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In the 'climate wars' Tony Abbott is Hiroo Onoda



With the Coalition's flagged rejection of the Clean Energy Target and former PM Tony Abbott's recent speech spreading climate denial myths, the media is once again talking about Australia's 'climate wars'.

Norio Suzuki poses with Onoda and his rifle after finding him in the jungles of Lubang Island.But war is no longer an appropriate metaphor because former 'enemies' of action on climate change — the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, and the big three energy retailers — have crossed the trenches. All year they've been calling for effective climate policy, such as an emissions intensity scheme or clean energy target, to bring investment certainty and reduce emissions. Only the Minerals Council and the Institute of Public Affairs are left slogging it out in defence of coal.

So rather than a war, what we have is a classic 'holdout' situation. The conflict has finished, but a stubborn and deluded band of stragglers don't want to believe it, so they've barricaded themselves in the hills to keep the fantasy alive. I'm referring, of course, to the small rump of conservative MPs in the Coalition led by their belligerent General, Tony Abbott.

There's an historical analogy here. Abbott is behaving like the infamous Imperial Japanese officer Hiroo Onoda, who refused to accept his country's surrender in 1945 and spent a further 29 years fighting phantom enemies in a remote tropical jungle.

Stationed on Lubang Island in the Philippines, Onoda was one of thousands of Japanese soldiers scattered around the Pacific when World War II ended. While most were captured or went home, some guerilla holdouts continued to fight and pillage villages for years, posing a problem for rebuilding war-torn regions.

The US military, with the support of the defeated Japanese, dropped leaflets explaining that the war was over. Some soldiers accepted the information and gave up arms, but Onoda and his three enlisted men thought it was enemy propaganda, a trick to flush them out of hiding.

And so they continued to serve their beloved god-Emperor, murdering about 30 innocent islanders, who they considered enemy agents, over the next quarter century. Onoda only accepted the new reality in 1974 when his former commanding officer visited in person to relieve him of his duties.


"Abbott wants to reject the Clean Energy Target not because he's analysed it closely and discovered fatal flaws, but because adopting it positions the Liberals too close to Labor. It's all selfish, short-term politics."


Like Onoda's band of soldiers thwarting efforts to rebuild local villages in peacetime, Tony Abbott's skirmishes into climate policy are undermining everyone's attempts to cease hostilities and reach a bipartisan agreement. And like Onoda's refusal to believe new information that didn't conform with his worldview, Abbott and co. are rejecting evidence that the economics of clean energy and reducing pollution have shifted dramatically.

It's not a choice between renewable energy and power prices, if it ever was. The Finkel Report, and many studies since, have shown that more clean energy in the grid will reduce electricity prices. That's why the big energy retailers, who previously tried to undermine the Renewable Energy Target, have switched sides. In the last few days, AGL, Origin Energy and Energy Australia have all said the government needs to adopt a clean energy target in order to lower power prices.

But as Abbott admitted in a radio interview, he didn't even read the Finkel Report before rejecting its core proposal in the media. His ideology is untroubled by new evidence because he considers anything contrary to be part of some deep-green conspiracy. It's all enemy propaganda, right?

Perhaps, like Onoda, Abbott just doesn't want to stop fighting. His recent speech to a London global warming denialist group included these statements: 'Of course, we're all nostalgic for the days when governments and oppositions could agree on the big issues; but pleading for bipartisanship won't create it ... The modern world, after all, is not the product of a successful search for consensus. It's what's emerged from centuries of critical enquiry and hard clash.'

Hard clash. Throughout his career, this has been Abbott's only strategy. As Judith Brett observed in a recent column for The Monthly: 'His major preoccupation has always been product differentiation, drawing up the battlelines between the Liberal Party and its major enemy the Labor Party and winning the fight.' He's a political brawler, nothing more.

Thus Abbott wants to reject the Clean Energy Target not because he's analysed it closely and discovered fatal flaws, but because adopting it positions the Liberals too close to Labor. It's all selfish, short-term politics. His speech highlighted this too: 'After a net gain of 25 seats at the previous two elections, when we had campaigned on power prices, we had a net loss of 14 when we didn't.' What he really wants is Carbon Tax, Round 2: a nostalgic rerun of his knockout slogans.

Onoda's story has a sad ending. He returned to Japan a celebrity in the 1970s, but the modern country left him feeling disillusioned, overwhelmed by all the changes. 'There are so many tall buildings and automobiles in Tokyo,' he complained. For a while he used his sudden fame to espouse the values and traditions of Old Japan, but he was little more than a curious relic, not someone to be taken seriously. The world had moved on. Tony Abbott should heed the lesson, but he won't.



Greg Foyster headshotGreg Foyster is a Melbourne writer and the author of the book Changing Gears.

Main image: Norio Suzuki poses with Onoda and his rifle after finding him in the jungles of Lubang Island.

Topic tags: Greg Foyster, climate change, Tony Abbott, Finkel



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Existing comments

I fear, Greg, you pay Abbott too much credit for a smidgen of intellect when you suggest that his position is a political one practised to separate his party from the Labor party. He is simply an ignoramus when it comes to science and is merely attempting to hide his lack of understanding.

john frawley | 12 October 2017  

I think it is dangerous giving Tony Abbott too much time on air, in print, or anywhere else. He is a man whose time came and then went. His views and actions on a number of issues, the reintroduction of Australian Imperial Honours for instance, were bizarrely counterintuitive. If he had retained subsidies for the motor industry - every other nation does - it would have been a much better and cheaper investment than the current submarine project in keeping South Australia's economy afloat. Just about anyone who matters in the Liberal Party has distanced themselves from his latest climate change howler. The really sad thing is he could be instrumental in the election of a Shorten Labor government. I shudder at the thought of that because I think the current Coalition are governing well and have several achievements on board. Abbott is a distraction from the main game. Serious thought should be given to disendorsing him as a Liberal candidate before the next election.

Edward Fido | 13 October 2017  

May I suggest that both Greg and John are correct. There is no doubt that Abbott is an ‘ignoramus when it comes to science’, and I would add history and religion too, but he is also primarily a highly efficient brawler whose only legacy in public life will be a trail of destruction. But there are still many in the Government and in the NSW Liberal party machine who will support him !

Ginger Meggs | 13 October 2017  

This is a very good analysis, Greg. Some claim that we should not give Tony Abbott too much media attention. I disagree with this position because we need to realise that many in the "Liberal" Party still see him as the alternative leader. As a result, the LNP Coalition is largely carrying out his dangerously backward looking policies. This means that Australia is dragging its feet on important international environmental issues. Tony might be a very intelligent person, but he thinks his ignorant and elitist views are all that matter. The fact is, he is a naughty boy who failed to do his science homework. This fact must be kept in the public debate until we, as a nation, can move on and do something effective about dealing with climate change and pollution that is already causing a public health nightmare because it, too, is not receiving enough attention from political leaders. And Australia needs to be doing more to promote social justice, human rights, peaceful and fair relations between nations. That is an Australia that is worth working for rather than the one Tony Abbott is working for.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 13 October 2017  

I would suggest Tony Abbott may well possess high academic intelligence but that has not prevented others of similar intelligence holding the most bizarre views on areas outside their specialty. His intelligence and verbal skills are what make him dangerous. To some he appears extremely plausible.

Edward Fido | 13 October 2017  

A recent quote in "New Scientist": "China wants to dominate industries of the future while the governments of the US and Australia want to dominate industries of the past". Tim Buckley at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Sydney (as reported in New Scientist, 16 Sept 2017 in an article on renewable energy "Can China save the world?")

Peter Horan | 13 October 2017  

Why don't the energy suppliers just adopt a clean energy target and get on with it?

Jeff | 14 October 2017  

Very few politicians are ignoramuses. Tony Abbott especially. He and a number of others play to the coal industry because that is where the money is coming from. The most important aspect for getting re-elected is having a warchest of money. If one of your major sources of money says coal is good, then coal is good. There is an old adage: if you want an honest opinion, find someone who will not get paid to give it to you.

Bruce | 14 October 2017  

Thanks all for the comments. I also think he is doing the current government a lot of damage. There was an opportunity for Turnbull to lead a more centrist government and reach bipartisanship on energy policy, but the Coalition's slender majority and Abbott's salvos from the sidelines have undermined that prospect. It's a shame because many of our biggest problems require long-term stable policy for investment over many decades. China has an advantage over Western countries in this regard.

Greg Foyster | 15 October 2017  

It's telling that discussion includes Abbott's intelligence or lack there-of - but for me the issue isn't just about getting our heads around the science, data and future predictions - the signs are already blatantly clear that the earth is groaning (air pollution, deforestation, toxic waterways). And fossil fuels are the biggest contributor to this - nonrenewable means non-sustainable! So the only reason someone would advocate business as usual is for short-term, personal economic gain. Abbott is purely and simply an opportunist playing to his base (like Trump_, and hopefully his base is shrinking and waking up to reality!

Aurelius | 16 October 2017  

The author appears to indulge in the fantasy that we can get by with renewable energy. He does not deign to cite the " many studies" that "have shown that more clean energy in the grid will reduce electricity prices" so that we can check out these claims for ourselves. Contra his assertions, the experience from Germany, Denmark and California (to name a few) show us that energy costs spiral upwards as grid penetration of wind and solar increase. And if the goal is decarbonization, renewables alone just wont cut it. Writing in the Guardian, leading climate scientists have written that "Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change" (Friday, Dec. 4, 2015). The peer-reviewed science backs up this position. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Greg Foyster is more interested in virtue signalling that addressing the serious issue of climate change.

Aaron Oakley | 13 February 2018  

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