Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Turnbull’s Dilemma

It’s almost tempting to feel sorry for Malcolm Turnbull. Despite the fact that he is richer than just about all of us will ever be, despite the fact that he has enjoyed success in a series of careers, despite the fact that he has accomplished more in his life so far than almost any of his parliamentary colleagues, he seems to attract political misfortune like a magnet. After the embarrassment of the utegate affair, in which his own impatience combined with the efforts of his scheming supporters led to the appearance of ineptitude, he now stands accused of “arrogance and inexperience”.

Maverick Liberal backbencher Wilson Tuckey has reportedly distributed an email among colleagues making the allegation in relation to Mr. Turnbull’s handling of Emissions Trading policy, and asserting that the party must address the issue. While Mr. Tuckey is known for being a colourful character, he is not alone in his opinions about the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and how the opposition should deal with it. He and some other Liberals, along with many Nationals all want the legislation opposed. However, Mr. Turnbull has appeared to indicate the possibility of negotiating amendments and allowing a modified version of the bill to pass.

Some, like shadow treasurer Joe Hockey have attempted to gloss over any divisions within the coalition by insisting that the stated policy of delaying an emissions trading scheme until after the world meets in Copenhagen in December has not changed. The suggestion is that any scheme Australia implements should be aligned with whatever trading scheme the rest of the world puts into place, especially the United States. The problem is that if that is the case, sooner or later the coalition has to actually produce a policy which delineates their view of such a trading scheme.

It is fair to say that Malcolm Turnbull’s observation of the need for amendments to the current proposals reflects that position. It’s just a matter of timing as to when exactly the coalition intends to come forward with its proposals. On the other hand, Mr. Tuckey and some of his colleagues seem to cling to the opinion that no climate change policy is needed at all. Some of them seem to be still unconvinced that there is any man made climate change at all. That’s all very well, and people are entitled to their views, but it is not in the interests of the Liberal Party to have no policy at all.

The fact is that whether Wilson Tuckey or anyone else believes in the need for action on climate change, the rest of the world is taking action, which will impact on the way we do business here. The fact is that if Australia does not take a seat at the table we will be cut out of the game, whatever form it finally takes. The fact is that as many as 80% of Australian voters want progress to be made on climate change policy, and what Wilson Tuckey is proposing is to delay progress. The bottom line for the Liberal and National Parties is that they need to come up with a consistent, coherent policy, what ever it might be, which they can explain to the Australian people and which can provide the basis for their dealings with the government.

Malcolm Turnbull knows that. Industry and business groups know that. The voters know that. But apparently Wilson Tuckey does not.

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