Features Australia

Return of the coal-fired poltergeist

Green new deals going cheap at Dan Murphy’s?

21 February 2020

10:00 PM

21 February 2020

10:00 PM

Like the snows of Kilimanjaro that refuse — despite Al Gore’s inconvenient predictions — to vanish, Malcolm Turnbull is back. It is not enough, it seems, that Australians have to endure droughts and floods, hail and fire, we have to endure the fury of a prime minister scorned. ‘Nature hurls her worst at Australians,’ Turnbull once told us. ‘Often unpredictably.’ Likewise, our erstwhile leader, who even his friends were wont to describe as a force of nature.

With a book to sell in the English-speaking world, and a cast of wannabe Democratic presidential candidates scanning the skies for climate catastrophes, there’s never been a more exciting time to cast yourself as a climate martyr, exploit the drama of Australia’s weather, and peddle your own peculiar revision of Australian political history to the gullible global media. Thus, in January, in Time magazine, Turnbull wrote of Australia’s bushfires, ‘We must not waste this climate crisis. There are no excuses and not much time left. Australia and the world need a Green New Deal now.’ And again, last Sunday, for those who missed him in print, Turnbull appeared on CBS News’ 60 Minutes denouncing the Morrison government’s record on bushfires and on climate change. ‘It is dangerous and idiotic not to be taking the strongest action to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions,’ he told the interviewer, conveniently forgetting to mention that the Morrison government was faithfully implementing the very emissions reductions commitments that Mr Turnbull himself flew to Paris to make in 2015.

only three years ago, in February 2017, Turnbull defended his targets on the floor of the parliament as ‘the responsible ones we entered into in Paris’ and any move to double them ‘for no return from any other country’ he derided as ‘ideology.’ Indeed, he said that ‘the Labor Party cannot keep living in a parallel universe where you can preach ideological energy policies, without any regard to how you are going to deliver reliable, affordable energy.’ Now, it seems, it is Turnbull who is living in that parallel universe, calling for emissions reduction targets to be increased without any commitment to do likewise from any other country.

Turnbull wrote in January that as Prime Minister, he tried to ensure that his climate and energy policies were governed by ‘engineering and economics, not ideology and idiocy.’ Turnbull is still damning his opponents’ climate policies as ‘ideological,’ it’s just that they are his old policies. Where once Australia’s emissions reductions targets were ‘responsible,’ now Australia is, according to Turnbull, a climate action ‘laggard.’

Back in February 2017, Turnbull lashed Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten for ‘selling out the jobs of Australian workers, every day he perseveres with his ludicrous policies on energy, which will have the result of further unsustainable increases in the cost of electricity.’ Turnbull was the champion of aluminium workers whose jobs depended on ‘affordable electricity’ and derided Labor for having abandoned the working classes. ‘Manual labour is a Mexican bandit as far as they’re concerned,’ he declared to much hilarity in the government benches including from so-called ‘modern Liberals’ who these days are horrified at the suggestion that ensuring reliable, affordable energy means underwriting not just pumped-hydro initiatives but gas and the fuel that dare not speak its name — coal.

Back in 2017, Turnbull jetted into Queensland promising that if Queenslanders elected an LNP government, north Queensland could have a new coal-fired power station funded with a concessional loan from the federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. A power station, he explained, ‘is definitely infrastructure,’ it ‘ticks that box.’ Indeed, Turnbull went further declaring that ‘Australia should have a state-of-the-art, high-efficiency low-emission coal-fired power station’ because Australia is the biggest exporter of seaborne coal and called on Labor’s Anastasia Palaszczuk to explain why she was ‘absolutely opposed to any further investment in coal-fired energy in Queensland, despite the fact Queensland has enormous coal resources it is exporting to the world.’ Whether it was due to the persuasive powers of Ms Palaszczuk or because Queenslanders declined to elect an LNP government Turnbull has not explained but he now thinks his erstwhile plan for the federal government to underwrite coal-fired power is ‘nuts.’ ‘There is no economic basis on which to build a coal-fired power station in Australia,’ he told Sky News this month and ‘those people who are advocating the government should fund coal-fired power are basically making the case for higher emissions and higher energy prices.’

As for bushfires, in 2018 Turnbull was adamant that ‘you can’t attribute any particular event, whether it’s a flood or fire or a drought, to — or a storm — to climate change. We are the land of droughts and flooding rains, we’re the land of bushfires,’ he opined poetically. Now he claims that Australia’s bushfires ‘show that the wicked, self-destructive idiocy of climate denialism must stop. The world must drastically cut its greenhouse-gas emissions. Above all, we have to urgently stop burning coal and other fossil fuels.’

The 2017 speech was vintage Turnbull. He mocked Shorten as ‘that great sycophant of billionaires’ always tucking his knees under their tables and tucking into the Cristal, while longing to live in the lap of luxury. ‘Harbourside mansions – he is yearning for one!’ jibed Turnbull, as Shorten’s front bench smirked.

As we found out this week, Shorten popped in for dinner with Turnbull — who is not a billionaire, but still apparently worth a tidy $200 million — after the last federal election which, in different ways, they both lost. Shorten told a friend that he invested $100 in a couple of bottles hoping, no doubt, to enjoy, at the very least, a glass of Cristal or a bottle of Grange at the expense of Mr Harbourside Mansion. On the way home Shorten apparently Googled the wine he’d imbibed only to find out that it was a $17 bottle on special at Dan Murphy’s.

When Turnbull lost the prime ministership in August 2018 he said, ‘When you stop being prime minister, that’s it. There is no way I’d be hanging around like embittered Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott. Seriously, these people are like, sort of miserable, miserable ghosts.’ But here he is. Back in Canberra, hurling abuse, haunting the House of Representatives like a parliamentary poltergeist, frightening no one. Why? Because as the 29th prime minister once said of Shorten, ‘This bloke has no consistency, no integrity. He cannot be believed.’

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