Climate skeptics and cheap sophistry – is this the new deal for the environment?

Is the new Prime Minister placing his ambition above the future of Australia? Scullin MP Andrew Giles explains that Turnbull’s flip flops on climate change may just be disastrous for our economic – and environmental – future.

John Maynard Keynes famously said, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind’.

It’s now clear that the new Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull adheres to a very different aphorism.

He changes his mind according to political calculation. And so his government is, in reality, driven to the lowest common denominator – its most conservative members.

Almost all of whom are climate skeptics.

At least they are honest in expressing their genuinely held views.

Not so our PM. The tragedy is that Malcolm Turnbull knows better.

In his first press conference as Prime Minister, he stated his commitment to continue former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s damaging and costly Direct Action policy: “The policy on climate change that Greg Hunt and Julie [Bishop] prepared is one that I supported as a minister in the Abbott government and it’s one that I support today.”

With the Turnbull government we have come a long way from his 2009 statement that this policy was a ‘farce’.

And further from the courage he showed then when he said: “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”

So, don’t believe the hype around the change of leadership. Just as Mr Turnbull’s commitment to equality proved to be a marriage of convenience, the only shift onclimate change is one of style. We have moved from the cheap sophistry of Tony Abbott to the expansive, self-indulgent sophistry of Malcolm Turnbull.

Direct Action: wasteful and weaselly

He knows that Direct Action is economically wasteful and environmentally inadequate and he dances around this with weasel words. He treats climate policy like a game.

Its centrepiece, the Emissions Reduction Fund, costs taxpayers $2.5 billion. That’s a lot of money to spend on a policy that doesn’t work. Minister Hunt claims that it bought 47 million tonnes of emissions abatement. What he is not as keen to publicise is that three quarters of that was from projects that existed before the auction.

The policies of the previous Labor government – scrapped by Tony Abbott – were actually working. They were driving down emissions. When we left office in 2013, emissions were 8 per cent lower than in 2007 when we were elected.

The Department of the Environment’s latest official projections show that emissions will have risen by 20 per cent by 2020 from the time of the Abbott government’s election. This is a catastrophic failure.

The Coalition attack on the climate doesn’t end there. Bucking a global trend toward investment in renewables, under the Liberal government renewables investment has dropped a staggering 88 per cent.

Labor’s policy is for 50 per cent of all electricity generated done so by renewable technology by 2030. Labor isn’t playing politics with Australia’s future. We have sought a bipartisan approach. It is about protecting our environment and supporting an emergent industry of the future.

The damage done to the renewables industry is currently still reversible. It becomes less and less so with each day of government inaction. Minister Hunt, the new Prime Minister’s role model, is choosing cheap politics over policy when it comes to climate. He still plans to appoint a ‘scientific’ committee on wind. We already know the Prime Minister’s real views on the issue, maybe it is time he imitated his predecessor in another way and made a captain’s pick.

Or maybe Mr Turnbull has simply adopted the views of his former cabinet colleague Joe Hockey that wind farms are too “ugly”?

The Abbott-Turnbull government’s assault on the environment and sensible, fact-based policy sadly doesn’t end there.

Mr Turnbull’s confused attitude to the successful Clean Energy Finance Corporationwas demonstrated this week, showing the extent to which he’s sacrificed his views to seize the prime ministership. In Question Time on Tuesday, Turnbull refused to back the CEFC saying it was an ‘open question’.

We are at a critical juncture with the December Paris climate conference fast approaching.

The ball is in the Prime Minister’s court – he can back the science, the economics, and his own better judgment. Or he can continue to place his ambition above Australia’s future, and playing our role in effective global action.

The stakes are so high: our future can’t be mortgaged to Mr Turnbull’s ego. If the policies don’t change we might as well send a cardboard cut-out of Tony Abbott to Paris in his place.

This article originally appeared on the Labor Herald.

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