Finkel question hangs over Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership


Tony Abbott has already come from nowhere to replace Malcolm Turnbull as leader once as the Liberal Party convulsed over Labor’s progressive climate policy in 2009.

So Turnbull knows what is at stake.


Climate policy debate intensifies

Politicians from all sides have been very willing to share their thoughts on climate policy and the government’s plan for a clean energy target.

Back then, Abbott drove that “stake” right through his leader as the men wrestled for nothing less than the blue heart of the Liberal Party.

Ever the tribal conservative, Abbott won that fight, but never really gained the people.

Now, eight tumultuous years later, the same actors are again engaged in a fatal climate dance, but this time, it’s happening in office.

On paper, Turnbull as Prime Minister, is in a stronger position relative to a weakened Abbott, discredited and languishing on the backbench.

The latter’s sniping has won him few party room friends. But his latch on the base when it comes to climate, remains deceptively potent.

Pro-coal, anti-green feelings run deep in conservative circles. Very deep.

This is a must-win for Turnbull. Any climate policy split or significant backlash in the party room would be viewed as a win for Abbott. Alive to this, Turnbull is shimmying, declining to commit to the specifics in Finkel’s “Clean Energy Target” until he has a bead on the party room. It explains why backbench consultation has preceded Cabinet deliberation rather than the usual process.

The government’s response to the climate change challenge, the renewable energy target and Paris targets (agreed to by Abbott) may be embodied in Finkel’s long-awaited review, but it will be attenuated by the hard realities in the Coalition party room.

Turnbull wants to avoid the deeply rutted road to ruin he slipped on to in 2009. Already, his government is on dangerous ground.

Outwardly, a gridlocked polity is said to be close to a breakthrough as Labor fires off location flares, insisting it is ready to compromise.

But double-speak abounds. The opposition’s forked tongue is exposed as it lauds consensus while deliberately inflaming the Abbott-related internal tensions and demands to know the carbon threshold upfront.

Politically, the Prime Minister must win this. Which probably means that policy-wise Australia will again aim low.

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