley knitted Pauline Hansen’s thousand-miles-from-bleaching-(and-reality)-snorkelling stunt to Canberra in a bravura sketch of a world “where policy-making is as fantastical as a go-nowhere boat trip over a bleached-out coral reef.”
Could we have some old white men now please? They seem under-represented in punditry these days.
Thought you’d never ask. Paul Kelly reckons that Turnbull has to prepare for renewed ‘carbon policy war’. He argues that “industry dreams of Coalition and Labor coming together on climate change policy were just that — dreams” and that “Turnbull has no wish to repeat the mistakes that cost him the leadership in 2009, hardly a miraculous conclusion. He has buried any ETS nostalgia and this can be assumed for the rest of his prime ministership”. However long that might be… Chris Kenny was… Chris Kenny. Something about Banquo, but he forgot to call Julia Gillard Lady Macbeth. Richo reckons Malcolm deliberately used Josh as a human shield, a la Scott Morrison on the GST. Laurie Oakes reckons Josh Frydenberg is a marked man and how “game-playing takes precedence over good policy and process in Australian politics today.”
Quite. Jack Waterford has a very interesting piece in the Canberra Times on the using crises to push through policy changes. He implies that Turnbull doesn’t have the skills – or perhaps the spine. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have both editorialised on Malcolm Turnbull, calling him a climate policy girlie man.
Really, they said that?
Not in so many words – I am channelling my inner Mathias Cormann.
So everything will calm down now, yes, and the grown-up government can continue?
Oh, absolutely. The right won’t dismiss the Climate Review as ‘housekeeping’, or imply Alan Finkel is a raving incompetent pinko in league with Gillian Trigg. The states will decide to wait for the Federal government before taking any further action on climate or energy policy. The Climate Review, which is taking place for almost a year will be led by a non-partisan figure – probably Dick Warburton or Maurice Newman – and the hearings and discussion papers will not be hijacked by leaking, stunts and smearing; it will be an ideal speech community to warm the cockles of Jurgen Habermas‘s heart. Internationally, Donald Trump will be a steady – if slightly small – hand on the tiller.
Oh, thank goodness for that, you had me worried for a minute.
I have a bridge in Sydney to sell you. Cash only.
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PS Here’s a (much) longer article, with less snark