Party line or Lateline? Turnbull’s Tory temptation

Turnbull made his position clear on the ABC’s Lateline.

Malcolm Turnbull created a stir on Lateline last night by criticising opposition climate policy. The opposition spokesman for communications and former leader of the party implied that Tony Abbott’s “direct action” scheme was expensive and partially based on climate scepticism.

In an alternative universe, in which Abbott had not seized the leadership, the Liberal Party would look more like David Cameron’s “green” Conservative Party than the hardline Republican sceptics in the US.

Malcolm in a muddle

Turnbull’s in a very difficult position given the fact that he was such a vocal supporter of carbon pricing back in 2008/9.

Even as far back as 2006/7 he was on record saying he was a supporter of a market-based instrument, so given that his party has turned around he’s in a difficult position.

It was interesting that he said their mechanism involves picking winners, and that it’s not a classic market based instrument, but when you look at it, it is.

What the Coalition has put forward is a baseline and credit scheme, the problem is that it’s not a very good one.

It often goes unnoticed that the Coalition is actually proposing an emissions trading scheme, it’s just a baseline and credit, not a cap and trade scheme.

The coalition’s policy won’t work as well as a cap and trade scheme. The big worry is that their baseline will be too high.

If they just concentrate on soil carbon it’s going to be difficult for them to achieve the 5% target by 2020.

If they buy more offsets, they will meet the target, it’s just going to be more expensive than a well-designed market scheme.

In an alternative universe…

If Turnbull had retained the leadership and there wasn’t a wholesale crossing of the floor then the CPRS bill would have been supported. It would’ve been in and we would’ve had a carbon price for the better part of a year by now.

Eventually the Liberal Party won’t be able to oppose a carbon price any more. There’s so much going on around the world that eventually whoever’s in government will have to go down that track.

The question is when, and that’s more difficult.

If there were a change of leadership now I don’t think the Coalition would change its position on an emissions trading scheme.

At the moment with polls running so strongly against emissions trading I think whoever’s in leadership now wouldn’t backflip on this policy. But they still need a lot more work on their current policy to make it credible.

A sceptical scheme

If they were genuinely concerned about climate change, the Coalition’s policy would look different.

There’s obviously a significant proportion of the Coalition that still questions the science, or if they don’t question the science then they certainly question the impact and significance of climate change.

The bigger question is what’s going to happen if the Liberal Party wins the next election? Let’s just say that the Multi-Party Climate Change Commission is able to negotiate a carbon price in the next couple of months, they get a bill through parliament and then through the senate but the Coalition wins the next election in 2012/13. Will the coalition then try to dismantle a scheme that’s been in place for a year or so?

Labor and the Greens will still have control of the senate, but if the Coalition gets a mandate to dismantle the scheme, will Labor stand in the way?

If Abbott goes to an election based on a platform and wins, he’s got every right to say, “How dare you stand in my way?”

A similar thing happened with Work Choices. The coalition said, “It’s not our policy to support the dismantling of Work Choices, but Labor has a mandate on this so we won’t block it in the senate.”

Will Labor do the same thing? It’s hard to tell, and I haven’t seen a journalist put it to anyone in the Labor party yet.

I’d love to hear Julia Gillard respond to that question and if I were an investor in energy resources, I’d want to hear the Prime Minister answer that question.

Cool Britannia?

You certainly got a sense of that from the comments he made last night that Turnbull would prefer to be in the UK at the moment.

There’s a great similarity between what Turnbull believes in relation to climate change, and what the Cameron government is doing in the UK.

The complicating part of the UK situation is that it’s in the EU’s “bubble”. So the high targets in the UK don’t actually reduce emissions; they just see them redistributed within the EU. We’re not in that bubble.

If you look at the dynamics in the US and Australia you would’ve thought from that conservatives would be the big supporters of market-based instruments in environment policy.

You’d think that the neo-liberal agenda would expand out of the economic field and into the environment, but the conservatives cut off their neo-liberal attachments when it comes to environment policy.

It’s quite amusing because there was a lot of talk about market instruments in the lead up to Kyoto. Australia and the US were big supporters of market-based instruments, and the Europeans opposed them almost universally in the end they were forced to accept them as part of the Kyoto Protocol.

The irony is that it’s now Europe that’s gone ahead with an emissions trading scheme and the United States and Australia have steadfastly resisted it.

A different breed of conservative

Our conservatives are “merino conservatives” who believe that the interests of big business are aligned with the interests of the nation.

That idea has had a big influence on the conservatives in Australia and the United States. So they’ve been reluctant to impose prices on business because it hurts them and forces changes they don’t want.

The dynamic between conservatives and their antagonism towards environmentalism also plays into this. There’s a strong current where the conservatives believe that environmentalist are almost to a man ex-communists, or at least very strong socialists.

You don’t have to go back many years before you get bigwig Liberals like Andrew Robb saying that environmentalism came straight from communism. These guys are big players with the Liberal party and you see the same thing in the US.

Turnbull – the next Gillard?

The so-called “wet Liberals” have been dying out in the Liberal Party and there’s been the rise of the more conservative right.

It’s become a more difficult place for small-l liberals to be but I don’t think that’s going to stop Turnbull. He quite clearly still wants to lead the party and he’s not alone in holding these views.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Turnbull having a run for it some time after the next election. Even if the Liberals win I think Turnbull will still try to take the leadership off Abbott in government, just as Gillard did to Rudd.

If the Liberal Party take government it’s going to be an issue for them what they do, do they try to massage the emissions trading scheme, or do they try to dissolve it?

It’s going to be a big issue and there’s still going to be a divide between Turnbull and the more conservative side of the Liberal Party.

It’s going to be one of the issues that lies behind the divisions in the Liberal Party and lies behind Turnbull’s push for a leadership position.