Profile: Malcolm Turnbull
“Australians expect their political leaders to act responsibly, to take action on climate change, to protect and safeguard the future of our planet, the future of our children. That is the challenge for us now and I am committed to it.” The swan song for the Leader of the Opposition as he attempted this week to support the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme
Here’s the statement he gave to media this week and – among others places – it appeared on the front page of The Australian on Friday 27 November 2009:
“NOW I think we all recognise that most Australians expect their political leaders and their political parties to take effective action on climate change.
This is about the future of our planet and the future of our children and their children. It is one of the great challenges of our time. Now I know there are many people, including many people who are supporters of my own party, who have doubts about the science and grave reservations about it. I understand that and I respect it. But as Margaret Thatcher said, right back nearly 20 years ago in 1990, this is about risk management. Or as Rupert Murdoch said, we have to give the planet the benefit of the doubt. Matt Franklin smiles, from The Australian. He is very pleased when I quote his boss.
But the fact is we have to take a prudent approach to this. Saying that we are not going to do anything about climate change is irresponsible, and no credible, responsible political party can have a ‘no action on climate change’ policy. It is as simple as that.
Now the Liberal party room meeting here, Coalition party room in fact, meeting here and, of course, the shadow cabinet asked Ian Macfarlane and I to negotiate a package with the Government, to take amendments approved by the party room to improve the Government’s emissions trading scheme. And we did that with the full, the overwhelming authority in fact, of the Coalition party room. And it was a set of amendments that were designed to make the scheme more environmentally effective and to save tens of thousands of jobs.
We achieved enormous concessions from the Government and indeed when they were announced many of you wrote it up as an enormous win for the Coalition. Many of you were surprised that the Government made such big concessions as they did, and those concessions, those improvements will save tens of thousands of jobs and, in addition, make the scheme more environmentally effective. Then the shadow cabinet endorsed that deal, the party room endorsed that deal.
Now this has now become a question not simply of the environmental responsibility of the Liberal Party but of its integrity. We agreed with the Government on this deal. We must retain our credibility of taking action on climate change. We cannot be seen as a party of climate sceptics, of do nothings on climate change. That is absolutely fatal. And we also must be seen as men and women of our word. We entered into a bargain. There was offer and there was acceptance.
Now I know, and I just repeat this, this is a difficult issue for many Liberals, many Australians. But I repeat most people who doubt the science also know that it makes sense to take out insurance, to manage the risk, to give the planet the benefit of the doubt. Now at the moment, as you know, some of my colleagues have found it necessary to resign from ministerial positions so they can cross the floor on the issue. That is their right and I respect it. But I believe we must maintain this course of action. It is the responsible thing to do. It is the honourable thing to do.
Australians expect their political leaders to act responsibly, to take action on climate change, to protect and safeguard the future of our planet, the future of our children. That is the challenge for us now and I am committed to it. We must be a party committed to action on climate change. Anything else is irresponsible.”
Message from the editor (Ken Hickson):
We make no excuse for profiling Malcolm Turnbull as we fear that his days as Leader of the Opposition are extremely limited. To give him credit, he can claim responsibility for starting the process to introduce an emissions trading scheme in August 2007 when he was Minister of Environment in the Howard Government. He was successful in introducing and getting approval for the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Bill. He was also convinced – and no doubt helped convince the then Prime Minister John Howard – that climate change was a reality. The Australian, on its front page this week, also acknowledged what John Howard said in June 2007: “I announce specifically that Australia will move towards a domestic emissions trading scheme, that’s a cap and trade system beginning no later than June 2012. Australia will continue to lead internationally on climate change, globally and in the Asia Pacific region.”
The paper also published an edited transcript of transcript of the Prime Minister’s speech delivered to a Liberal Party Conference on 3 June 2007.
You may well ask what has gone on since then and since the last election (November 2007), when the Liberal Party went into the election with a policy for an emissions trading scheme. It seems to have been led astray by the doubters, deniers and skeptics. And even the strong leadership on this issue from Malcolm Turnbull has not been enough to hold the party together and agree to support the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, modelled on the very same emissions trading scheme its party was prepared to support and introduce when in Government.
Malcolm Turnbull might well live to see another day. Not necessarily as Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition or the Government, but he will emerge from this fiasco with some distinction and with considerable credit for having attempted to help put in place an effective emissions trading scheme. He has failed politically to achieve this, in spite of his considerable achievements in the past in law, media and business. But there will be a role he can play in the wider world to advance this cause.
To conclude this profile, we view this article which sets out how the politics played out to bring about the early demise of Malcolm Turnbull and further delay for the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme:
Matthew Franklin, Chief political correspondent The Australian (28 November 2009):
THE instant Malcolm Turnbull accepted the resignations of Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin on Thursday afternoon, his Liberal Party support base began to collapse.
According to angry colleagues, the Opposition Leader’s blunt rejection of a proposal for compromise by Mr Abbott was probably the beginning of the end for the former banker, or at the very least the beginning of the biggest fight of Mr Turnbull’s political career.
“This isn’t a winner-take-all business deal,” one MP told The Weekend Australian yesterday.
“When you lead a political party you have to take people with you and you have to accept compromise. That’s part of the job — not to divide and rule.”
Mr Turnbull’s style has always been leadership from the front. With professional experience covering journalism, the law and business, he is not as well-schooled as career politician predecessors like John Howard in the subtleties of political management.
After a week of bloodletting, name-calling, frontbench resignations and rampant malice, that uncompromising style has come to grief on the contentious issue of climate change.
“John Howard would never have gotten into this predicament,” another MP said. “He would have sniffed the wind, found out what was possible, cajoled and convinced and found something everyone could live with.”
If Mr Turnbull loses the leadership next week, the Thursday afternoon meeting with Mr Abbott and Liberal Senate leader Nick Minchin will be seen as a turning point.
The pair marched into his suite at about 4pm on Thursday, telling him that the parliamentary party remained bitterly divided over his support for the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme — the bill that would establish a system of carbon emissions trading. Many Liberal MPs were doubtful about the science of climate change and many others, they said, simply doubted the efficacy of emissions trading and the wisdom of his political tactics.
Rather than propose rejection and embarrassment for their leader, the pair proposed the compromise position of referring the bill, complete with amendments proposed by Mr Turnbull to make it more friendly to business, to a Senate committee.
People would accept that this was reasonable, they said. Give things time to cool off, they urged.
But it was not to be.
Mr Turnbull, a former environment minister dedicated to action on climate change and contemptuous of climate change cynics, repeated his disputed claim of earlier in the week that the majority of the partyroom agreed with his position.
So Mr Turnbull sent Mr Abbott and Senator Minchin on their way.
Later, a buccaneering Mr Turnbull swept into a press conference to declare he would not be bowed. In a performance widely praised for its resolve and clarity, Mr Turnbull said his party would lack credibility if it adopted a policy of no action on climate change.
“It is as simple as that,” he said. “We all recognise that most Australians expect their political leaders and their political parties to take effective action on climate change.
“This is about the future of our planet and the future of our children and their children.
“Australians expect their political leaders to act responsibly, to take action on climate change, to protect and safeguard the future of our planet, the future of our children. That is the challenge for us now and I am committed to it.”
Sources said that when Mr Turnbull arrived at work yesterday his email inbox was filled with messages of support praising his determination to stare down climate change deniers.
The messages were coming in at one a minute, with 95 per cent supportive, one source said.
“Forget for a minute what the party is saying,” said another. “Malcolm is right when he says that people want action on climate change and he is determined to argue that case. He won’t back down. He won’t resign.
“In the next couple of days he will take his campaign to the public and he will use their support next week. Don’t assume he will lose.”
However, colleagues were not so sure.
Enemies in his own party continued to liken Mr Turnbull to Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe.
Then Mr Turnbull lost another frontbencher, with parliamentary secretary Concetta Fierravanti-Wells adding her name to the seven frontbenchers who quit on Wednesday and Thursday.
She said “the avalanche of correspondence and feedback” opposed to the decision was the most extraordinary reaction she had seen in her career, and she felt compelled to heed the concerns.
“Accordingly, I will be voting against the ETS legislation.”
Meanwhile, friends and supporters were gently urging Mr Turnbull to reconsider the compromise deal, perhaps even to resign — anything to end the bitter division.
Deputy leader Julia Bishop is understood to have discussed options with him to break the impasse and reunite the party.
Sources said that in keeping with the traditional duties of a deputy, Ms Bishop offered advice but no recommendations.
Another visitor was Sydney MP Scott Morrison, an up-and-comer widely seen to have a big future in Canberra.
Mr Morrison was in the Coalition partyroom when Mr Turnbull gave his defiant press conference, offering support for his leader’s stand.
But it is understood that yesterday Mr Morrison advised his boss that he was losing support — that his uncompromising stance had convinced many that he would be unable to unify the party.
Liberal Party powerbrokers then spent hours trying to find a way out.
Many were still saying last night that if Mr Turnbull would simply swallow his pride and accept the compromise offered by Mr Abbott and Senator Minchin, the showdown would be off.
There were also moves to install Joe Hockey as leader, possibly with Queenslander Peter Dutton as deputy.
But Mr Hockey was making it clear he would reluctantly stand only if Mr Turnbull resigned.
At one point, Mr Hockey was understood to have offered Mr Abbott the role of shadow treasurer.
As rumours continued, the idea of a Hockey leadership sparked a new backlash.
As the Turnbull camp described Mr Hockey as “Turnbull lite”, the same MPs from the Right who started the revolt against Mr Turnbull said they could not accept Mr Hockey because he was a strong backer of Mr Turnbull’s CPRS position.
All the while, Mr Turnbull was unmoved.