Tag Archives: Josh Frydenberg

Last week in #Australian #Climate Politics – a bluffer’s guide

What happened?
turnbullThis 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?
Strangely, no.

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.” 

Who knew?
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.


[If you so much as smiled, let alone laughed, please think about retweeting/emailing/facebook.  Cheers!!]

PS  Here’s a (much) longer article, with less snark

PPS And here is my piece on the Conversation about climate backflips over the last ten years

The next Australian Prime Minister… Josh Frydenberg?

Update: Mr Frydenberg has backflipped clumsily on a carbon price.  Oops

The soap opera that is the Australian Prime Ministership goes on.  In the 32 years between December 1975 and November 2007 we had four prime ministers (Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard).  In the five years between June 2010 and September 2015 we had five (Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull).  And Turnbull’s position looks precarious.  So, here’s some idle speculation…

The tipping point for Kevin Rudd came in April 2010, when he almost casually mentioned that action on climate change, which he had proclaimed ‘the great moral challenge of our generation’ would be put off for at least 3 years.  Voters decided he didn’t actually believe in anything, and his personal approval ratings plummeted.   Malcolm Turnbull’s willingness to throw his own beliefs overboard is putting him in the same position (see Kristina Keneally (ex-NSW premier, Labor) and Katherine Murphy, an erstwhile pro-Turnbull journo).  Turnbull overthrew Tony Abbott on the basis of 30 bad-for-Abbot Newspolls (a fortnightly opinion poll).   Turnbull has had 5 in a row now himself, and the vultures seem to be circling.  Barring an odd (miraculous) improvement, I think that, by the middle of 2017 at the latest, with Turnbull’s standing within and without the Liberal party in tatters, there will be a spill (i.e. an internal challenge).

[This assumes of course that the Liberal National Coalition hangs on to its one seat majority in the lower house – that no death, incapacity, scandal forces a bye-election in a winnable for Labour in a LNP seat.]

While Tony Abbott and Andrew Bolt might want Abbott to ‘do a Rudd’ and return to the prime ministership, Tony Abbott is no Kevin Rudd.  Rudd had had very high popularity with the voters for a long time (but became loathed by his own party – see multiple accounts by former colleagues, Gillard, Swann, Garrett etc).  Abbott was never popular with the public, neither as Opposition Leader nor as Prime Minister for two action-packed years from September 2013 to 2015. (Nor was he popular with his party. He won the 2009 spill by a single vote. One person spoiled their ballot and someone else is reported to have said ‘what have we done?’ after he won that tussle).

Who else?  It’s hard to see Peter Dutton or Scott Morrison getting the tap on the shoulder from the ‘faceless men’ (actually, the Liberal Party doesn’t work quite like Labor).  Surely Dutton knows he is too loathed??   Greg Hunt may fancy his chances, who knows. Julie Bishop?  Well, she’s certainly been a survivor, and loyal, but if she wanted the top job, would she have not gone for it by now?  Perhaps she destined to do a Peter Costello, though the analogy is faulty – Costello was much more upfront about his ambitions while Treasurer under John Howard.


Which us brings us to… Josh Frydenberg, the member for Kooyong (see footnote).  Writing in the Guardian, Katherine Murphy (seen by some as Malcolm Turnbull fan) says , “Josh Frydenberg is one of the brightest people in the parliament.”

(though the commenters are less sure, and one argues – “if Frydenberg is the best and brightest they are in serious trouble!”

Another writes

“Freydenberg is not one of the brightest people in the parliament! He may be one of the brightest people in the government but after his ridiculous rant about the Hazelwood closure among other things this is debatable, but then Daffy Duck would easily rank as the brightest person in the government given the performances over the past 3 years.

The brightest people in the parliament sit on the Opposition benches where the depth of talent makes all in government look like the clueless, tantrum throwing, toddlers that they are.

Australia desperately needs the brightest people in parliament which is why the government has to go, and much sooner rather than later.”

If he does have leadership ambitions, then his attack on renewable energy during and after the SA blackout of 28 September 2016 begins to make more sense.  He was throwing some red meat to the lads on the ‘right’ whose votes he would need if there were indeed a leadership contest.  Katherine Murphy has a slightly different take, citing the then upcoming ratification of the Paris Agreement on emissions reductions

“Turnbull and Frydenberg, and the renewables bull horn do make a bit more sense if we tumble to the fact the government has not yet ratified the Paris deal, and doubtless wants to be able to ratify the Paris deal with only the mildest tut-tut from the Quadrant corner, rather than the whole process triggering yet another bout of internal cage fighting within the Coalition about climate change and whether it’s happening or not.” (Murphy, 2016)

So the major thing that Frydenberg has in his favour is he doesn’t yet have a staggeringly bad image with the population at large (Dutton, Morrison, Abbott).  His path would presumably involve the Finkel review – first report due in December, final one in March 2017 or so –  going ‘well’,  and Frydenberg managing to finesse the issue of what to do about the gold-plated electricity grid and the impending changes pushed by the plummeting cost of renewables (both small and large-scale).  If Frydenberg can keep enough people on the right happy, without painting himself as (yet another) denier/delayer to the public, which is becoming a bit more antsy on climate change, then he would be in a very very good position.  This would mean there’d have to be a move before the review of the current Direct Action policy, which Turnbull memorably described as ‘bullshit’ shortly after Abbott toppled him in December 2009 (I did say this was a soap opera)…

What stands in his way?  Well, Turnbull, Abbott, Dutton and Morrison probably all want the job, obviously.  I like to believe that his being Jewish is not a factor (though I am sadly probably wrong on this).  Is he too young? He’s 45 at present, but there have been younger Prime Ministers – Chris Watson was 37 when he became Australia’s third leader in 1904.  Stanley Bruce was 39 when he became PM in 1923.  To skip forward to (relatively!) recent history, Malcolm Fraser took power aged 45 at the end of 1975, and Paul Keating was 47 when he took over from Bob Hawke in December 1991.  Most PMs are in their late 40s to mid 50s when they (first) take charge. We don’t do gerontocrats in Australia…

Cartoonists may be sharpening their caricatures, though David Pope of the Canberra Times already has him nailed…  Watch this space…


Murphy, K. 2016. With opponents inside and out, there’s no plain sailing for Malcolm Turnbull. Guardian Australia, 5 November.

On Kooyong –

Kooyong is regarded as a Liberal “leadership seat.” The three men who held it before Georgiou all went on to lead the Liberals or their predecessors–Andrew Peacock (leader of the Liberal Party 1983–85 and 1989–90), Sir Robert Menzies (founder of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister 1939–41 and 1949–66), and Sir John Latham (leader of the Nationalist Party, a direct ancestor of the Liberals, 1929–31).