The PM has changed again. Again it’s over climate policy. What comes next?


It was refreshing on Friday afternoon to hear Malcolm Turnbull speak frankly and finally call it like he sees it.

He was smiling, relaxed, not much evidence of the protracted leadership coup that ended his stint as prime minister.

Perhaps it was because there was no more need for mealy-mouthed excuses and uncomfortable grimaces as he switched positions and performed backflips on climate policies that years before he was prepared to cross the floor to support.

He’d been surrounded by insurgents and madness he told the nation. He named the guilty, Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott, “who chose to deliberately attack the government from within – they did so because they wanted to bring the government down, they wanted to bring my prime ministership down.”

He cut short his answer of when he would resign, but he pointedly did not say he would wait until the next election. The message was he’d go sooner rather than later. What that does to the stability of the government and the timing of the election remains to be seen.

It was a much more victorious speech than the sad effort he made after winning the last general election. He might have lost the leadership, but at least the insurgents hadn’t won the prize.

Maybe he was looking forward to speaking his mind at last on climate and renewable energy and bringing down emissions. Perhaps he’ll become a leader on this issue – for the sake of the grandkids who joined him after the speech and all the children in Australia who should be the real focus of politics, as he said.

If that’s the case Turnbull out of office could be for climate and sustainability what Abbott has been for the coal industry.

We can hope.

What we’re in for now on sustainability and climate under the new leadership is a very big question with no clear answers.

Both Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, elected the leader and deputy leader of the Liberal Party, were roundly applauded by Turnbull, but we don’t know much about how they will act under the pressure from the coal lobby, which you can imagine will continue unabated. And we don’t now much about their underlying beliefs, nor if they matter to how they will be in power.

What do we know about ScoMo?

He’s conservative but according to the media not hard right enough for the core of unbend-ables that surround Dutton. It’s possible they will undermine him without remorse because he’s not a “real” conservative.

The moderates say the opposite. They point to his dance around the Parliament with a lump of coal a few years ago (amazing he didn’t liquefy it and drink it like others have done with poisonous material to assure the populace they’re safe.)

He was furiously tough and cold as immigration minister and credited with coining the slogan, “stop the boats”.

He abstained from the vote on same sex marriage but has also said the bible (he’s a Pentecostal Christian) is not a policy document.

But the thing about ScoMo that matters is exactly that uncertainty of who is he is. He seems sway-able, more reasonable and a bit “one of the boys” with that ever-ready smirk that he will now need to keep under control. Whether it’s genuine will now be revealed.

Certainly he likes to lend his support to a few worthy cuases, affordable housing for one. And Amanda Vanstone, one of the more moderate voices from the Libs, told the ABC on Friday that he was happy to come to Adelaide to help with an event she was organising for people with disability even though there was nothing in it for him.

But wasn’t there?

ScotMo has long held ambitions for the highest position in the land. He’s smart enough and strategic enough to know how to win votes and it’s why the Libs put him in the leadership rather than Dutton, who is as electorally palatable as a mothball.

ScoMo’s view of the bible attests to pragmatism and shows that he’s been playing the game long enough to read the crowd and their puppet masters equally well.

But whether he’s got rat cunning enough to outsmart the most entrenched ideologues we think this country has ever seen, the coal lobby, remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen if he wants to.

If he can truly read the mood of the crowd he will know that Australians are sick of the lies about renewables and the reasons for high energy costs. He’ll realise that everyone now of any sane mind “gets” climate, and that to be truly safe we need to address the biggest issue coming our way: searing temperatures and damaging storms and in a way that’s ethical and sustainable.

He’s won the first toss but to succeed in this game, he needs to demonstrate the kind of pragmatism that the electorate expects from a pro-market government. He needs to support the biggest economic growth story of our time, the burgeoning number of businesses in Australia – part of a global trend – determined to tackle these challenges.

As Climate Works’ executive director Anna Skarbek told a group of capital city leaders in Glebe last week the momentum towards renewable energy and sustainability is unstoppable.

If ScoMo is true to his conservative pro-market stripes he will jump onto the side of progress, not the shoring up of redundant technologies and fuels that pollute.

He will support renewables, he will ensure his deputy Josh Frydenberg can pass the National Energy Guarantee, for what it’s now worth in its gutted state, ask him to improve the framework, and he will stop the ideologues from wreaking havoc on the economic and social fabric of this nation.

We’re watching ScoMo.

What they said

Around the traps the mood on Friday was not good – that gig with the lump of coal, the key signifier of what many people expect will be the definer for the next PM’s term.

GetUp national director Paul Oosting says Morrison is only a slight improvement on Peter Dutton.

“Peter Dutton may not be Prime Minister, but there’s no doubt the new Morrison Government is owned lock, stock and barrel by the hard right.”

“We’ll remind them that he tried to increase the GST, which would’ve pushed people already struggling to make ends meet further into poverty,“ Oosting said.

“We’ll remind them that he paraded a lump of coal in Parliament, as though our climate emergency was some kind of joke.”

The coal incident is unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale is pushing hard for an election.

Queensland’s Labor premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, says she wants “a prime minister who understands us”.

“We’ve seen billions of dollars go to NSW and Victoria. Queensland deserves a fair go. And we’ll keep standing up for Queensland until we get it,” she said in a short statement.

The sentiment is more positive at the local government level.

“Scott Morrison was the Treasurer who ended the freeze on Financial Assistance Grants indexation and Josh Frydenberg has been very helpful in letting ALGA address the Meeting of Environment Ministers around waste and recycling issues, where we saw valuable progress towards higher levels of on-shore recycling,” ALGA president mayor David O’Loughlin said

“We will seek to deepen our relationships with them in their new roles,” he added.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said:

The Liberal Party is destroying itself because a few politicians cannot bring themselves to act to protect people and nature from climate damage. They have repeatedly wrecked efforts to cut pollution – and now want Australia to abandon the global Paris Agreement.

The new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was the man who laughed as he tossed a lump of coal in Parliament. The dirty prop was supplied by industry lobby group, the Minerals Council of Australia.

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