By Tina Perinotto

27 November 2009 – [Updated 1.20 pm and 1:55 pm; 4.50 pm] You get the feeling that Thursday, 26 November 2009 will go down in history as the day Australia changed.

A massive split along climate lines. Sure the front of the split was in the Liberal Party, ripping itself apart over whether or not to pass Labor’s carbon pollution reduction scheme but the sense was that the battle lines on climate change have finally been drawn. Good.

Standing in front of the press conference last night, Malcolm Turnbull looked every bit the Leader of the Opposition ready for battle to the death. His words must be published in every news outlet in the country this morning, and they deserve to be: “This is about the future of our planet and the future of our children and their children. It is one of the great challenges of our time. Now I know there are many people, including many people who are supporters of my own party, who have doubts about the science and grave reservations about it. I understand that and I respect it. But as Margaret Thatcher said, right back nearly 20 years ago in 1990, this is about risk management.”

Go Malcolm.

The CPRS (or emissions trading scheme) as we all know, is a joke. A big laughing-horse joke.

But in some ways it doesn’t matter; policies and frameworks can change.

What matters is that Turnbull has taken that ridiculously compromised CPRS as the mantle of his passionate belief that we have to save the planet.

Make no mistake, the climate sceptics don’t simply hold an opposing opinion, to which they may be entitled and on which they wish to keep their own quiet counsel; they are driven to a frenzy of opposition by a weird determination that we do nothing on climate change. Regardless of who caused it, they refuse to even take out insurance.

Poor Turnbull. He must feel he has charge, however temporary, of a bunch of extremely unstable bunch of people, who don’t mind bringing in a new tax such as the GST but in no way want to de-pollute the atmosphere.

Last night, fundamental passion stirred. Sure it was under the adrenalin-fuelled influence of imminent political death, but nevertheless here was a man, from the Liberal Party, committed to a thought that goes beyond today’s bank account (and maybe looks to next year’s bank account, if you realise there’s money to be made from environmental salvage).

Tony Abbott, meanwhile, the poor spiritual sapling of a man formerly known as principled, makes no defence of his turn-bull tactics on the CPRS other than to cite the histrionic baying of the business community and radio shock-jocks and their fans who want business as usual.

If you wonder what we can do about climate sceptics, Tim Flannery has the answer. Absolutely nothing — just as you ignore creationists, or those who are “still not convinced” that the Earth is round.

The danger is that in the death throes of the old empire — and it is the death throes because the world is starting to wake up that it should take serious and urgent action on climate change — the creationists (sorry, the climate sceptics) can still wreak an awful lot of damage. By 3.45 this afternoon we may know if Kevin Rudd’s tactics have worked on getting the CPRS bill through the Senate, after an agreement made to do so by that time.

What shape the Liberal Party will be in by then  is uncertain. How many Liberals will vote with the Government as planned, or have been bullied into reneging and stabbing their leader is uncertain.

Will a new climate deniers’ party form, together with a tactical guerilla outfit that will fight to reopen any smoke stacks that close?

Rudd is looking like our wily Prime Minister who could teach Machiavelli a few lessons.

As he joins the Obama family in the US over the next few days, Rudd must be sure to ponder what’s next: can he manoeuvre his uncanny ability to get his own way onto a bigger platform, and become president of the planet?

Who knows? It seems right now that anything is possible.

Here’s our copy of Malcolm Turnbull’s speech last night, for the record:

“Now I think we all recognise that most Australians expect their political leaders and their political parties to take effective action on climate change.

“This is about the future of our planet and the future of our children and their children. It is one of the great challenges of our time. Now I know there are many people, including many people who are supporters of my own party, who have doubts about the science and grave reservations about it. I understand that and I respect it. But as Margaret Thatcher said, right back nearly 20 years ago in 1990, this is about risk management. Or as Rupert Murdoch said, we have to give the planet the benefit of the doubt. Matt Franklin smiles, from The Australian. He is very pleased when I quote his boss.

“But the fact is we have to take a prudent approach to this. Saying that we are not going to do anything about climate change is irresponsible, and no credible, responsible political party can have a ‘no action on climate change’ policy. It is as simple as that.

“Now the Liberal party room meeting here, Coalition party room in fact, meeting here and, of course, the shadow cabinet asked Ian Macfarlane and I to negotiate a package with the Government, to take amendments approved by the party room to improve the Government’s emissions trading scheme. And we did that with the full, the overwhelming authority in fact, of the Coalition party room. And it was a set of amendments that were designed to make the scheme more environmentally effective and to save tens of thousands of jobs.

“We achieved enormous concessions from the Government and indeed when they were announced many of you wrote it up as an enormous win for the Coalition. Many of you were surprised that the Government made such big concessions as they did, and those concessions, those improvements will save tens of thousands of jobs and, in addition, make the scheme more environmentally effective. Then the shadow cabinet endorsed that deal, the party room endorsed that deal.

“Now this has now become a question not simply of the environmental responsibility of the Liberal Party but of its integrity. We agreed with the Government on this deal. We must retain our credibility of taking action on climate change. We cannot be seen as a party of climate sceptics, of do nothings on climate change. That is absolutely fatal. And we also must be seen as men and women of our word. We entered into a bargain. There was offer and there was acceptance.

“Now I know, and I just repeat this, this is a difficult issue for many Liberals, many Australians. But I repeat: most people who doubt the science also know that it makes sense to take out insurance, to manage the risk, to give the planet the benefit of the doubt. Now at the moment, as you know, some of my colleagues have found it necessary to resign from ministerial positions so they can cross the floor on the issue. That is their right and I respect it. But I believe we must maintain this course of action. It is the responsible thing to do. It is the honourable thing to do.

“Australians expect their political leaders to act responsibly, to take action on climate change, to protect and safeguard the future of our planet, the future of our children. That is the challenge for us now and I am committed to it. We must be a party committed to action on climate change. Anything else is irresponsible.”

UPDATE: 1.20 PM FRIDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2009 –

The ABC has reported that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott are both in the running for the Liberal Leadership, but that Turnbull shows no sign of backing down on his determination to pass the ETS.

According to the ABC website this afternoon: “Those in the Turnbull camp expect to “win” on both the leadership and the ETS and believe they have 12 “rock solid votes” to pass it…

“Assistant Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has upped the heat on the Coalition, warning it to honour the deal made by Mr Turnbull to pass the amended bill by this afternoon.

“‘If that doesn’t occur I think there’s only one conclusion that can be drawn and that is that the extremists, the conspiracy theorists and the climate change sceptics in the Liberal Party have gained ground and are winning this argument,’ he said.”

So far those who have resigned from the shadow front bench are:

  • Tony Abbott
  • Nick Minchin
  • Sophie Mirabella
  • Stephen Parry
  • Eric Abetz
  • Michael Johnson
  • Tony Smith
  • Judith Adams
  • David Bushby
  • Mathias Cormann
  • Mitch Fifield
  • Brett Mason
  • Concetta Fierrivanti-Wells

UPDATE – 29 November 2009 –Malcolm Turnbull on ABC News Radio this morning: Minchin and Rudd both want a double dissolution on climate change; who do you think is smarter?

And on his critics, reported on the Channel 9 Sunday program:

“The Minchinites 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 want to do anything about it.

“If Nick Minchin wins this battle, he condemns our party to irrelevance.”

“They [his critics] are destroying the Liberal Party.

“There is a recklessness and a wilfulness in these men which is going to destroy the Liberal Party.

“I will win on Tuesday [when Mr Turnbull’s leadership will be challenged.]

“I am not interested in becoming a mouthpiece, 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.

“If Joe [Hockey] was the cuddly, friendly face of the Liberal Party but spouting Nick Minchin’s lines that would destroy him and destroy the party.

“He knows that. He’s got too much character to be suckered into that.”

Mr Turnbull said if the party was put back together in accordance with Senator Minchin’s wishes “we will end up becoming a fringe party of the far right”.

And that a party without a credible climate change policy “is not capable of winning an election”, a Channel 9 report said.

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