August 8th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Economic bounce masks deep structural crisis

ENERGY: What can Australia do when the fuel runs out?

EDITORIAL: Overseas lesson in energy conservation

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Turnbull's judgement under a cloud

SCHOOLS: The choice so few parents can afford to make

MARRIAGE: The personal and social costs of cohabitation

OPINION: Keeping marriage between a man and a woman

CHINA: Cracks appear in China's detested one-child policy

POLITICAL IDEAS: Distributist responses to the global economic crisis

WAR ON TERROR: What will we learn from the Jakarta bombings?

EUROPE: Obama told: don't abandon central and eastern Europe

OBITUARY: Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski dies at 81

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Protest at News Weekly article on East Timor

Tony Abbott on divorce (letter)

Time for a people's bank? (letter)

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Genderless child-rearing experiment / Hostility towards masculinity / Dear baby-boomers ... / Shopkeepers honoured

BOOK REVIEW: POMPEII: The Life of a Roman Town, by Mary Beard

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Turnbull's judgement under a cloud

by national correspondent

News Weekly, August 8, 2009
Just before the last election there was a Howard Government Cabinet leak which hurt an already despondent Liberal-National Coalition at a time when it was staring defeat in the face.

The leak, a rarity in the 12 years of the Howard era, is pertinent because it helped lay the groundwork for the painful position in which the federal Opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, now finds himself over the proposed carbon emissions reduction scheme.

It was reported that, in his capacity as Environment Minister, Mr Turnbull had argued in favour of the Howard Government signing the Kyoto Protocol, but had been outvoted by his colleagues in the Cabinet.

Whoever disclosed Mr Turnbull's advocacy to the media, their intention was clearly designed to position Mr Turnbull as being on the side of the angels when it came to advocating "action" on global warming, and to distance him from the Howard regime after the election.

A cynic might suggest it had the added benefit of shoring up the wavering Liberals, including the so-called "doctors' wives" in Mr Turnbull's affluent and environmentally-conscious Sydney electorate of Wentworth.

To be fair to Mr Turnbull, there was always a degree of absurdity about the Howard Government position.

The previous government had adopted policies which were designed to exceed the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol while establishing the Australian Greenhouse Office; but, along with the United States, it refused to sign because developing nations like India and China were given an unfair advantage.

It was a typical stance by John Howard - stubbornly standing on principle against the popular view.

However, as WorkChoices bit hard, the fiasco over Kyoto became a running sore as it was pilloried for its lack of concern for the environment.

Gripped in a once-in-a-century drought, bombarded by constant calamitous reports in the media about the effects of "global warming" and egged on by generously-funded environmental groups, the Australian electorate was at the time supposed to "do something" about the problem.

Undoubtedly, it cost some votes at the last election, but probably far fewer than is now claimed.

In the end, the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in his first act as national leader, signed the Kyoto Protocol - winning the accolades of the global warming enthusiasts, but achieving close to nought in reducing the planet's man-made greenhouse gases.

But now Mr Turnbull, wanting to prove he is no climate change sceptic, has buckled again.

Coalition position ditched

Afraid of fighting another election on the issue of climate change, Mr Turnbull has ditched the Coalition's stance of opposing an Australian emissions trading scheme until after the December Copenhagen conference.

It would have been prudent to wait until the outcome of the conference.

At best, Copenhagen is likely to deliver an incremental and costless up-front reduction in carbon emissions now, with promises of huge reductions decades down the track when most of today's politicians will have left their posts. At worst, it could fracture without any consensus on the way ahead.

The worst thing for Australia would be to adopt a scheme which puts us at a disadvantage before other countries make up their mind what they are intending to do.

But even Tony Abbott, a man with a reputation for never backing away from a fight, is urging his colleagues to get behind Mr Turnbull.

Mr Abbott has argued that fighting the next election (possibly a double dissolution) on climate change would be disastrous for the Coalition.

The decision incensed maverick WA Liberal Wilson Tuckey, who has publicly rebuked his leader, but there will be even more disquiet among his colleagues about Mr Turnbull's rashness when they return to Parliament from the winter break.

The most obvious position to take is the one advocated by Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce - simply to oppose the scheme outright or to support only a scheme or a carbon tax which would not penalise Australian jobs.

The Coalition will not win votes by backing the Government; but if it were to point out the potential pitfalls of the proposed scheme, it may win votes in the marginal electorates where people will lose jobs as Australia exports its high-energy-using manufacturing firms overseas along with the greenhouse gases they emit.

Alternatively, the Coalition could have abstained from voting for Mr Rudd's scheme, thereby permitting it to pass. Then, at least, it would not be blamed for any adverse outcomes of the scheme.

Instead, Mr Turnbull has decided the better option is to try to eliminate climate change as an issue at the next election by supporting Mr Rudd.

In fact, all this will achieve will be to help lift Mr Rudd's credentials on the international stage because the PM will be able to attend the international talk-fest armed with an already enacted law which shows that Australia is at the forefront of nations doing their bit to reduce man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

And it will have the secondary effect of refocusing the public's mind on Mr Turnbull's lack of political judgment.

The fact is now that Mr Turnbull's decision to overturn Coalition policy and join with the Rudd Government could spell the end of his leadership.

The latest Newspoll puts Kevin Rudd 50 points ahead of Mr Turnbull on the question of preferred prime minister. This puts Mr Turnbull on the same footing as Brendan Nelson when he was dumped as leader.

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