The idea that there’s a nicer, kinder, small ‘l’ liberal hiding away inside Malcolm Turnbull, waiting for the right circumstances to come out, dies hard. Even now, when his very narrow win makes it more likely that his policies will appease the right wing of the Liberal Party and all of the National Party, some commentators are still looking for that elusive moderate Malcolm.
Yes Sean Kelly, I’m looking at you. On Friday in his daily blog, Kelly gave us ‘Turnbull discovers his voice, a little’, urging him to seek the middle ground and assuming hopefully he has a different and more moderate voice than we have seen recently. On Monday, admittedly among other more critical comments, he considered the changes Turnbull had made to his ministry. This is what he had to say about environmental policy:
The most significant change was getting Greg Hunt out of environment, and replacing him with Josh Frydenberg. The prime minister should be applauded for this. Hunt, by now, has managed both to hold too many positions on how to tackle climate change, and to dig in far too deep on Direct Action. Moving him frees Turnbull to execute a shift in the Coalition’s approach, which will be necessary as he seeks to re-establish credibility with the electorate in the years ahead. This was a canny move.
But there are a few problems with this ‘canny move’.
First, there’s no evidence that Josh Frydenberg – formerly an Abbott supporter – holds progressive views on climate change that could result in a shift in the Coalition’s approach. Indeed, back in September, when he was appointed by Turnbull as Minister for resources, energy and northern Australia, Frydenberg said on Radio National that he fully supported Direct Action: ‘We have the mechanism absolutely right’. He completely rejected any cap and trade scheme. Perhaps he was telling porkies, and Direct Action will be morphed into a cap and trade scheme after all, but aside from the fact that you can never apparently believe what any of the government says, ever, there’s no reason to expect that he will now support effective action on climate change. At least Greg Hunt once upon a time, according to his Honours thesis, supported a market mechanism.
Furthermore, Freydenberg is a strong supporter of coal mining. The New Matilda reports that ‘Frydenberg has been a major advocate for coal, and has echoed Tony Abbott’s belief that the mineral is “good for humanity”’. On his appointment back in September, Andrew Bolt apparently called him ‘the new Mr Coal’.
Then there’s the fact that by giving responsibility for the environment to Frydenberg, alongside energy, Turnbull has effectively downgraded the importance of the whole environment portfolio. It’s true that Labor’s Mark Butler has shadow responsibility for both areas, and there can be synergy between them – but not when the Minister is an advocate for coal mining. A SMH headline reports Greenpeace’s view that ‘Combined energy and environment portfolio for Josh Frydenberg a ‘huge blow’ for Great Barrier Reef’. The Climate Council is more moderate, but then they have to try and work with him.
And another thing Kelly didn’t mention is that Turnbull has appointed Queensland National Senator Matthew Canavan as Minister for Resources. In today’s Guardian, Cavan is reported as saying ‘there is still a level of uncertainly about the impact of carbon emissions on global warming.’ Right. So Malcolm, who really believes in the urgent need to do something about climate change (“I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.” (ABC, 2009)) has put a climate denier not only in his ministry, but in charge of resources. Canavan is a huge fan of the Adani coal mine. What a surprise! That’s evidently how committed Malcolm really is.
One can’t but wonder what’s in that secret agreement between the Liberals and the Nationals about climate change. Or maybe even worse, if there’s anything at all about it.
‘But, but …’ I hear you cry, ‘moderate Malcolm hasn’t had a chance. Circumstances are against him’. No. A leader leads. Get used to the idea that there is no moderate Malcolm who will emerge one day like a butterfly from his conservative chrysalis. The real Malcom is the one who fully supported Tony Abbott’s 2014 budget – ‘I support every element, of course, including the Medicare co-payment’ – (yes, the transcript is still on his website), who acclaims the free market, and who will do anything – like spending $1million, or even more – to keep his job. Get over it.
Am I picking on you Sean? There is a huge amount of much worse journalism going around. You are clear sighted on many things. Please just get this one sorted.