Malcolm Turnbull: Faking it in Paris

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(Image via abc.net.au.)

While the world enters a climate emergency, Malcolm Turnbull brings rhetoric to new heights at COP21, with sonorous sounding and beautifully presented inaction on climate. Lyn Bender reports.

OUR NEW, verbally effusive leader Malcolm Turnbull is achieving great success – in his own fantasy world – regarding climate savoir-faire in Paris.

Like a reincarnation of the central protagonist in the Leo Tolstoy trilogy, Childhood Boyhood and Youth, the still new Prime Minister, is grasping at comme il faux.

This may be loosely defined as the fine art of seeming to do something; while in fact doing nothing much. Or trying to look sophisticated and accomplished, while concealing ineptitude.

Malcolm’s speech was one that would have been as handsomely befitting in its delivery, as any given by a Lord Mayor opening a new council chamber. The tone was sonorous, yet soporific and calculated not to arouse the fear of supporters, fossil fuel vested interests, or the far right in his party.

At the same time, it gave the impression of being designed to lull and reassure the soft left of centre, who so want to believe in Malcolm’s stealth, agility and concealed good intentions.

But what if Malcolm Turnbull’s hidden depths are instead exactly what they seem to be: obvious shallows? What if his main intention is staying alive politically, rather than working to keep the planet alive?

The rhetoric began:

Mr President, Secretary General, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen.

From Australia we come with confidence and optimism.

We are not daunted by our challenge. It inspires us. It energises us.

We do not doubt the implications of the science, or the scale of the challenge.

But above all, we do not doubt the capacity of humanity to meet it with imagination, innovation and the prudence that befits those, like us, who make decisions that will affect not just our own children and grandchildren but generations yet unborn.

He continued regally:

Here in Paris, Australia supports a new – and truly global – climate agreement.

It is an agreement that must drive humanity’s capacity for inventiveness and a new wave of technological advances.

Good for our environment, good for our economies.

Malcolm Turnbull’s address to COP21 had the air of a bygone era. So calm, relaxed and comfortable. Who would have thought that the entire globe is on the brink of a massive climate emergency? Or, that we are staring down the possibility of capping rising temperatures at a disastrous two degrees of warming — if we are lucky. Or, that before our very eyes, Pacific Islands are being submerged.

Instead, like a latter-day Wilkins Micawber – the unflinchingly optimistic windbag of Charles Dickens' novel David Copperfield – Malcolm seems certain that “something will turn up”.


We firmly believe that it is innovation and technology which will enable us both to drive stronger economic growth and a cleaner environment.

We are a highly social and innovative species and so the more we share innovative technologies, the better they will become.

If this all seems to hark back to a bygone era, such is the power of Freudian free association. Malcolm Turnbull's rhetoric brings to mind coal-mining Dickensian times. It was an era that brought prosperity to some and black lung deaths to others. An era that must be rapidly and unsentimentally left behind, if humanity and earth as we know it, is to survive.

As I was writing this, hundreds of the common citizenry were peacefully occupying Parliament House, from where they were eventually evicted. 

Their message?

"Put the lives of people and our planet first over fossil fuel interests. The waters are rising."

Malcolm, freshly returned from Paris, where he refused to sign a pledge to abolish fossil fuel subsidies, should take note. Australia is in fact funding the climate change problem at $5 billion per year. The $1 billion promised to poor countries over five years, to mitigate climate change, has been pilfered from the diminished Australian foreign aid budget.

Malcolm’s speech paid lip service to the plight of Pacific Islanders.

Some of the most vulnerable nations are our Pacific neighbours and we are helping them to build resilience through practical action and assistance.

To this end, Australia will contribute at least $1 billion over the next five years from our existing aid budget both to build climate resilience and reduce emissions.

Australia still regards the sinking Pacific Islands as a place to dump desperate asylum seekers. Investing $1.2 billion, in 2015 alone, for offshore detention. Compare this to a promise of $1billion over five years with funds pilfered from the Foreign Aid budget for climate mitigation in the Pacific Islands.

This is not just robbing Peter to pay Paul, it’s a token effort to appear to offset or reduce emissions and to deny the enormity of Australia’s ongoing contribution to the problem of a warming world.

Like the rich man who exploits his workers and gives them a small bonus and a staff party each Xmas, the white colonial masters will throw some life-jackets to the drowning pacific nations that have been pleading with Australia to stop mining coal. But we shall not do that. Oh no, we will continue to approve coalmines and to subsidise the fossil fuel industry.

Furthermore, despite grandiose declarations regarding innovation, the Australian Government is sticking with the Abbott decision to abolish two key renewable energy agencies: he Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

But everyone is still waiting for a sign that Malcolm will emerge as a trustworthy, strong leader. Even in Paris, they wait. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who maintains his stance that climate change is the “greatest moral challenge” of our time, says "the jury is still out” on Malcolm in Paris. Rudd joined the polite clapping of the audience, as Malcolm announced that Australia would ratify Kyoto 11. But even that is not certain.

However, Australia still remains one of the world’s highest per capita coal users and the fifth largest producer of coal. So, Environment Minister Greg Hunt may brag about high per capita cuts but these only reflect that Australia is potentially a winner as the "biggest loser". Australia starts from a very high per capita base. Erwin Jackson, Deputy CEO of the Climate Institute, says that this leaves Australia at “the back of the pack” compared to other developed countries.

We should not be surprised. Malcolm Turnbull is implementing Tony Abbott’s policies but with a little politeness and adroit aplomb. And the climate reactionaries in his party are still pulling the strings.

Too many of the naiveté set are still wishing and hoping and thinking and praying, for the “real” Malcolm to emerge from behind the, “at least he is not Tony Abbott”, disguise.

But how long will it take? Will he ever become a true defender of human rights and the planet? Can we afford to wait?

The obvious answer is, no.

We cannot afford the luxury of hoping that maybe Malcolm will come good. He has shown his true colours. The media and the world need to stop politely applauding his feeble leadership of a climate emergency denying Government.

Lyn Bender is a professional psychologist. You can follow Lyn on Twitter @Lynestel.

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