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The hypocrisy of Turnbull’s climate commentary

By Andrew Wicks

While Malcolm Turnbull routinely advocates for climate change, we should not forget what he did and failed to do when he had the opportunity.

Malcolm Turnbull has excoriated Scott Morrison’s net zero plan, labelling it as a “con” and “distraction” authored by the coal industry. In conversation with The New Daily, Turnbull said that carbon capture and storage (which the government is relying on to cut emissions) is “a proven failure and it keeps getting run up the flagpole by the fossil fuel sector as a way to defer action.”

Turnbull has been a notable figure since leaving parliament, offering a counter to the Liberal Party’s views on climate change. He’s often led the criticism against Morrison, with most agreeing with him while wondering where all this was when he was in power.

In April, The Conversation‘s Richard Denniss asked ‘Is Malcolm Turnbull the only Liberal who understands economics and climate science – or the only one who’ll talk about it?’

At the time of the article, Turnbull was “dumped as chair of the New South Wales government’s climate advisory board, just a week after being offered the role. His crime? He questioned the wisdom of building new coal mines when the existing ones are already floundering,” as Denniss wrote.

While it’s easy to point at the image of Scott Morrison fondling a piece of coal as the pertinent point, those with longer memories will remember his stance on climate change during his stint as Prime Minister. He, of course, enlisted the Nationals to topple Tony Abbott, effectively neutering his climate policy out of the gate. As John Hewson wrote in 2016, “The broad-based electoral expectation that Turnbull would stand against all this by continuing with his ‘principled position”‘ on climate was soon thwarted, as it became clear that he had sold out to the ‘right’ and the Nats to gain their support for him to replace Abbott as PM.

“The Nats have since not missed an opportunity to hold Turnbull to account, and have run, dragging Turnbull along, a very high-profile opposition to any further development of climate policy – blaming the SA blackout on renewables, attacking Labor states over their renewable energy targets, supporting new coal mines, and now rolling Josh Frydenberg over his desire for the promised Climate Review to consider an ’emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector, which they painted as a ‘dumb’ attempt at a limited carbon price.”

In 2018, the Turnbull government gave $444 million to a freshly-funded entity called The Great Barrier Reef Foundation; its membership comprised of the former head of the Commonwealth Bank, a director of Qantas and BHP Billiton, as well as execs from Origin Energy, Suncorp, GE Mining and Boeing.

A 2017 trip to Barcaldine highlighted Malcolm Turnbull’s (self-professed) climate agnosticism. He travelled to a solar farm to reiterate to state that we should approach this nation’s energy problem by taking advantage of our great natural advantages (coal, gas), before mentioning that Maranoa (a place that has an industry for all energy theories) is an example that we should follow.

If we wind the clock forward to August 2018, The New York Times reported “Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia abandoned plans for emission targets bowing to pressure from conservatives who considered toppling Mr Turnbull’s government over an energy policy that aimed to reduce prices and bring the country into line with international climate change commitments.

“Mr Turnbull, who looked tired after a weekend of negotiating with colleagues, told reporters Monday morning that the energy policy bill, known as the National Energy Guarantee, would not be introduced in the House of Representatives because there was not enough support.

“‘We are not going to propose legislation purely for the purpose of it being defeated,’ he said.

“Critics immediately called that claim inaccurate, noting that the proposal had support from other parties. But whatever its chances, the defeat spurred intense speculation about Mr Turnbull’s future and frustration among those increasingly worried about Australia’s vulnerability to climate change and its effects, from extreme drought to bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.

“‘All it does is reconfirm that they have no interest in doing anything about climate change or the Great Barrier Reef really,’ said Jon Brodie, a well-known coral reef scientist at James Cook University.”

Which isn’t exactly true. Earlier that month, it emerged that the Turnbull government gave $444 million to a freshly-funded entity called The Great Barrier Reef Foundation; its membership comprised of the former head of the Commonwealth Bank, a director of Qantas and BHP Billiton, as well as execs from Origin Energy, Suncorp, GE Mining and Boeing. At the time, the foundation had annual revenue of about $10 million and only six full-time staff.

As The Big Smoke‘s Matthew Reddin wrote at the time, “And they’d only ever been given $12 million by the government previously, as a deal set to match the donations made at the corporate level. So, all of a sudden, a sum just shy of half a billion dollars flows into their coffers, and an org devoted to selection causes and projects “of note” can spend my tax dollars on it. But why them? Why now? Why from this government, whose other half is made up of members of the National Party, an organisation who never got a vote from anyone who thinks that climate change is real, let alone sitting members of parliament who would believe that funds and resources should be devoted to “green” causes? It doesn’t make any actual sense.”

Six months later, the National Audit Office ruled that the department “failed to comply fully with rules designed to ensure transparency and value for money.” The rules demand clear and specific objectives for the funding.

“For non-competitive grants, assessment criteria provide a transparent means of assessing whether the particular proposal under consideration is of a satisfactory standard that approving a grant would represent value for money,” auditor-general Grant Hehir wrote in his report.

As the ABC noted, “They included ambitions such as ‘improved management of the Great Barrier Reef’ and ‘management of key threats to the Great Barrier Reef’.”

He stood idly by as Australia’s world-renowned science agency, the CSIRO, announced it would cut 80% of its climate scientists, effectively ending Australia’s climate research program.

In 2020, Malcolm Turnbull told Hack that “Australia really needs to address climate change. The need is more obvious than ever. We’ve battled the forces of climate denialism in our Parliament and in our political life…I lost the leadership twice over this. I fought very hard to get an emissions trading scheme passed, and to keep it as Liberal Party policy.”

But as British environmentalist Jonathon Porritt wrote in 2016, “when Malcolm Turnbull wrested the prime ministership from Tony Abbott the international climate community breathed a deep sigh of relief. By contrast, Turnbull had done OK on climate change as a previous leader of the Liberal party, so it was assumed he would do a lot better the second time around.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. As I discovered on my latest visit, Turnbull has been utterly pusillanimous in pursuing any kind of progressive climate agenda. As part of his ‘oil on troubled waters’ strategy, he apparently decided not to take on Abbott’s climate-denying guerilla fighters and has offered zero leadership to Australia’s confused and polarised citizenry either before or after Paris.

“He stood idly by as Australia’s world-renowned science agency, the CSIRO, announced it would cut 80% of its climate scientists, effectively ending Australia’s climate research program. Turnbull is not the only politician having to deal with totally unreasonable flat-earthers. But that’s no excuse. Australia’s citizens deserve a lot better than that.”

Sadly, we know how the story ends. If we’re happy to rally behind him to fight a more contemporary evil, we should not forgive, nor forget.

This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.

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  1. Michael


  2. Phil Pryor

    “Turn” on the “bull” shit, (full name) has one big policy, er, Turnbull. A shiner, devious talker, relacquered dud, he remains untrustworthy and beyond serious consideration involving trust or commitment.

  3. Andrew J. Smith

    A good example of how Australian politics, grounded policy development and following good science have been sabotaged to preclude threats to fossil fuels, mining, top end of town etc.. Too easy when most follow media etc. in blaming ‘immigrants’ and ‘population growth’; for our own inertia. ‘freedom & liberty’ and self interest ….

  4. Michael Taylor

    When PM he was asked why he was so different to before he entered politics. He replied that what we were now seeing, was the real Malcolm Turnbull.

    That’s an admission he was all fake before he entered politics.

    I stopped trusting him when I heard that. Plus I realised how gutless he was.

  5. wam

    there are always aussies prepared to give a newy a go and many, who wouldn’t have gone with rabbott, believed the rhetoric about turnbull. Even I, who would not contemplate a vote for the canberra (or anywhere) clp, hoped there was a vestige remnant of his time, with penny wong, on climate but the rabbott’s curse was too ingrained and 5 years later the nats take $120billion to say yes on principle.
    That is a word definitely not associated with the nats nor scummo/fryer

  6. BB

    Strange that Turnbull once wanted to join Labor, but sold his arse to the RW mob, and was thanked with a knife in the back.

    Another rather strange item is that Toxic Tony once said that as a youngster, he was ‘quite interested’ in joining the Labor Party.
    “You know, back in the late eighties my friend Johnno Johnson tried to recruit me to the Labor Party and for a while I was quite interested,” Abbott told ABC Radio. The revelations come after the federal government claimed that Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly lobbied senior Labor figures during the 1990s about joining the ALP.

    History is made up of… What ifs, butts, arseholes and maybes… and not forgetting Ripley’s “Believe it or not”… 😁

  7. New England Cocky

    Australia has suffered for eight (8) years lacking any political leadership and being manipulated by foreign owned multinational corporations, especially the mining industry. These puppeteers, long experienced in manipulating governments for their own advantage have gutted Australia while the Canberra Bubble blows brain farts.

    BTW the Maranoa electorate is represented by David Little-to-be proud-of, the Deputy Dawg to Beetrooter, who resided in Maranoa as an accountant before and during his stint as Senator for Queensland. The previous Nazional$ representative, Bruce Scott, delayed his retirement to exclude Beetrooter from an automatic move to the Reps, thus causing Beetrooter to infect New England politics which was probably better suited to his 19th century thinking(?)

  8. Henry Rodrigues

    Turdball, as I used to refer to him when he was selling his soul to the Liberals and the fornicator, has tried in recent times, to exonerate his shameful cowardly behaviour. This might allow people to find some mitigating circumstances in which to forgive him, but his other achievement of screwing up the NBN will always be the lodestone around his neck. Why do these guys only see the error of their ways after they leave politics? Ego, pride or one eyed loyalty to those who despised him ? Not quite the smartest guy in the room.

  9. Michael

    The product of a well groomed and refined life’s passage within a corrupted adversarial legal system – so much riding from within a flawed social system, resulting in disappointment.

    Can’t help thinking what would have happened if he were to crossed the floor based on principles rather than ideologically infected ego?

  10. Ken Fabian

    My impression was that no ambition on climate was the promise that assured Turnbull the support to get him the PM’ship. Ironically, it was his ability to appease on climate that was his attraction.

    Perhaps there was some intention and hope to change that using the power of PMO but having caved in already he had no real power to persuade. Even his inaction was not sufficient to satisfy.

    Rudd was no better – preferring to back away from the issue once Turnbull was gone and any possibility of bipartisanship was lost and blaming The Greens, with distancing the ALP from them appearing more politically important than the climate issue itself. Having shown boundless willingness to water down climate policy to get Turnbull led LNP on board he was unwilling or incapable of strengthening it to assure support from The Greens.

    But I had my doubts about Rudd after the famous UN speech; the media made much of the greatest moral challenge line but what I made much of was the clear indication he gave that it was carbon capture and storage or nothing for Australia, with the clear implication that Australia would keep using and selling coal and gas no matter what.

    That could have been a realpolitik conclusion to come to but The Greens were almost certainly right that the compromises would just give us… what Morrison is giving us; policies without substance. With some carbon capture and storage, that won’t ever work except as a way for more coal and gas production to evade the need for emissions reductions.

  11. Brozza

    Turdball a.k.a. mr. fraudband

  12. Michael


    a la Keating

  13. guest

    Ken Fabian,

    a very interesting revelation about Rudd’s carbon capture and storage Institute, which I did not know about before. It was roundly criticised at the time. The Institute’s funding was cut by Julia Gillard. An ABC report appeared in 2012.

    Now ccs is part of the Morrison/Taylor carbon “roadmap”!

    Turnbull was trapped in a horror of his own making.

  14. Michael

    Happy to be corrected – my understanding was Greens pulled Gillard/Labor over the line, and Rudd/Labor allowed himself to be chased by Abbott down the carbon capture hole.

  15. BB

    Now ccs is part of the Morrison/Taylor carbon “roadmap”!

  16. BB

    And today Labor has woken up to the deceit of Mathias ConMan…

    Upon hearing of Mr ConMan’s remarks during Senate Estimates, Labor Senator Tim Ayres said he had “defined his political career by stopping climate action in Australia”.
    “Are we certain that this is the same Mathias ConMan?” Senator Ayres quipped.
    “Is this the same bloke?” he asked. “What on Earth is going on?”

    “What on Earth is going on?”… The answer is very simple… All the L/NP and all ex L/NP, etc etc., are all Fucking Liars!

  17. BB

    Australia’s emissions reduction minister’s stance at odds with comparable developed nations. Angus Taylor has declared he will use a major climate summit in Glasgow to promote Australia as a good place to invest in fossil fuel projects.

    The madness continues with “We Don’t Give A Rat’s Arse If The Planet Burns” bullshit agenda of Morrison and the L/NP…

  18. Henry Rodrigues

    “What on earth is going on ?”…..They’re Liberals mate, born and bred to be liars.
    Look no further than that lying rodent holed up in Woolstonecroft who raised lying to an artform, to which all Liberals strive to for recognition and fame. They practice lying as a badge of honour. Tony jugears, and Scummo and Angus and the rest of the dorks are graduates of the school of lying.

    I hope and wish, one of the others on the OECD table, throw that in conman’s face.

  19. Max Gross

    Turnbull. Forever to be known as The Fizza.

  20. John Haly

    Thank You Andrew, that needed to be said. His hypocrisy should not remain unchallenged. His original slogan, “Continuity with Change”, despite him abandoning it early on, was so applicable for him when it came to policy, as I communicated back in 2016. (,8832 ). He was a disappointing coward as a PM as he capitulated to the RWNJs of the party. Deals were made to elevate him, and instead of realising he was the only acceptable candidate at the time and holding to principle, he relinquished his soul to them. Now that nothing is at risk, he has found a modicum of “courage” to speak his mind. Too little too late. He had an opportunity, and he wasted it because he was so wedded to the idea of that power which – as we all know – corrupts. I find it hard to offer any respect to such cowardice that from the start, said he was only contributing trivial changes to a continuance of the Abbott regime.

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