Can Turnbull Save the Day & Experts Challenge Energy Policy

Coalition Leadership

As Parliament resumes next week after its winter break, new views about the leadership of the Coalition are naturally emerging and another Newspoll will occur.  The last one on 24 July showed no change in the Coalition’s TPP (47/53), although its primary vote did improve slightly (from 35 to 36). But Labor’s primary also increased by one percentage point (to 37) and gave no indication that it was “slipping”.

The basic question that Coalition MPs have to face is whether to continue with Turnbull as leader in the event that Newspoll shows no significant change as Parliament resumes. His major reform (sic) during the recess (the establishment of a Ministry of Home Affairs) is unlikely to improve polling of the Coalition’s TPP. Nor do the likely “difficult” issues, particularly energy and policy on Aborigines, suggest Turnbull is able to present himself as able to adopt the right policy solutions for the Coalition.

There is also a need to consider Turnbull’s own personal strategy. If the Coalition’s polling doesn’t improve, he may attempt a policy strategy which would further reduce the Coalition’s polling even though this would make it even more likely that he would be defeated as  PM and the Coalition would lose office. Such a ruthless strategy would be consistent with his long standing philosophical opposition to the Liberal Party. And, as Andrew Bolt has pointed out

But I’ve warned for more than a year that this always seemed Turnbull’s plan, or at least a happy fallback. He will deliver same-sex marriage and secure his legacy. He can then quit, job done, and let someone else try to save a Liberal Party he’s destroyed.And the promise-breakers? They can boast to their friends how they brought in gay marriage, although not by a great affirming vote of the Australian people but by cheating” (see Bolt on S Sex Marriage & Turnbull’s Strategy).

Of course, there is also the possibility that Turnbull and his supporters will argue that there will be a negative election result from any change of leadership now and that Turnbull and his supporters should hang on like grim death. Journalist Niki Savva, well known supporter of Turnbull and opponent of a return to Abbott, has written a new (supposedly up to date) chapter to her book on The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government . In this new chapter, she purports to assess the pros and cons of various possible new leaders and the varying possible reactions by senior Liberal MPs depending on who was leader. Her key conclusion, albeit one which lacks any substantive back-up,  is that

“Right now, there is simply no alternative to Turnbull, and any attempt to remove him would guarantee defeat. Apart from the fact there is no stomach for another bloody coup, there is also, inside the government — despite signs of despair fed by the bad polls and distaste for policy shifts leftwards — an acceptance that, in the short to medium term, he remains their best option. Despite everything, the people who matter most remain gingerly optimistic that by sticking with him as Prime Minister they can still win the next election. The greatest danger they see to that is Abbott’s increasingly brazen, relentless destabilisation” (see Savva on Lib Leadership).

As I have previously suggested, the Coalition’s poor polling  is not due to any of Abbott’s activities but to the policies adopted and advocated by Turnbull. To repeat, these are inconsistent with Liberal Party small government objectives and there is no sign that Turnbull will adopt policies which are consistent. Savva provides no meaningful explanation of why the Coalition polling has come down under Turnbull or why adoption of her approach (which seems basically to be to attack Abbott) would save the Coalition from electoral defeat.

A much more accurate and balanced assessment than Savva’s comes from the article in Weekend Australian by Chris Kenny, who has had experience as Turnbull’s former chief of staff (see Kenny on Turnbull). Although not stated in the article, Kenny’s assessment of Turnbull’s performance as leader reminds us that Turnbull’s political inclinations are basically left wing and opposed to the Liberal Party. The following extract from Kenny’s article is pertinent

“But two years on, we can only conclude that Turnbull’s economic narrative is either changeable or indiscernible. He has increased tax here and cut it there; he has boosted spending there while warning about expenditure growth here; and he has promised taxation and federation reform only to decide it is all too hard. Despite early promising signs he would keep the Coalition’s core policy trajectory on track, the drift to the progressive left set in. Turnbull has taxed the banks, deepened the deficit, toyed with an emissions intensity scheme, embraced Gonski, fiddled with superannuation and given a nudge and a wink to those pushing for a free vote on gay marriage. There were even some early wobbles on border protection and national security before the Prime Minister sensibly hardened his resolve.
The result has been a fracturing on the right of politics, with the re-emergence of One Nation and the breakaway of Cory Bernardi. The electorate is uncertain of what the Coalition stands for and parts of the party membership are nervous, disenchanted and even walking out the door.

Within the party, the disillusionment with Turnbull’s leadership is palpable, even from loyal cabinet supporters. The common lament is that no alternative exists; many MPs feel they are stuck in a dismal quandary of their own making. But survival instincts will ­always kick in. And while few want to admit it, Abbott looms as a temptation. Peter Dutton is often floated as an Abbott protege but why go for the copy when the original is sitting behind him, rehearsing his attack lines?

The full text is well worth reading and reflecting on his conclusion that  “Liberals are desperate to see their leader resolve a political dilemma, win a battle or frame a debate”.

Energy Policy

Almost behind the scenes, reports here in Australia of increased opposition and/or serious questioning have occurred in regard to policies directed at reducing emissions of CO2 and increasing the usage of renewable as sources of power. These reports mainly reflect the increases in power prices which have resulted from the adoption by our governments of high-cost policies designed to reduce emissions of CO2 and the realisation that the US government and its agencies such as the Environment Protection Authority are increasingly adopting sceptical attitudes about the dangerous warming thesis. The report today that the head of the US’s EPA, Scott Pruitt, will visit Australia, and the earlier report that the major sceptical US think-tank, the Heartland Institute, has become a major advisor to the government on climate change, send a signal that the Turnbull government should bring forward its review of climate policy from the currently scheduled end of year (this review is supposedly separate from the government’s response to the report by Chief Scientist Finkel). A report today by the US Vice-President also apparently confirmed the US withdrawal of the US government from the Paris Accord.

The sceptics here in Australia even include some sections of the business community, including our biggest coal miner Glencore whose senior executive has called for the abolition of renewable energy targets. His company’s coal goes mainly overseas and our emissions reduction policies have little effect on it.

An array of experienced meteorologists has also suddenly been publicly recognised as having identified apparent errors in the official records of temperatures (in reality, the accuracy of these records was challenged some time ago). These apparent errors have included the failure to record “low” temperatures. This has forced the Bureau of Meteorology to review its technology and with the review supposedly involving the participation of two independent external experts.  But the failure of previous and on-going reviews to detect deficiencies, and the failure of government ministers to pursue the issue, suggests that the restoration of public confidence in the BOM requires the involvement of well-recognised independent experts, such as the former head of BOM National Climate Centre, William Kininmonth. Environment Minister Frydenberg should ensure that the independents are genuine.

Importantly, inadequacies in past temperature records also mean more than potential deficiencies in recordings at weather stations. Such inadequacies also come from failures to allow for urban heating and from the inappropriate averaging of only maximum and minimum in coastal regions. Analyses in the IPA’s new book on Climate Change The Facts 2017 indicate that the 0.8C increase in recorded temperatures over the last century might largely involve an upward bias resulting from a combination of incorrect records of temperatures and natural causes

The article in today’s Spectator by physicist Dr Tom Quirk analyses the temperatures for Melbourne starting as far back as 1865. He argues that “the unadjusted raw maximum summer temperature as measured at Melbourne gives the best indication of long-term temperature change. This is calculated as an increase of 0.3 °C per century for the period 1856 to 2015, in contrast to the comparable series of homogenised ACORN-SAT data which shows a rise of 1.0 °C per century from 1910 to 2016”. The higher increase published in the official figures is mainly a reflection of the failure of the latter to allow for the upward influence on Melbourne’s temperature from urban heating (UHI). It goes without saying that a temperature increase of 0.3C over 100 years is not a danger.

Dr Quirk also notes that the “trend of 0.3°C per century aligns with trends at nearby sites unaffected by UHI, and is the same rate of change for south-eastern Australia described by Dr Jennifer Marohasy and Dr Jaco Vlok in their chapter in Climate Change: The Facts 2017, based on a series from 1887-2013. This is in contrast to the ACORN-SAT homogenised data – also referred to in that chapter – which shows an increase of annual maximum temperature of 1°C per century in Victoria (the difference being exacerbated by ACORN-SAT’s use of 1910 as the starting year for that series)”.

It is evident that more independents should be involved in the review of climate policy and they should include William Kininmonth and Tom Quirk. A failure to do this would make the report lacking in credibility.

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