The fortnight before Copenhagen has seen a topsy-turvy political bun-fight in Australian climate politics. The Rudd Labor government’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) Bill was amended after negotiations with the conservative Liberal National Coalition, only to be defeated by them in the Senate. The Liberal Party dumped their leader Malcolm Turnbull and rejected their own deal. New Opposition leader Tony Abbott has hung his leadership on a climate sceptic strategy.
The Liberals were derided in much of the mainstream media. Business journalist Michael Pascoe spared no punches in his assessment of the new policy direction:
Australia's carbon policy limbo (in the religious, not dance, sense) will be exercising plenty of business strategists over the long hot summer as they wonder how and when coincidence or policy might favour them.
It's made all the harder though by the uncertainty over where Tony Abbott is heading. Apparently the federal Liberal Party is staging its very own Christmas pantomime, a new interpretation the perennial Australian favourite, the Magic Pudding.
In this version, Tony goes in search of the Magic Carbon Pudding – a pain-free way of reducing CO2 emissions.
While inhabitants of the real world generally believe a rich nation can only be weaned off cheap and dirty energy on a diet of carrots and sticks, Tony has promised to find the Magic Carbon Pudding before the summer is over. This pudding apparently is stick free, meaning Australia's carbon footprint can be reduced without any cost. Truly amazing.
Nevertheless, the Liberals survived two by-elections on the weekend unscathed. The ruling Labor Party did not run candidates in the conservative’s safe electorates. It was left to the Greens to make a contest but they made little impact on the Liberal vote.
Some see it as an endorsement of Abbott and his new hard-line climate politics. Graham Young, Chief Editor of Online Opinion , blogs at Ambit Gambit. As a Liberal Party member he has often been out of step with the leadership. On this occasion his sceptical views are closer to the new leader's and Graham was quick to explore the implications of the by-election wins:
AGW and the ETS will be subjected to closer scrutiny as it is now obvious that a large number of electors do not automatically regard them as reasons to vote for the government.
That in Higgins the Greens ran high profile global warming hysteric Clive Hamilton who has argued democracy is not up to the challenge of dealing with global warming reinforces that last point.
… Abbott's elevation was based almost entirely on the ETS issue, so any change in the terms of debate will help him. It will also probably harden his line on it.
The Piping Shrike was sceptical about Abbott’s consistency about global warming:
Does Tony Abbott think human activity has caused climate change? It’s hard to tell. He told an audience in Beaufort a few weeks ago that the climate change argument was “crap” and that he was only going along with it for political convenience. Then by last week he was openly telling the media his doubts that the climate was even warming at all, talking about the world cooling since 2000 and that the climate was warmer when Romans were growing grape vines on Hadrian’s wall. Now “released” to say what he really feels, he says he believed in the importance of climate change action all along!
On the other hand, Stating the Obvious seems to favour a non-conformist approach and hit a positive note about the change of leadership:
In Australia, we have the first political party to change leaders over climate change. The Opposition Liberal Party has nailed its colours to the mast by ditching an alarmist for a sceptic. Not only that, but the new leader, Tony Abbott, as soon as he was voted in, called for a secret ballot on the Emissions Trading Scheme in the party room and the vote went 54-29 against the ETS, giving him a firm mandate to oppose this economy-wrecking legislation in the Senate.
The by-elections have apparently reversed the rising seas of climate change science, tidal fashion:
Well, the backlash those on the left were predicting against the Liberal Party in Federal by-elections for the seats of Bradfield and Higgins has failed to eventuate. What they labelled a “referendum on climate change” has been just that, but not in the way they thought. In fact, with very little change in the Liberal Party margin in both seats, I would say this is a ringing endorsement of the new leader, Tony Abbott and his climate scepticism, and the Labor Party should be worried. So much for the public wanting urgent action on climate change. The tide has turned.
Damian Lataan’s blog Murdoch's Propagandists claims to expose ‘Murdoch's Lies and Propaganda Empire’. He summed up how he sees the Australian community’s views:
The majority of Australians, regardless of party politics, are now green-leaning. They might not vote Green but they certainly are far more interested in the environment today than ever they were before. Most accept, despite the recent nonsense about a few scientists trying to fudge the numbers, that climate change is a very real problem that the world cannot afford to ignore.
He concluded by an allusion to Tony Abbott’s avowed Catholicism:
Abbott wants businesses to profit today without any of the costs for tomorrow. God, so Abbott believes, will look after tomorrow.
At times the climate change debate in Australia has more to do with religious zeal than scientific objectivity. It could become fertile ground for demagogues.
The short term result of all these political machinations is that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd goes to Copenhagen without cap and trade legislation and without a climate change consensus at home.