I still think back to that night in mid-May this year: scrutineering in some far-flung warehouse in suburban Melbourne, running down my phone battery to check seat-by-seat results, as it dawned on us that – seemingly against the laws of political gravity – Scott Morrison had pulled it off.
Nobody had loathed Morrison’s predecessor more than I had, but even I’d underestimated the way in which the Liberal party’s vote would be boosted by blasting Malcolm Turnbull out. I shouldn’t have, though, because there was a precedent. And so now, as we approach the tenth anniversary of the 2009 leadership spill, on the first of December, it’s worth reflecting on the first time that the Liberal party vanquished its miserable ghost – and with him, the Coalition’s electorally-poisonous climate change policy.
I still remember where I was on that day, too. Crammed into a hot office at some summer internship, hitting refresh on one of the first crude versions of Twitter until I and every other long-suffering conservative were delivered a miracle, long before that word had entered the Australian political lexicon. Tony Abbott had defeated Turnbull by a single vote.
Naturally, no sooner had he stepped out of the party room, Abbott was written off. Labor couldn’t believe their luck, safe in their misguided certainty that Tony Abbott would never, ever be prime minister. And then the first polls came in, showing that after years of being in the toilet, the Coalition’s vote had recovered. Then another good poll came in. And another. And before long it was clear that under Tony Abbott, the Liberal party was back in business.
But the Abbott ascendency meant more than just a sugar hit in the polls. It meant that Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme was dead, buried and cremated. And, more to the point, it meant that the cosy duopoly between the major parties on global warming had been shattered forever.
Under Turnbull, an emissions trading scheme of some kind had been a fait accompli. The only ‘debate’ was how the whole monstrosity was supposed to actually work. When it came to climate change, all we got from the press gallery were the finer details, breathless reporting on what happened in that day’s haggling between Penny Wong and – for his sins – Ian Macfarlane.
We were bombarded – bamboozled – with a flood of useless detail that only a government led by Kevin Rudd could generate. Endless speculation of who was in, who was out, who was exempt and who would have to cop it. Endless warnings of how the ‘rest of the world is acting’ (they weren’t) and how terribly upset everyone would be with us if Kevin Rudd didn’t front up to Copenhagen with an emissions trading scheme signed, sealed and delivered.
Endless talk of carbon credits, carbon permits, carbon reporting, carbon farming, carbon sequestration and carbon accounting. This was Australia in 2009, a country consumed by the bureaucratic minutiae, the swarm of trivialities, that came with the absurd task of regulating an element of the periodic table.
What the chattering classes didn’t understand is that most Australians saw through it, and knew instinctively that it was a bad idea. With Tony Abbott’s ascension to the leadership, they were awakened. And all it took for Tony Abbott to bring the whole grotesque Jenga tower of stupidity crashing down was seven words: Kevin Rudd’s ETS was nothing more, and nothing less than ‘a great big new tax. On everything’.
Why is any of this relevant now? Because even to this day, the Liberal party refuses to learn from its successes. For one thing, it took less than six years for 54 Liberal MPs to suffer from such a severe bout of political amnesia that they handed the keys to the Ferrari (and the Lodge) back to the kid who had crashed it.
But more importantly, both disastrous incarnations of the Turnbull experiment debunk the great electoral myth that climate change is some kind of barbecue-stopper in middle Australia. As his leadership melted down in 2009, Malcolm Turnbull had famously declared that ‘I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am’ (a declaration which, incidentally, turned out to the most prescient thing he ever said). His second stint was not much different, as Turnbull’s obsession with emissions reduction – this time by stealth via the NEG – pushed his colleagues too far.
The ‘miracle’ victory of 2019 should have been the end of the matter. Bill Shorten ran hard on climate change and bombed, while – by the Left’s own admission – the ‘climate election’ was won by a party with ‘no climate policy’. In fact, Australians have said no to ‘climate action’ at every electoral opportunity – save for 2007 when the afterglow of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was such that even John Howard went to the election promising an emissions trading scheme.
It isn’t just Australians who reward politicians going against the climate zeitgeist. Donald Trump bucked similar predictions to Scott Morrison, won the 2016 election and promptly withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement. And even in luvvie Ontario, Doug Ford was elected premier on a platform of scrapping the Canadian province’s carbon tax.
But even after all that, the Coalition’s habit of doffing its hat to climate alarmism stubbornly persists. One recent example is the inexplicable decision to pump a cool billion dollars into the Gillard-era Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Meanwhile, although Tony Abbott scuttled the widely-loathed carbon tax, the Coalition has left almost every other aspect of Labor’s grotesque green energy apparatus intact – like the souped-up renewable energy target that has lined the pockets of ‘clean energy’ carpetbaggers while middle Australia pays through the nose.
There is a reason why Malcolm Turnbull was embraced by the basket-weavers of Bondi and was electoral poison everywhere else. Ten years on, the Morrison government should look back and remember what happens when the Coalition looks beyond the climate bubble.