While the proposed Australian emissions trading scheme (aka the CPRS) looks like achieving nothing in terms of reducing carbon emissions, it has wreaked havoc on the opposition Liberal party, with relatively enlightened leader Malcolm Turnbull facing revolt from the troglodyte wing of the party Crikey has a good set of articles on the fracas.
As defectors, disloyalty and confusion swirled around him last night, Malcolm Turnbull fronted the media in Parliament House. The widespread expectation among the hacks was that he would announce his resignation as Liberal leader.
Instead, he did the opposite. Instead of quitting, Turnbull passionately and articulately argued the case for why a Liberal Party without a prescriptive climate change policy was a Liberal Party without a chance of being elected. What we saw last night was the same person who unsuccessfully campaigned to make Australia a republic in the late nineties. What we saw last night was a conviction politician.
While a swathe of middle-aged men (and Bronwyn Bishop) disrespectfully disagree with him, the fact is that when it comes to the seminal issues, Malcolm Turnbull is prepared to place conviction ahead of political pragmatism.
If -- or probably when -- he is unseated as leader, Malcolm Turnbull will fail in his ambitions but still retain his convictions. Which is more than can be said for almost any other contemporary political leader.
As for the CPRS itself, The Guardian reckons its just a continuation of our 'do nothing" strategy started at Kyoto - Australia's Copenhagen climate strategy is smoke and mirrors.
So what is Australia bringing to Copenhagen? Rudd will be there in person. His headline grabber is the offer of a 25% cut in emissions. Except that the "conditions" he sets the rest of the world for this are so stringent that he is unlikely to have to deliver.
For instance, as the government spokesperson said, it would only be "fair" for Australia to make cuts that deep if other "advanced" countries made cuts "in the middle of the range identified by the IPCC" – that is, between 25-40%.
That's an odd definition of fairness. It is based, according to the spokesperson, on the fact that "Australia faces higher economic costs to achieve equivalent emissions reductions… than most other advanced countries." Funny, but I don't remember Australia offering bigger cuts in Kyoto because it was cheap and easy to end deforestation. Quite the contrary.
Otherwise, Rudd offers a range of reductions from 5-15%. That doesn't sound too bad until you remember the deforestation discount that Australia won in Kyoto. Along with other land-use changes since then, even a 15% "cut" would still allow Australians to emit more from burning coal in power stations, running cars and industry than they did in 1990. About 1% more, according to the analysis by the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.
A new beginning in Copenhagen? Rudd's Copenhagen plan looks like a greenwashed version of the old Kyoto plan.
While I'd be tempted to say the CPRS is a useless waste of time and thus Malcolm is either fighting for nothing or playing "sensible" (in a very localised sense) politics by not being seen as opposing "progress" on climate change policy while supporting a scheme that does very little to penalise polluters, Ross Gittens is a little more charitable and think the CPRS may eventually evolve into something useful - The ills of Rudd's climate bills may be cured with time.
Malcolm Turnbull is right: there's no future for a Liberal Party that denies the reality of human-caused climate change and the need for early and decisive action to limit that change.
But a worry for many who accept the need for effective action is that Kevin Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme, especially as amended to (supposedly) win the Liberals' support, will do too little to change behaviour, reduce emissions and move us towards a low-carbon economy because it's so weak and so many options have been closed off.
Fortunately, the amended scheme - which I readily agree isn't a good one - will change behaviour despite all the hand-outs to big polluters (as I argued on Saturday) and does retain the potential to be improved over time, remembering that the scheme runs until 2020.
The first point to note is that some of the worst features of last week's deal are temporary. Much of the excessive compensation runs for only the first five years or so. There are various points where the legislation provides for reviews of the pace of progress and the urgency of the problem we're grappling with.
The next point is that though the pro-action critics of the scheme have focused on the unconditional target of reducing emissions by only 5 per cent, it now seems likely the global agreement to emerge from Copenhagen or a subsequent meeting will require us to lift that to the promised 15 per cent reduction.
The Government has avoided trumpeting this for fear of frightening off the Libs, but the seriousness of the actions being promised by the Indians, Brazilians and Chinese - mainly involving changes in land management, increases in energy efficiency and reductions in emissions per unit of gross domestic product - make some sort of deal between the developed and developing countries likely.
Admittedly, a target of reducing emissions in 2020 by 15 per cent of their level in 2000 represents only half the minimum reduction the scientists say we need to achieve by then.
But remember the compromise scheme is built to allow the target to be raised to 25 per cent should the multilateral agreement be sufficiently comprehensive as to limit global emissions to 450 parts per million. For such a deal to be achieved, the Americans and the Europeans would have to greatly increase their own targets.
One long-standing weakness in Rudd's scheme is the decision to neutralise the effect on petrol prices. But this exemption - made when the price of petrol was much higher than it is now - is only guaranteed for three years. It can and should be removed after that.
Bernard Keane reckons the writing has been on the wall for Malcolm's leadership for a while, but that this is a shame for Australian democracy given the alternatives on offer in the Liberal party - Reflections on Turnbull and his party.
It should never have been thus. Putting aside my professional role for a moment, I had high hopes for Turnbull. I knew the electoral timing was all wrong for him. But I thought he could build on the unappreciated work of Brendan Nelson in moving the Liberals back to the centre ground and set the Liberals up to be a viable force in 2013, a healthy union of conservatives and progressives, with perhaps a dash of libertarianism (my own personal creed) thrown in. And Turnbull fitted the bill perfectly – progressive, but with a strong belief in the core Liberal philosophy of personal freedom, immensely intelligent, a self-made man, charming, utterly ruthless. If anyone was going to break the rule that Oppositions don’t defeat first-term governments, it would be him.
It didn’t play out that way, mostly because Kevin Rudd expertly responded to the global financial crisis and recession, and Turnbull took the disastrous decision to oppose him on the stimulus early this year. At the time, I thought the Liberals were committing suicide, and the opinion polls ever since have confirmed that.
There are senior Liberals who also believe that was a mistake, but it’s all too late now.
And other, equally senior, Liberals have repeatedly pointed out Turnbull’s glaring failure as a leader: his inability to understand that he must bring his colleagues with him, not treat them like idiots.
The default Turnbull response to disagreement is to demolish whoever it is that’s unfortunate enough to disagree with him. He can dish it out with a ferocity probably not seen in political life since Paul Keating. He has no concept that someone treated that way may not forget about it, may be genuinely aggrieved by their treatment, may not be inclined to forgive the bloke who dished it out and get on with it. ...
Any option other than Turnbull at this point will be an electoral calamity for the Liberals. Forget the nonsense about a Sunrise election between Hockey and Rudd. The Rudd machine will devour Hockey, who in any event will stumble and bumble his way to polling day so badly there’s a risk his party will want to replace him even before then. Abbott will reduce the party to a reactionary rump struggling to accept the 20th, let alone the 21st, century.
A vote to dispose of Turnbull on Tuesday will be an act of lunacy from the Liberals. It will condemn Australia to a one-party government for much of the next decade. It will give the Rudd Government a virtual free hand, without effective scrutiny. And it won’t solve a damn thing.
Anyone who wants a semblance of an effective Opposition should fervently hope for a Turnbull win.
Crikey also has a column noting the Liberals may be headed for a series of "big wins" as a result of being held hostage by the conservative fringes - Just like the Libs, the Republicans face the conundrum of courting crazies.
The Republican Party base increasingly takes ideological inspiration from Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck and Sean Hannity and other culture war demagogues. As the tens of thousands attending the ‘Tea Party’ rallies show, such people can, far more than any traditional Republican, whip the party activists into a frenzy. Yet, because the majority of Americans regard the Limbaugh/Beck brand of conservatism as perfectly lunatic, when it comes to a poll, the populist candidates fail and fail again. ...
The Australian situation is not the same. There’s no-one marching to Canberra to teabag Kevin Rudd; we don’t have Fox News or Clear Channel radio network denouncing Labor as a communist-fascist death camp conspiracy.
Nonetheless, for some time now, there’s been considerable media support for a populist skepticism around global warming. It’s not just Andrew Bolt, either — The Australian has been for years devoting its opinion pages to overt climate denialists.
Furthermore, these days it’s perfectly possible, even from Australia, to tap directly into the main vein of climate wingnuttery. If you think Miranda Devine correct to call a climate change to be a fraud, well, why not log on to hard-core nutters like Michelle Malkin or Ann Coulter, who will assure you that the whole business is an overt conspiracy cooked up by America-hating leftists?
In the US, the populist tide means that only 34 per cent of Republicans want legislation on climate change compared to 84 per cent of democrats. Here, the polarization is not so overt but it’s trending in the same direction, with seventy per cent of those who vote Labor supporting action against global warming and only 44 per cent of Liberal voters.
And that’s voters, not party members. One would hazard a guess that the proportion of overt skeptics amongst conservative activists is much, much higher, since it’s hard to imagine anyone joining the Liberal Party because of Malcolm Turnbull’s climate pragmatism, whereas an understanding of global warming as a dastardly con job provides exactly the kind of urgency likely to inspire political action.
Hence the deluge of angry phone calls and emails Coalition MPs now claim to have been receiving. The populists have a genuine passion that the moderates entirely lack.
An organization dominated by activists taking direction from media figures who themselves never have to face election – media figures who are, in fact, entirely unaccountable – well, it’s a dilly of a pickle, isn’t it?
Remember, too, the populists view matters in a quite different way to traditional politicians.
In the wake of Doug Hoffman’s loss to the Democrats, the influential wingnut blog Red State declared that, actually, the result represented ‘a huge win’, since it demonstrated to the Republican hierarchy that the rank-and-file could not be taken for granted. One suspects that, here in Australia, the Liberals now have many such huge wins ahead of them.
Eddie Maguire may have a (rare) point when he says Malcom's biggest mistake was joining the wrong party, though I think Bob Ellis is more accurate when he dubs Malcolm the Lost Liberal Democrat.
I guess I can't call Malcolm a friend any more but I used to and I've known him all of his adult life and feel sorry for him now. He's a bigger man than all the fleas that are currently nibbling at him, but from a bunch that trusted and followed the mendacious midget Howard (twenty years as Deputy Leader, Leader and P.M.) it's what you might expect.
They resent the questions of latter-day adjustment and philosophical consistency and the oxygen he brings into the room, they hate (I guess) cradle Anglicans and the kind self-made rich man who takes risks, dares new horizons, sticks out his chest and pounds it and yodels, punches above his weight, chiacks her Majesty and mostly prevails.
He's a Liberal Democrat through and through and they are clenched-up Thatcherites, Royalist nostalgics and, to a great extent, fearful Catholics. ...
It's not quite as simple as this, of course. Other factors in play this week, this month, this year, include Rudd and Wong's unending and cruel gamesmanship, tormenting and humiliating an Opposition they should have been gently wooing, preferring lordly sadistic onrushing deadlines to democratic discourse, jeering at their foes' understandable divisions rather than crafting honest policy, preferring the monkey-tricks of municipal politics to wise inclusive consensus on the most important problem since the Ice Age.
Crikey points to another alternative - the Liberals could split into 2 - a conservative party and a genuine liberal party (re-enacting the long ago creation of the now defunct Australian Democrats) - No party lasts forever - Split Happens.
It is time for liberals, or moderates as the media terms them, to start thinking laterally. They owe it to those Australians who find Labor and the Liberal Party too conservative on a range of issues to contemplate the beginnings of a new political force along the lines of those that currently exist in the UK, Canada and Germany.
But who would vote for a genuine liberal party that stood for action on climate change, market-driven economic policies, and new thinking on issues such as drugs, gay marriage and indigenous self-empowerment and refugees? Turnbull’s own electorate of Wentworth in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is one that might find such a political force very attractive. It is a diverse, educated electorate as is, for example, Peter Costello’s former electorate of Higgins in Melbourne, or Chris Pyne’s electorate of Sturt in inner urban Adelaide. Sydney’s north shore, particularly the lower reaches, also represents a generally liberal profile.
That there is yawning gap in the political ideas marketplace in this country is made abundantly clear to a “liberal” voter when he or she looks down at the ballot paper come election time. Do they vote for a cautious Labor Party that is fearful of embracing issues such as a charter of rights or more humane treatment of refugees? Or do they plump for a Liberal Party, which has some decent progressives within it such as Turnbull but whose policy direction is steered by hard-line conservatives? Of the minor forces there is only the Greens, which, while socially progressive, is economically illiterate and prone to bouts of extremism.
So what sort of vote would a liberal force attract? The Free Democrats and the Liberal Democrats in the UK are the third force — they never outpoll the major parties but they influence policy through being coalition partners in the case of the Free Democrats or by potentially holding the balance of power as may occur with the Liberal Democrats after next year’s UK election. One could expect a similar scenario in Australia with a liberal party perhaps winning a handful of House of Representatives seats and some senate seats. This would make them a powerful player in the numbers game.
Guy Rundle thinks the end of the Liberals will happen regardless, simply because of the way the world has changed in recent decades - The Liberal Party Is Trapped In A Death Spiral.
Consider what Fusion was. It was not simply an arrangement between two groups, not a coalition. It was a recognition that one entire political framework – empire versus free-trade, restraint on capital versus its expansion – had been superseded.
Protection was not simply a series of measures to protect local industry – it was an idea about what a society should be, in which social relations held economic relations in place, limited their purview. Free trade was the idea that economic relations should be allowed to reconstruct social relations (which for free traders chiefly meant that it would rive out rent, and rentiers).
The rise of socialism and Labour parties from the 1890s simply instituted a whole new political division, by energising real social forces – labour unions that had once been isolated unified and collectivised, parties giving them political expression, a doctrine of social transformation.
That division in turn died in the 1970s, with both the political defeat of socialist experiments, and the emergence of deep contradictions which made it unworkable. Labor simply took over what should have been the Liberals’ historical role – neoliberal reconstruction – and badged it as a form of modernisation, making it part of a distinctive progressive package, and leaving the Libs with nowhere to go but populism with a use-by date.
But now politics has re-divided. The hitherto small information/cultural producer class has become a force in its own right, cutting across old economic class divisions and old affiliations. You can see this in a whole lot of processes – the way in a seat like Higgins for example, one can anticipate a lot of people who would vote Liberal in a Liberal-Labor stoush, flowing to the Greens, even with an, erm, interesting candidate like Clive Hamilton.
Socialism in its 20th century form is over, and the question is no longer framed by private-public, worker-company divisions. Increasingly the divisions is between knowledge frameworks – people inside the new global economy, often working mainly with information, who see the world in terms of systems, networks, processes, global entities, as part of a single humanity on the one hand, and those tending to be in the old world of more local, parochial, and fixed ideas of morality, work and social order.
Farmers, sections of the old middle class, the ‘petty bourgeoisie’ etc – people increasingly excluded from the cultural and financial mainstream.
That division now runs smack down the middle of the Liberal Party, which is why the party is on the verge of ceasing to exist as anything other than a shell – and leading to the real possibility of real recombination of the non-Labor forces.
And Guy followed up today with another column pondering a Turnbull party - Sensible and Silly .. Time For A Liberal Split.
Minchin said, in response to Turnbull's Dr Strangelove act on the weekend, that he had been in the Liberal Party too long to want to destroy it.
Maybe, but he's also a stalwart Right-wing warrior, the Bill Hartley of his team. For the Liberals to win in their current constellation, or even for it to become the standard set-up, would be to cement in a politics that excludes the world-vision ably expressed by Minchin's remark that climate change politics was "communism by other means".
So the moderate Libs should jump or be ready to turn into a genuine liberal party – the only chance that moderate liberals would have to fight such a battle from a position of incumbency.
The great strength of such a party would be that they would get preference flows from both the other major parties – the existing Libs, who might well merge with the Nationals – and they would be in a position to negotiate with the Greens, who would then have someone they could first preference to ahead of Labor.
Quite aside from holding a fair brace of their own seats, they would be real competition for the ALP in a number of metro seats – especially if, freed of their country cousins, they could offer a more genuinely liberal social policy. That would scoop a bunch of prosperous social liberal voters who continue to vote ALP despite the party's increasingly socially conservative rhetoric and appetite for state censorship and repression.
Turnbull's "Dr Strangelove Act" of the weekend was his interview with Laurie Oakes where he basically declared war on the conservatives - great to see a politician being honest for a change.
MT: Look the Minchin-ites do not want to delay consideration of the legislation, they do not believe that climate change is real, they do not believe that humans are causing it and they do not want to do anything about it. Nick Minchin made that very clear in the Four Corners programme as did a number of his acolytes. What he is trying, what he is is a climate change denier. He stands for doing nothing on climate change. He said a majority of our party room do not believe that humans have any impact on climate change. Now that is a view contrary to the opinion of the vast majority of Australians, contrary to the opinion of every government in the world, and every major political party in the world. Now, if Nick Minchin wins, if he wins this battle, he condemns our party to irrelevance, because what he is saying on one of the greatest issues and challenges of our time, one that will affect the future of the planet and the future of our children and their children, Nick Minchin is staying "do nothing". He wants us to be the "do nothing on climate change" party and he has been, he's on the record about that, and when he talks about a delay or a deferral, what that means is denial.
LO: But if you …
MT: That is political death for us.
LO: If you agree to delay, you could probably save your leadership and live to fight another day. You must know in your heart that you are going to get done on Tuesday?
MT: Laurie, I will win on Tuesday and I am not interested in becoming a mouth piece or a Patsy or a tool for people whose views are completely wrong and are contrary to the best interests of our nation, our planet and indeed the Liberal Party. Just remember this, John Howard was a noted sceptic about climate change, he had doubts about the science. But John was enough of a leader to recognise that we had to act. And the emissions trading scheme that is currently in the Parliament this coming week and which must be passed this week is one which is very similar to the scheme that John Howard took to the last election, John Howard himself has said that. Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews for that matter, were in that Cabinet. They didn't object, they went along with it and now they say "We didn't ever believe in it". What does that say about their integrity.
LO: But this is destroying the Liberal Party.
MT: Well they are destroying the Liberal Party, there is a recklessness and a wilfulness in these men which is going to destroy the Liberal Party. Remember this: we took an ETS to the last election. John Howard did. We then had a party room meeting back in October in which we overwhelmingly agreed to take a set of amendments, Rudd's ETS to the government. And the basis of that negotiation was if you agree with what we're asking, or enough of it, to satisfy us, then we will vote it through. Then we will give you what we want, we will pass the bill with our amendments. We achieved massive concessions, everyone was amazed how much the government gave us. We went back to the party room, and as you have note in your column the party room, by a majority, not a huge majority to be fair, but by a majority, agreed with the recommendation of the Shadow Cabinet. So we shook hands with the government, an agreement was done and we agreed to support those amendments.
LO: Then the Liberal Party fell apart, now...
MT: No, no, no, what …
LO: If you survive on Tuesday, the Liberal Party will remain bitterly divided, it will remain in meltdown won’t it?
MT: Laurie that’s not the… look, the only way the Liberal Party can get over this is to get this issue passed. If this issue is not resolved, the climate change war that Nick Minchin and his wreckers have started will continue to destroy the Liberal Party until such time as we are destroyed by Kevin Rudd in an election.