No, you’re not imagining things nor is it merely a bad dream. There are leadership rumbles in Canberra again – triggered ostensibly by climate policy – and Peter Dutton is being mooted as the man most likely to challenge the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
— The Age (@theage) August 19, 2018
Far worse than a bad dream it’s a living nightmare. Because as John Hewson noted on Friday: “If Peter Dutton is the answer, you have to ask yourself what the hell is the question.”
Policy itself is once again a sideshow to the main event: egos, enemities and fierce rivalries are responsible for the current leadership speculation gripping the Liberal party.
In a bid to stave off the threat on Monday morning Turnbull announced a dramatic retreat on energy policy in which there will no longer be an emissions reduction target. On Tuesday of last week the coalition had agreed upon a legislated climate change target which was reduced to a regulated target by Friday. Now? There is nothing.
Unsurprisingly the most effective opposition leader in Australia’s history, Tony Abbott, is a key protagonist in this mess.
Of course he says it’s about ‘policy not personalities’ and yet as The Guardian’s Amy Remeikis wrote on Monday morning “policy is just the stalking horse which has allowed Tony Abbott to weaponise his discontent and anger at what happened to him in 2015.”
The fact he’s described the Paris climate change agreement – which he himself committed Australia to as PM – as ‘surrendering sovereignty to the green bureaucrats of Paris’ confirms there is little consistency in his policy position.
Similarly his backflip on the line that he would “rather change the policy than change the leader”. After Turnbull changed the policy on Friday Abbott’s response was that changing the policy was no way to run a government.
It seems clear there is nothing Abbott won’t do to punish Malcolm Turnbull and while the numbers are unknown it also seems clear that there are some people in the party room who no longer back the PM. Which is where Peter Dutton – the darling of the uber conservatives – comes in.
“The fact Coalition might be about to tear itself apart over climate again is an indication of insanity. The symmetry is incredible. Back in In 2010, Turnbull crossed the floor to vote with Labor on climate policy – after losing the Liberal leadership to Tony Abbott. Now, having lost the Liberal leadership to Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott is preparing to cross the floor to vote with Labor on climate policy.”
Worst of all the political carnage has cost us all and garnered Australia nothing. The sad reality, as Kelly writes, is that the national climate debate has been “based almost entirely on a series of verbal fictions”.
“Every couple of years we get a new code word or phrase that means nothing to voters, but furiously divides our politicians,” he wrote.
Right now, it’s the National Energy Guarantee but before that it was an “emissions intensity scheme”. Before that it was the loaded ‘carbon tax’.
And there have been no winners. There has been no meaningful progress towards climate change and Turnbull’s retreat confirms inaction will continue to prevail despite the fact it’s an issue Australian voters would like to see addressed. Despite the fact it’s a problem that personally and politically he has – at different times – been committed to solving.
However this shitshow goes over the next few days, just remember this crisis was triggered in large part by a PM and a portfolio minister trying to craft a policy solution to a problem that people in the real world want solved #auspol
— Katharine Murphy (@murpharoo) August 19, 2018
The retreat may not even be enough to secure Turnbull’s leadership. If it is enough and the cost is inaction on a problem of genuine importance is it worth it?
Avoiding a Peter Dutton prime ministership is certainly worth trying but when the cost is paralysis it’s hard to feel inspired. It’s also hard to believe anything will ever be enough to stave of Tony Abbott.