Coming on top of the further drop in Turnbull’s status as a leader, his handling yesterday of the Coalition’s policy on climate change makes it difficult to see how he can continue as leader of the Coalition and PM. Shorten rightly described the chopping and changing as “climate change wars”.
One way of looking at it is to say that Environment Minister Frydenberg was asked by Turnbull to rush out before Christmas the terms of reference for the review of climate change policy which could include a recommendation to have a price or de facto tax on carbon emissions but that he (F) was then asked to say that the Coalition would not adopt a carbon tax “or whatever way you like to call it”. It appears that both the issue of terms of reference and the back-flip denying a carbon tax could be adopted was approved by Cabinet but that Turnbull chose Frydenberg to announce them and then made a public statement which implied it was Frydenberg’s idea/decision (see the report Turnbull v Frydenberg). The deletion of one item from the review followed strong expressions of concern by some Coalition members that it could recommend a policy that had previously been rejected by the Coalition and, when he became leader, Malcolm Turnbull too. Indeed, it was reportedly a condition accepted by Turnbull in order to become leader.
Unless Turnbull acknowledges that the changes by F were made at his request, it will now be difficult for Frydenberg to be sure he has credibility when he makes policy statements. At the least he should insist that Turnbull clarify the situation in regard to the original statement on the terms of reference and the back-flip.
In today’s Herald Sun Andrew Bolt gives more detail on yesterday’s shemozzle and concludes “To sum up: Turnbull made yet another disastrous political call, which showed the Left he’s weak, showed conservatives he’s untrustworthy, and showed his ministers he’ll blame them for his blunders. This can’t end well”.
The situation is also complicated by the report in today’s AFR that the Chief Scientist’s committee reviewing the National Energy Market is expected to recommend the adoption of a scheme which would involve putting a price or de facto tax on emissions. I have previously referred to analysis by climate expert Bill Kininmonth indicating that the Chief Scientist’s analysis of the physics was wrongly based and that “ in all likelihood, carbon dioxide has not been a significant factor regulating past climate and will not be the main driver of future climate change” (for more on Kininmonth’s analysis, see my web site under Environment). It would of course be open to Turnbull to use K’s analysis, and his experience at the BOM, to reject Chief Scientist’ reported recommendation.
There is also the problem is that even the existing policy would increase electricity prices. Emissions are currently well below the target of 26-28 per cent and to meet that target there will need to be an increase in usage of energy sources much more costly than fossil fuels. Except in South Australia (where amazingly the target has already been exceeded and prices have gone through the roof), this means higher electricity prices. What the review needs to do is recommend a target that would not increase prices.