When it comes to that ugly chapter in Australian political history that was Malcolm Turnbull, we always knew what we were getting. It was always – always – about Malcolm. For some, it was endearing. For most, it was exhausting. And ever since Turnbull was blasted out of the Lodge – with his outlandish streams of revisionist history – it’s been downright sad.
But in capitalising on this summer’s bushfires, Turnbull has gone from bitter and twisted to positively ghoulish. As hundreds of Australians lost their homes and, tragically, their lives, Turnbull has wedged a callous ‘I Told You So’ into the media cycle at every opportunity.
But what would the climate crusader of the present make of the ghost of Turnbull past? Well, when you look at his past comments, it looks like Prime Minister Turnbull would be guilty of the very same ‘denialism’ that Citizen Turnbull bemoans today.
Take his rant in TIME magazine last week. “These fires show that the wicked, self-destructive idiocy of climate denialism must stop,” Turnbull wrote.
But as Prime Minister, Turnbull was rightly more circumspect about invoking bushfires in the so-called ‘climate wars’. As has been reported this week, Turnbull was asked in 2018 about similar comments from the Greens. “Look, I’m disappointed that the Greens would try to politicise an event like this,” the then-PM replied. “You can’t attribute any particular event, whether it’s a flood or fire or a drought or a storm, to climate change”.
Today’s Turnbull has also joined the chorus of climate evangelists demanding steeper emissions cuts. “The world must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions,” Turnbull says, adding that “Australians no longer need to sacrifice economic growth to reduce emissions”.
But again, Turnbull was much more averse to emissions targets in October 2017, when answering a question in Parliament from fellow Liberal Julia Banks. “We know that, were Labor to implement its policy of a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, a 50 per cent renewable energy target would add nearly $200 a year to household energy bills,” Turnbull bellowed.
Which brings us to Turnbull’s newfound embrace of renewables and vendetta against coal, which is so extreme that one almost expects to see the one-time PM glued to a Brisbane road sometime soon.
Writing for the Guardian, Turnbull has said that “above all we need to face this fact: Coal is on the way out. It is a matter of life and death. The world must, and I believe will, stop burning coal if we are to avoid the worst consequences of global warming”.
Did Turnbull think that we’d all forget the time he chuckled along when Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal into Question Time? Or when he admonished Bill Shorten for “turning his back on all of those coalminers” and being in an “ideological trap set for him by the Greens”?
There’s plenty more where that came from, floating around Hansard and Turnbull’s own website. But you get the idea.
Of course, Turnbull’s few remaining defenders will put all of that down to ‘extremists’ in the Coalition. Turnbull wanted ‘real’ climate policy, they will ll say, but he was sabotaged by conservative ‘wreckers’ in the party room.
It’s a cop-out as cowardly as it is convenient. And besides which, it’s wrong. De facto conservative leader Peter Dutton was loyal to Turnbull for almost all of his term as PM, emerging as a leadership contender only when it became clear that Turnbull’s political skills were so woefully inept that the Coalition was headed for electoral wipe-out.
And yes, there were a handful of MPs who – for many good reasons – would have crossed the floor to vote against the NEG. But that would have been a footnote of history had Turnbull not whittled the Coalition’s majority down to one at the 2016 election.
Turnbull’s recent appearances appear to have nothing to do with climate change or energy policy or the future of the planet. They are presumably about Turnbull’s need to rationalise and soothe the disappointment of his overhyped rise, and the humiliation of his spectacular fall.
In these bushfires, Turnbull has found his post-politics raison d’etre. The Akubra and check shirt are long gone, and the leather jacket is out of mothballs. Malcolm the climate warrior is back, with – quite literally – a vengeance.
And what about the ordinary Australians over whom Turnbull once governed? The coal miners and exporters and small businesses and farmers and families and pensioners who will lose out if Australia takes the extreme and destructive ‘climate action’ that Turnbull and his ilk are clamouring for? The millions of Australians whose living standards will be tanked by the economic vandalism that will cost millions of jobs and jeopardise entire industries?
Well, they’re probably just collateral damage. Because as always, it’s all about Malcolm.