Coal hard truth sinks Australian Prime Minister


In a warning for all fossil-friendly leaders globally, Tony Abbott’s blind support for coal and cynical inaction on climate change are among factors behind him being unceremoniously turfed out of his job this week. Challenged by former Environment Minister and previous Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, Abbott was voted out by his party after Turnbull seized on his and the Liberal Right’s failure to develop and sell a credible economic policy given their “extraordinary gusts of hubris” and “feckless machismo”. Eyes are now turning to Turnbull’s vision for the future, and how he will separate his stated desire for a modern, nimble Australia that embraces disruption (such as renewables), from the Abbott Government’s backward-looking coal wedlock. How Turnbull deals with the Coalition’s deeply ingrained climate denial and renewable bloodlust is also unclear. Despite recognising the importance of action on climate change, being a supporter of emissions trading, and declaring Tony Abbott’s “Direct Action” policy “bullshit”, he has in the past won major transitional concessions for carbon-intensive industries, and has already declared that he is happy with Australia’s current, inadequate, emissions reduction target. All up, Turnbull is expected to move cautiously on climate. Renewable policy is unlikely to be further weakened; current climate policy will remain – for now – though it could be “dialed up”; climate denying elements such as Tony Abbott’s “business advisor” Maurice Newman could be ejected from key advisory roles; and the risk of Australian continuing to be a blocker at UN climate talks is now somewhat reduced



Key Points

  • After two years of aggressively regressive climate and energy policy, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been dumped by his party. He has been replaced by his more moderate predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, who is expected to slowly improve on Australia’s inadequate climate policies – with major changes not expected until after the next election (2016) – and hopefully move it out of the blocker camp at the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris.  
  • Australia now has a leader that understands climate change and the opportunities the clean energy revolution offers. New Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has articulated a desire for an Australia that is agile, innovative, and creative; an Australia that embraces disruptive technology and is smart enough to take advantage of it. That is a clear sign of support for renewables and a just transition away from coal.



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Key Quotes

  • “The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative. We can’t be defensive, we can’t future-proof ourselves. We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. We will ensure that all Australians understand that their government recognises the opportunities of the future and is putting in place the policies and the plans to enable them to take advantage of it.” – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
  • “Tony Abbott’s defeat is a defeat for coal and potential victory for renewable energy. Malcolm Turnbull has a unique opportunity to not just reposition the Liberal party but to redirect economic policy in Australia. The mining boom is over and climate change has already begun. Tony Abbott wedded himself to the old economy. This proved to be an economic and political failure. In the 21st century the idea that what is good for the environment is bad for the economy makes neither economic nor political sense.” – Executive Director of the Australia Institute, Ben Oquist
  • “As a former Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull knows intimately the depth of Australia’s environmental challenges as well as the exciting opportunities we face in growing a clean economy. Mr Turnbull’s insight that disruption is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it is greatly encouraging, as Australia faces a major energy transition, needing to shift away from our reliance on coal and make the most of renewable energy. Australia must be a nation that is agile, innovative and creative; there is no sector of our economy that is more exciting than renewable energy.” – ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy
  • “Malcolm Turnbull in the past took a considered attitude to climate change policy, with an emphasis on cost effectiveness as well as effectiveness. He has said that he would not seek to re-introduce an ETS, but it is to be expected that there will be reform of climate change policy if he still is PM after the next election.” – Associate professor at the Australian National University, Frank Jotzo
  • “All parties and all leaders who say they are serious about climate change need a plan for the modernisation and decarbonisation of our economy. Modern economies increasingly see reducing their dependence on polluting industries as central to future prosperity. Not having a plan for decarbonisation means not having a plan for our economy and not having a plan for the future.” – CEO of The Climate Institute, John Connor
  • “[T]he Direct Action scheme has embedded within it mechanisms that could be “dialled up” – by a government that was willing – to make it more much efficient and effective, essentially by turning it into a baseline and credit trading scheme. Turnbull’s challenge is whether he can do that over time, while answering Labor’s charge that he has sold out and without alarming his own backbench that he is bringing in his old policy by stealth.” – Guardian Australia Political Reporter Lenore Taylor

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