Only a naive optimist could believe the contemporary rhetoric that the Finkel Review might bring the climate wars of the last decade to an end.
As long as Tony Abbott lurks in the wings there will be war over climate. His whole persona is warlike, his political book is even titled Battlelines. A pugilist since student days, he has carried unremitting combativeness into his political life, and will do so until he leaves.
Recall Peta Credlin’s observation about how Abbott seized upon the ‘carbon tax’ meme when he was Opposition Leader. Here is an extract from a February 2017 article titled Here's the audio of Peta Credlin admitting the last seven years of politics is based on total crap by Mark Di Stefano in BuzzFeedNEWS:
“Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin has let slip that one of the most damaging political campaigns in recent Australian political history was based on bullshit. Credlin made her comments during an episode of Sky’s Sunday Agenda:
There it is – the brutal truth - straight out of the horse’s mouth!
“Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.
“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s just provide some context. Australia has a complicated history in trying to do what many countries have already done – put a price on carbon emissions.
“Emissions trading scheme proposals contributed to the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2009 and Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010. Julia Gillard finally introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in 2011.
“It was Tony Abbott who re-framed Gillard’s scheme as a “carbon tax”, even though after the first year the price on carbon emissions was no longer fixed, and was instead set by the market.
“Abbott rode the anti-carbon tax movement all the way into The Lodge and eventually had everyone, including Labor and the media, calling it a carbon tax.”
Abbott fought Julia Gillard with the ‘carbon tax’ weapon and won. Now he wants to fight ‘Electricity Bill Shorten’ in the same way.
Leading a clique of Coalition climate deniers and coal advocates, Abbott wants to implement a strategy that paints the Coalition as the party that will lower electricity prices, while Labor will increase them: “The Liberal Party has to be the party of cheap power, let Labor be the party of expensive power”. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking about electricity and the last thing we want to do is let Electricity Bill off the hook”.
Abbott has already made it clear where he stands on the Finkel report: Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market: "There are two criteria. First of all, does it take the pressure off power prices? And second, does it allow coal to continue?" Moreover, Abbott insists that: “…a new low emissions target should deliver cheaper power and not ‘clobber’ Australia's economy.”
Note that there is no mention of bringing down emissions – Abbott couldn’t give a fig about global warming, which he discounts. He is quite open about this: “…the nation's power system should be run to provide affordable, reliable energy, not primarily to reduce emissions”.
He insists: “Australia's emissions reduction targets under the Paris agreement are "aspirational only, not binding, not mandatory."
Abbott has disparagingly labelled Finkel’s Clean Energy Target – the heart of the Finkel Review – as a ‘tax on coal’, and a ‘magic pudding’, a well-worn but derogatory metaphor for a self-replenishing resource that magically serves everyone.
His fighting strategy is already pretty clear. Phil Coorey, writing in the Australian Financial Review, says: “Mr Abbott tore down Julie [sic] Gillard by campaigning against a carbon tax on the basis of high electricity prices and has indicated he will oppose a CET using the same line.”
With Abbott in the wings spoiling for a street brawl, what hope is there that Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg, and other less cantankerous Coalition members will be able to counter the Abbott faction to reach a consensus? None.
Turnbull has another adversary in the climate wars when one adds into the mix the Greens who believe the Finkel plan falls short. They want to see coal mining eliminated and coal fired electricity generation phased out rapidly.
Even Labor, which has pledged cooperation with the Coalition, has its doubts. It is already heralding a revision of the Clean Energy Target when in power to make it more stringent. Moreover, its climate change spokesman Mark Butler said the Opposition could never support a CET that allowed so-called clean coal to be deemed a low emissions technology.
But Turnbull’s main adversaries are in his own party. Headed by the argumentative Abbott, about a third of the party room (but only twelve Liberals) spoke against the Finkel Review when it met to discuss the Review. About a third spoke in favour, and the rest were undecided. Several argued that Finkel’s CET was ‘too close’ to that of Labor, and therefore unacceptable, illustrating how pathetic this conflict has become. Abbott’s anti-Finkel henchmen include most of the usual suspects: Kevin Andrews, Ian Macdonald, Craig Kelly, Andrew Hastie, Chris Back, Rowan Ramsay, Russell Broadbent, Angus Taylor and Tony Pasin.
Bernard Keane of Crikey summed up the situation and Turnbull’s dilemma aptly:
"It’s all over but the shouting — Tony Abbott has signed the government’s death warrant by creating disunity within the Coalition over the Finkel review. For as the battle-scarred Labor opposition is so fond of saying: we’ve seen this movie before, and there’s nothing to suggest it will end any differently this time.
Tongue in cheek, Keane suggests a solution – that Turnbull resign and hand the keys of The Lodge to Bill Shorten – but, knowing that will not happen, says:
"Abbott knows the old maxim ‘disunity is death’ is more than a glib three-word slogan – it’s an undeniable political reality. But once again, a petulant and embittered former leader has judged his revenge is more important than the interests of the party to which he pledged fealty and the nation he swore to serve.
"And on polling day, voters will again express their disdain – not only for the perpetrator but the subject of his vengeance – by tossing out another ‘chaotic’ government because it can’t keep its house in order.
"The Coalition’s debate over the Finkel review appears to be about electricity prices, but it’s really about killing off Turnbull’s attempt to redeem himself with voters through an integrated energy and emissions policy.
"Just as Abbott did with Julia Gillard’s emissions reduction policy, the former PM is trying to provoke voter (and backbench) anxiety about Finkel’s Clean Energy Target by claiming it will increase the cost of living."
”However, there is a way that Malcolm Turnbull can emerge from the conflagration that is yet to come with what little remains of his integrity.
The climate wars continue, and will likely do so for weeks, even months to come. To succeed as Keane suggests, Turnbull would need to convince a majority of his party room to support the Finkel proposal, and then get the support of Labor, the Greens and enough of the Senate to pass the legislation.
“Given he has little else to lose, the PM could fight to the death on the Finkel reforms, developing a credible energy and emissions policy and using his authority to gain cabinet endorsement, even if unanimous support from the joint party room is unattainable.
“Yes, that would inevitably lead to usual Liberal and National insurgents crossing the floor to vote against any such ‘greenish’ policy. But with Labor’s support in both houses of Parliament, the Finkel reforms would still prevail. This bipartisan signal would give the energy industry the certainty it desperately needs to make the investments that will bring electricity prices – and emissions – down.”
That looks like ‘Mission Impossible’. The climate wars will continue while Abbott leads the charge. He will be aiming to kill off everything Finkel recommends, sweep away his hated adversary, and restore himself to what he has always seen as his rightful place – the leader of this nation.
Tragically for our nation, we do have the climate wars all over again. Unless Abbott wins his fight-to-the-death with Turnbull, the war will continue until he gets his way, or is eliminated from the battlefield.
The most pernicious, combative, aggressive, confrontational, and destructive politician in the modern era cares not what he damages or who he destroys. In February we published: Abbott’s legacy of destruction. Abbott has not changed, nor will he!
For him, winning the prize for himself is all that counts.
What is your opinion?
Let us know in comments below.
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