A test of Turnbull’s leadership

Sunday Telegraph, 08/08/2009

I feel sorry for Malcolm Turnbull.

He’s got a tougher job than Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations. It will be easier to get the world to agree to tackle climate change than the Opposition.

There are some Opposition MPs who accept the evidence that carbon pollution is warming the planet, but there are a lot of others who think climate change is what happens when you fly to Europe in July.

This week will be a test of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. Can the man who couldn’t convince republicans to vote for a republic convince a party of climate change sceptics to reduce carbon emissions?

In four days time the Senate votes on the Carbon Pollution Reduction legislation.

There are a lot of reasons why the Opposition should vote for this legislation, but here’s just one – because business wants them to.

Whatever happens at the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December one thing is certain, in the future there will be a limit placed on carbon pollution.

It’s going to take a lot of hard work to reduce the amount of carbon we emit, and the longer we wait the more it will cost.

If carbon pollution is going to be capped in the future business want to know the rules as soon as possible. They want certainty.

The sooner we set the rules, the sooner they can make long term investment decisions that will create jobs.

The head of the Business Council of Australia Katie Lahey recently said that “to drag on the debate whilst we have got this global financial crisis is just one more complexity that business has got to factor into its planning cycle, and for some businesses it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

The decision about whether we continue to increase carbon pollution or start to reduce it is now Malcolm’s to make.

It’s a big responsibility. I suspect his decision will be based on what is best for Malcolm not what is best for Australia.

Here’s my prediction.

On Thursday Malcolm Turnbull will let the Opposition vote against the legislation in the Senate because he is terrified of a party revolt by the climate change sceptics.

But in a few months time he will vote for exactly the same legislation because he is terrified of triggering an early election.

It’s got nothing to do with the environment or the economy. It’s all about Malcolm. He will vote for and against the same legislation for the same reason – because it is in his interest.

I can understand Barnaby Joyce and Wilson Tuckey voting against the Carbon Pollution Reduction legislation. If you don’t accept the evidence why accept the solution.

But we should be critical of someone who accepts the scientific evidence (someone who as Environment Minister even tried to convince John Howard to sign the Kyoto Protocol) but now votes against doing anything because it is politically expedient.

Climate change is the greatest challenge of our age. We will all be judged by the contribution we make to solving this problem – and that requires leadership.

If my prediction is right, the Senate will eventually pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction legislation and Australia will start the long and difficult task of cutting carbon pollution.

But not because Malcolm Turnbull leads the way or because the Opposition believe tackling climate change is in Australia’s interest. We will get there because Malcolm Turnbull and the Opposition think it is in their interest.

How can I be so sure? Self interest is a powerful motivator. As Jack Lang told a young Paul Keating, “in the human race always put your money on self interest, you can be sure it’s the only starter always trying”.