The obsession with Tony Abbott that seems to dominate the ‘journalism’ of Peter Van Onselen and Nikki Savva has reached ludicrous proportions. No review of theirs that critiques the Government’ s standing or performance can be essayed without a reference to the destructive antics of Tony Abbott.
A common theme of PvO is Abbott’s inconsistency. Here he is in the Weekend Oz:
His strongly held convictions have long been a movable feast, especially on climate change,…
As far as The Australian’s resident Turnbull cheer squad are concerned, it seems that inconsistency is a disease that afflicts only Abbott’s political persona. Turnbull, Pyne, Shorten, Bowen etc are apparently immune or, at least, their inconsistencies are benign or unremarkable because they remain part of the political establishment. Because Abbott has wandered off the reservation and now no longer feels constrained to toe the party line he must be called out for every contradictory statement he has uttered or every policy U Turn he has ever executed over the full term of his parliamentary career.
But let’s just look at his inconsistency on climate change, which is the one area where he is really cutting through. Along with John Howard he was reluctantly dragooned, admittedly courtesy of political imperative, to notionally embrace the idea of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (to give it its correct name). In 2009, he famously opined that ‘climate change is crap’. No-one, particularly of the Left, ever believed that, in his heart of hearts he ever really resiled from this position. So he adopted a pragmatic position that seemed to align with what the majority of voters believed. Well, he’s no Robinson Crusoe in that respect. Nonetheless, Abbott’s sceptical convictions were always on display in his opposition to the carbon tax, his abolition of the Climate Council, his attempt to abolish the Clean Energy Corporation and his adoption of ‘Direct Action’, which was designed to tick the CAGW box while minimizing the damage to the economy.
Post his London speech, two claims have emerged to supposedly trash Abbott’s views on CAGW. The first is that the RET is Abbott’s RET and that, in 2015, he claimed that the RET would put downward pressure on prices and provide certainty for the industry. This is specious nonsense. Abbott negotiated a reduction of the RET he inherited from 41,000 GWhr to 33,500 GWhr. He wanted more but couldn’t get it past the Senate. And his claim regarding lower prices was not predicated on the RET being in place but on the reduction which he achieved.
The second claim we hear is that Abbott committed us to the Paris Agreement. Again, this is self-evident nonsense. Abbott was Prime Minister at the time we signed the Agreement in April 2015. But at that time we had not ratified it. Who knows what Abbott would have done had he still been Prime Minister at the time of ratification, knowing that the incoming US President had promised to pull out. He may well have held off on the basis that if the US was going to be out, why should we be in? It was Turnbull who committed us to Paris, not Abbott.
But perhaps the most deranged comment came from Paul Maley:
(A senior) Liberal said to me, “Look, there are probably three views inside the Liberal Party on climate change. One, climate change is bullshit and we should do nothing about it. Two, climate change is bullshit but if the public believe it and want an ETS, be it on their own head. Three, climate change is real and we have to act.”
At one point or another I suspect Tony Abbott has held all of these views, possibly all at once. The former prime minister’s contortions on climate policy have left him with zero credibility on the subject. It is the main reason why his climate speech in London was so breezily dismissed as an exercise in political opportunism, which of course it was.
But if you could get past the look-at-me glibness of Abbott’s language, what was left over was a thoughtful speech that deserved to be taken seriously.
As I have argued above, Maley must be the only journalist who really believes Abbott ever accepted that CAGW is real and we have to act. Maley is saying that Abbott doesn’t really believe what he is saying. It’s just opportunistic self-serving rhetoric but, just by chance, he might be onto something. Really? How can Abbott have zero credibility on the subject of CAGW yet his speech deserve to be taken seriously?
Or maybe it’s just that now he’s no longer PM and having to balance a whole heap of conflicting demands, he can come out, in the national interest, and say what he has always really believed. So he can justly be criticized for not doing in government what he now advocates. But he did do what he could to ameliorate the problem. So perhaps, then, he could be criticized for not recognizing that the current government is beset by the same impediments. The only problem here is that there is no-one in the current Cabinet who shares his convictions and can be relied upon to do even the bare minimum to put the brakes on the CAGW bandwagon. If no-one in the current crop of ‘leaders’ is prepared to acknowledge the unarguable disaster of climate and energy policy so eloquently and comprehensively laid out by Bjorn Lomborg in the Weekend Australian, why should Abbott hold back?
PvO today also tells us that Abbott is now alienating his former supporters on the front bench. So what? Let’s give Abbott the benefit of the doubt – a big ask, I know, for the van Onselens and Savvas – and accept that he does genuinely believe what he is now saying. Given that he is a voice that everyone hears – he has reach that not even Andrew Bolt has – then it is his duty to speak out, regardless of how hurt his former friends may feel. Is his obligation to them greater than that to his country?
If Abbott were no longer an MP would he still attract the same opprobrium for ‘destabilising the government’ by speaking his mind? You can bet your house on it.