The Australian Liberal Party has a chance to rule the country for a generation. Here is how.
Tony Abbott is a dead duck. Anyone still breathing can see the massive shift towards climate change action taking place around the world.
China has pledged to cap emissions and will very likely do so ahead of schedule. Coal is in deep trouble.
The US has committed to huge cuts in emissions and although the Republican Party is hostile to the commitment it does not have the power to prevent the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from moving ahead. Any attempt at legislation will be blocked by Presidential veto. The only chance Republicans have to derail is to take the White House in two years and Hilary Clinton is the front runner.
Europe has also mooted huge reductions and the UK has strong bipartisan commitment to abatement.
Much of the rest of the world will very likely fall into line at the Paris UN summit late next year.
Yet Tony Abbott has literally signed a contract in blood that Australia will do nothing on climate change. The Prime Minister’s position is therefore, completely untenable. He can’t backtrack without destroying himself and the party, and moving forward with him will destroy both as well. A new leader with the same policies won’t change much, either. To think otherwise is to assume Australians are a pack of morons.
This will hand the Labor Party victory by default in the 2016 election simply by keeping its head down and committing to climate change mitigation. Assuming it’s Bill Shorten, Australia will again be ruled by a weak government and an opaque leader with a troubled mandate. Bill Shorten appears committed to climate change action but who knows? A fine Machiavellian nose for bringing down Prime Ministers is his most consistent feature.
There is another path on offer to the Liberal Party that is in its and the national interest. It must slough its climate change skepticism and return to the reason that underpins liberalism. It can only do this convincingly with one man.
Malcolm Turnbull supported the carbon price and was deposed for it. He has hung around ever since doing jobs beneath his station, presumably because he had the insight to know that the Abbott bet was always ridiculous in the long run. Now that that nag is off to the knackery, it is the natural course of events that he return as Prime Minister.
It’s probable that the Liberal Party does not yet see it this way. Apparently the party does not like Malcolm. He is not personable like Abbott and not as interested in maintaining relationships (or so I’m told). Nonetheless, if managed right, a Turnbull Government could rule the nation for a generation, finally resolve the climate change policy path for Australia, address the underlying economic distortions that are killing the aspirations of everyone under the age of 40, and drive a enormous wedge into the Labor Party from which it will not recover for many terms.
The platform to do it is this:
- adopt carbon pricing, tweaked from the Garnaut model in ways that make it appear new and better (using the Shergold Report)
- a very serious housing affordability push that addresses both demand and supply side distortions
- a post-mining boom economic narrative and platform that is all about structural change
- a huge productivity push that explicitly eschews pork
- budget repair that explicitly privileges fairness within a framework of mutual sacrifice
- tax reform that cancels the diesel rebate and jacks up the petrol excise, as well as cutting egregious superannuation concessions
- a new policy push aimed at lowering the Australian dollar and boosting exports
- free trade and “open for business” with Andrew Robb as Treasurer
This agenda should be framed as something like “reform for the future of Australia” and would capture the youth vote that currently sits naturally within the ambit of the Labor Party and Greens. Housing is the key, here. I model for the approach is available in New Zealand.
Malcolm Turnbull is one of the very few – perhaps the only one – in Canberra with the bi-partisan support and communication flair to do this.
It’s an absolute winner for the party, is consistent with its core values (as opposed to the antediluvian social conservatism of Abbott and Co), will shatter its political enemy’s base and set it up to rule for a generation. Although we’d see some grumbling from the Lib’s base, they’d fall into line. Who else are they going to vote for?
Moreover, we would finally have adults back in control of Australia and have some hope of shortening the lost decade ahead, not to mention taking out the insurance against catastrophic climate change that the world is embracing.