Bad wind, Malcolm Turnbull's 'nuanced' coal and the national self-interest

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Dance, puppet (Image via @berkeleyboy)

The conversion of principled Malcolm Turnbull into lying Tony Abbott is finally complete — and so he's finished, writes managing editor Dave Donovan.

THIS PAST WEEK'S HEATWAVE, debate about renewables and the sight of several Coalition frontbench MPs playing with coal lumps in Parliament has led many to question just who this Government represents. Is it the nation? Or is it someone else?

Western Australian Liberal backbencher, (the now late) Don Randall, may have spoken for most of the Coalition when, in a partyroom debate about Kevin Rudd’s emission’s trading scheme (ETS) back in 2009, he said [IA emphasis]:

I don’t give a stuff about the national interest. I want to get re-elected and this needs to go away.”

For MPs on the make, self-interest rules, and at that time supporting action on climate change was seen by Randall and many of his colleagues as a smart move electorally.

Of course, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, then in an earlier incarnation as Liberal leader, also at that time supported Rudd’s ETS.

He did so in the national interest, or so he suggested.

Because after losing his job in an Abbott-led rebellion, in one of his many famous, incandescently angry, speeches, he declaimed:

“I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”

What a man he was...

Anyway, after disposing of Turnbull, Abbott set about poisoning the well and destroying any national consensus on climate change. In the spirit of Don Randall, this was done purely for self-interest.

This was confirmed by his former strategist Peta Credlin, who said Abbott’s attack on the so-called carbon tax was just “brutal, retail politics”.

As the West Australian reported on 12/2/17 [IA emphasis]:

Peta Credlin admits the climate change policy under Julia Gillard's Labor government was never a carbon tax, but the coalition used that label to stir up brutal retail politics.

Credlin, the former chief of staff to Tony Abbott when he was prime minister and now a political commentator for Sky News, said the coalition made it a "carbon tax" and a fight about the hip pocket rather than the environment.

"That was brutal retail politics, and it took Abbott six months to cut through and when he did cut through Gillard was gone," she told Sky News on Sunday.

Or in other words, the Coalition under Abbott lied through its collective teeth to acquire power with no regard for the national interest, or anything else.

It was all just grubby self-interest.

Sadly, since violent storms in South Australia caused a statewide blackout in September 2016, the Coalition under the formerly principled Malcolm Turnbull has been using the same template.

South Australia has the most renewables in the country and has phased out coal-fired power stations. Since the night of the storm and blackout, Turnbull and Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg have claimed this blackout was caused by the state’s energy mix — more specifically, its alleged over-reliance on wind power. Most experts at the time said this was false, and it has since been proven to be false, but nevertheless Turnbull and Frydenberg have continued to make this case.

Self-interest? Brutal retail politics? I think we can guess.

Last Wednesday, after excessive demand due to heatwave conditions, South Australia suffered more power outages, with 70,000 homes losing power. As it turned out, this was the result of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which reports to Minister Frydenberg, not ordering a backup gas-fired power generator at Pelican Point to come online. But still that didn’t stop the Turnbull Government attacking renewables.

Instead, as the temperature gauge touched 50°C and fires raged around the country, the Government doubled down again. Treasurer Scott Morrison stood up in Parliament to accuse the Opposition of “coalphobia” and an “ideological obsession” with renewables. He even brought a dirty great lump of coal into Parliament, so that he could wave it around in the air as he waxed lyrical about coal’s many “wonders”.

Watch Scott Morrison’s “Coalphobia” speech on YouTube HERE

Of course, dippy Nationals Leader and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce found this hysterical, and afterwards played with and juggled this rock on the frontbench, like a naughty, backward schoolchild.

On Monday this week, as firefighters continued fighting raging blazes in NSW, a freedom of information request revealed that Turnbull and Frydenberg had been informed early on the morning following last year’s South Australian blackout that it was not caused by a reliance on wind power. That it had, in fact, been caused by a massive storm knocking over numerous transmission towers.

As an email to the Government read:

‘AEMO's advice is that the generation mix (ie renewable or fossil fuel) was not to blame for yesterday's events - it was the loss of 1000 MW of power in such a short space of time as transmission lines fell over.’

Yet even after that, Turnbull and Frydenberg kept right on saying the blackout was caused by the State's high proportion of wind power generation, which they said had failed to keep on working in the conditions.

They lied for their own self-interest.

And then this week, Turnbull baldly denied outside Parliament that his government had ever claimed anything other than that a storm had caused the blackout. But then moments later, inside Parliament, in Question Time, he and Frydenberg carried on saying that South Australia’s energy mix was what had put the State’s power supply at risk — both then and during the storm. Continued to claim this, even after heatwave conditions in NSW last week had caused the Tomago Aluminium Smelter (the equivalent of a million households) to have to be turned off.

This is the same NSW whose energy mix contains the highest proportion of coal power and the least renewables in the nation.

Lies, lies and self-interested lies.

But none of this was misleading, according to Sky News anchorman David Speers, who praised Turnbull for his “nuanced” response.

Nuanced! Perhaps “nuanced” could become Australia’s very own new version of “alternative facts”? How exciting!

We have now entered the Twilight Ζone with the Turnbull Government. Self-interest and “brutal retail politics” has become so all-consuming, so paramount, no lie or falsehood is too obvious or absurd to be unsayable any more.

Malcolm Turnbull said he didn’t want to lead a Government not as committed to action on climate change as him. And so what did he do? He changed.

To become prime minister, since he knew his party didn’t care, he had to become someone who had not the slightest concern about climate change or honesty. Become someone who didn’t care about the national interest at all, just his own self-interest. To replace Tony Abbott, Turnbull turned into him.

Yet ironically, despite his self-interested motive, it was all a tragic folly. Turnbull was promoted by his party because Abbott was unpopular. And Abbott was unpopular because his policies were cruel and backward; because he broke promises and told incessant, awful lies. Now that Malcolm has morphed exactly into Abbott and the opinion polls have turned against him, then what exactly is he good for?

No matter how much he lies to us or himself, Turnbull has a snowball’s chance in Boggabri of surviving as prime minister.

Because his colleagues care as much about him as they do about the national interest. They just want to get re-elected.

In 2010, Malcolm Turnbull vowed to cross the floor, to vote for the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme.

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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