Does Australia’s Coup Mean Climate Denial is on the Wane?

September 15, 2015

abbotcartoonAustralia’s famously climate denying Prime Minister Tony Abbott was unceremoniously booted from power the other day.
In tandem with other developments across the planet, does this mean the day of the deniers is over?

First a recap on the roller coaster in Oz..


Australia will now have its fifth prime minister since 2007, thanks to its politicians’ seemingly unquenchable addiction to overthrowing their leaders.

On Monday, Malcolm Turnbull ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott as leader of the Liberal Party (which, despite its name, is Australia’s main conservative party). Abbott only became leader after he overthrew Turnbull himself in 2009, when the Liberals were in opposition.

After that coup, Abbott faced the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd, who had been the prime minister since 2007. But this matchup was short-lived, because Rudd was knifed by his deputy, Julia Gillard, in 2010, after the party got nervous that Rudd wasn’t up to the job.

Gillard then called an election and oversaw a shaky minority government for a couple of years until she was dethroned by a vengeful Rudd. He then took Labor into yet another election in 2013, which it lost to Abbott’s Liberals. (If you want a deeper look at Labor’s astonishing internecine warfare, watch the fascinating ABC documentary “The Killing Season.”)

Abbott pledged an end to the turmoil that had sent voters rushing into his arms. So much for that. Monday was actually the second time members of his party tried to oust him this year. He’s now had the briefest term in office since the 1970s.

Overall, none of the people who have led Australia since 2007 served out even one full three-year term in government.

Daily Climate:

As the new Prime Minister, Turnbull has vowed to continue Abbott’s policies. But back in 2009, when he and Abbott tussled for Liberal Party leadership, he called Abbott’s jumbled climate and energy policies “bullshit” – invoking a bit of political analysis that even Donald Trump is too shy to use in American politics.

Some Liberal Party leaders have publicly worried that Abbott’s intransigence has cost the party dearly.  So we shall see if Mr. Turnbull takes some of the edge off Abbott’s strident denialism.

With Abbott on the sidelines, Canada’s Stephen Harper stands out more boldly as a head of state accused of thwarting climate action.

Harper’s nine-year run as Prime Minister could come to an end on October 19, when federal elections will pit his Conservative Party against strong challenges from two rivals.  As of Monday, polling data for CTV and the Globe and Mail showed a virtual dead heat between the Conservatives, Liberals and the New Democratic Party.

A coalition government between the Liberals and NDP would drastically alter Canadian policy on climate and energy.  Conservatives have been dreading a downfall since May, when they placed third in Alberta’s provincial elections.  The home of the tarsands is now run by the NDP, with a Tea Party-ish local entry called the Wildrose Party as the official opposition.

Harper’s imperious style has helped imperil his party.  If Abbott had hitched his wagon to coal, so has Harper with the tarsands in his native Alberta.  His push to transform Canada into a sort of sub-Arctic oil sheikhdom has divided the nation, and has even moved the needle in U.S. politics in an unprecedented way in the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Harper legacy also includes a veritable purge on government science, slashing marine and Arctic research, forcing a pioneering freshwater research facility to seek a private/provincial bailout, and muzzling science experts from contacting the media and public.  Last month, an Environment Canada scientist was suspended for putting an anti-Harper protest song on YouTube.

These may not be the dominant factors in his approval-rating plunge, but they’re a part of the picture.

Harper’s potential demise next month, paired with the fall of Tony Abbott, precedes by a few months the latest make-or-break global shot at climate action, the Paris summit in December.

The possibility that both Canadian and Australian delegates will regard the meeting as an opportunity, not a menace, may change the meeting’s prospects for success.

*Note to the Northern Hemisphere:  Australia’s “Liberal Party” is more politically conservative than its main rival, the Labor Party.  Australian Liberals are the rough equivalent of American Republicans.  I have no idea why the “Liberals” are conservative, or why “Labor” spells its name the American way, but they do.


But campaigners are hoping the shift in leadership will mean Australia can develop a clearer position on a transition away from its heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

Under Abbott, the government had taken obstructive positions on renewable energy.

For example, the Treasurer Joe Hockey (who is likely to be replaced) had ordered the AU$10billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to stop investing in wind energy and small scale solar projects. Could Turnbull look to withdraw that ministerial request?

Turnbull has historically been heavily critical of the government’s centerpiece climate policy — an Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) that uses taxpayer dollars to pay companies with projects to cut their emissions.

But in his first speech as the new Liberal Party Leader, Turnbull said that the ERF climate policy would remain. But he no doubt is well aware that credible analysts have said the policy is inadequate and is unlikely to deliver even the weak cuts proposed by Australia domestically.

Many political commentators have noted the significance of the role of Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop (pictured) in Turnbull’s success overnight.

Bishop was the senior Australian minister sent to Lima to negotiate at the last major climate talks — albeit with a chaperon in the guise of Trade Minister Andrew Robb, a situation which infuriated Bishop.

Turnbull’s rise may give Bishop more room to move in those Paris negotiations (presuming Turnbull decides against going to Paris himself and does send Bishop… there are a lot of ‘if’s).

While Bishop will still have to arrive in Paris holding the country’s weak domestic reductions target, the backing of Turnbull might remove a little of the stench of climate science denial and fossil fuel advocacy that has been hanging around Australia at previous talks.

Certainly, the risk of Australia acting as a blocker at the Paris talks are reduced under a Turnbull government.

In late 2009, Turnbull was the Liberal Party leader in opposition. He was challenged primarily because of his backing for policy that would put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. He lost by one vote to Tony Abbott.

At the time, Turnbull said: “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”

Some six years and five Prime Ministers later (if we count Turnbull himself), the question is how committed is Turnbull to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and how closely does his idea of “effective” policy match the science he has defended in the past?

The Conversation:

Asked about his policies on same-sex marriage and climate change at his post-spill media conference, Turnbull ignored (or, if we’re being charitable, forgot) the first question and on the second said that there would not be any changes to the targets the Abbott government had already put forward.

Turnbull said:

Policies are reviewed and adapted all the time. But the climate policy is one that I think has been very well designed. That was a very, very good piece of work.

He was presumably referring to the taxpayer-funded Emissions Reduction Fund, introduced to replace the previous government’s carbon pricing scheme. There was no hint of the man who wrote this in the Sydney Morning Herald shortly after he was deposed by Abbott in 2009:

…any suggestion that you can dramatically cut emissions without any cost is, to use a favourite term of Mr Abbott, “bullshit”. Moreover he knows it. The whole argument for an emissions trading scheme as opposed to cutting emissions via a carbon tax or simply by regulation is that it is cheaper – in other words electricity prices will rise by less to achieve the same level of emission reductions.

Yet anyone expecting swift or radical action from Turnbull on either the introduction of an emissions trading scheme (the support for which cost him his previous leadership), stiffer targets ahead of Paris, or support for renewables should realise that Turnbull is regarded as a “warmist” by many in his party, and will have to tread very carefully indeed.


15 Responses to “Does Australia’s Coup Mean Climate Denial is on the Wane?”

  1. “Liberal” is a code word for “libertarian”.

    • As an Aussie, the “Liberals” were historically a small L liberal centralist party, there had been several conservative parties prior that morphed into the Liberals and the Country Party (representing the Rural economy when Australia rode on the sheeps back and wheat was a close second) who morphed into the National party, ultra conservative rural socialists always wanting taxpayer support (think Deep South). Their representation is highly skewed in that rural seats have low populations as such the NP has solid parliamentary representation even though they have far less votes than the Greens party.
      Prior to the 70’s the reality was that it was the Country party tail that wagged the Coalition Government Dog

      The Labor Party was Australia’s first Political Party and has always been based on the Union movement and Social issues.

      In the 80’s With Labor in Government under Hawke and Keating Labor moved from the left into the centre stealing the LNP’s ground, they then moved further right with heavy support from Ultra Right wing media moguls such as Packer (top rating TV and Print) and of course dear Rupert.

      Labor has a voter base of approx 44% Liberals approx 38% and Nats approx 8% with the rest are Independents or swingers. Australia has a compulsory preferential voting system. 1 for first choice, 2 second etc. With a choice of an abbreviated one tick above the line, 1 below to follow the Party voting preference card.

      Liberals have never been able to form Government on their own , they have always needed to be in a Coalition with the minor Nats (the Libertarian ultra Conservative Agrarian Socialists ) – head spinning yet. ? who due to their make or break power almost effectively run the country

      They have always a

  2. Is climate denial on the wane? Here’s one anecdotal data point.

    Every month, the Scripps-Birch Aquarium (part of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography) hosts a free lecture, generally given by one of the Scripps scientists. As a Scripps-Birch Aquarium member, I try to attend all of those lectures.

    While we were waiting for the auditorium to open up at last night’s lecture, I got to talking with a retired scientist in line behind me (didn’t get his name) who is active in public outreach. He as devoted a fair bit of his retirement time giving public talks about climate science.

    He told me that in the past year, the level of hostility from deniers in his audiences has declined sharply. He actually used the term “sea change” to describe how the situation has changed for him.

    I know that this is just a single data-point, but it is an encouraging one.

    PS: I told him about the infamous Alley/Rohrabacher “blowhard” video (where Richard Alley tried to teach Dana Rohrabacher about Milankovitch cycles). The very thought of someone trying to teach Rohrabacher about Milankovitch cycles had that gentleman almost doubled with laughter.

  3. That should be:

    “He *has* devoted a fair bit…”


    “… almost doubled *over* with laughter”.

  4. A useful and timely summary. Thank you.

  5. Sad thing is in years gone by Turnbull defied his own party and voted in favour of an emissions trading scheme. Fast forward to yesterday when he signed a new coalition agreement with the National Party agreeing to never introduce any form of ETS while he was Prime Minister.

    • Hate to say it, but this el Nino may just swing enough rural voters away from that stance, not to mention the increasing availabilty of wirelsss NBN broadband and the new NBN satellite that will be operational before the next election as they or their kids find out what is actually happening in the world away from the cult of Murdoch’s influence

      Weather and Climate are crucial to The Rural business

  6. Edelman, the world’s biggest public relations company, decided it will no longer work with coal producers and climate change deniers. The firm determined that they were a threat to its reputation and potentially its business.

  7. rayduray Says:

    I was intrigued by the teaser to ABC News “The Killing Season” (mentioned in the Salon article). But I became frustrated because the ABC News page by that name doesn’t play properly in the U.S. I tried YouTube as another way to see the program. No joy.

    Does anyone here have a proper URL so I can see “The Killing Season” in the U.S.?

    TIA for any reply.

  8. dumboldguy Says:

    PS That “Demise of Abbott” cartoon is one of the best of its kind that I’ve ever seen. I started to count the number of “shots” taken by the cartoonist, but gave up—-it might reach towards a hundred, which has to win a prize for “density of disdain”.

    I love to see folks who are able to use their talents to show how much they really dislike someone and why we should also. I never liked Abbott, but didn’t put it all together until now—-IMO, this impact of this cartoon rises to that of classical music and literature.

  9. […] COMIC: Does Australia’s Coup Mean Climate Denial is on the Wane? (Climate Crocks) […]

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