Tony Abbott's Machiavellian machinations

'Abbott Media Conference', Nine NewsI had tipped Turnbull to win.

Hockey's decision that he would only stand as a candidate who offered a free conscience vote on the ETS bills precipitated a defiant decision by Abbott on Monday afternoon that he would stand as a third, anti-ETS candidate. I wrongly tipped that Abbott would be eliminated in the first round, and that the final contest would be between Turnbull and Hockey — in either case, the ETS bills would have become law.

It seems the Liberal party room disliked Hockey's challenge of a conscience vote on the ETS: perhaps because most of them are not ready to acknowledge that climate change is a conscience issue (though the climate security of our children is surely a conscience issue?) as well as an economic policy issue. They seemed to prefer the shelter of a clear how-to-vote direction on the ETS, to be held to personal account.

After Hockey's elimination on the first round, Abbott beat Turnbull in the final round by just one vote (42–41).

Abbott then shrewdly called an immediate secret ballot on whether the party should first seek the referral of the ETS bills to a committee, failing which the Opposition senators should vote the bills down this week. Abbott cemented this policy by a decisive vote (55–29).

He will argue, rightly, that these numbers give him a clear mandate to lead a new Coalition policy on the ETS and climate change. If Rudd should now — as he must be tempted to do — call a double dissolution election on the rejected ETS bills, Abbott is defiantly ready.

But as his victory press conference made clear, Abbott will have to deal with some major contradictions in framing an electorally attractive policy on the rejected ETS and climate change. Abbott is on record as saying the climate science is 'crap'. He said yesterday this was 'a bit of hyperbole. It is not my considered position.'

He said, 'I think that climate change is real and that man does make a contribution ... We do want to reduce our emissions and those targets [the emission reduction targets proposed by the Rudd Government of 5–25 per cent by 2020] stand ... We will have a strong and effective climate change policy, it just won't be this ETS.'

Abbott's stated opposition to the ETS is that it is a massive tax transfer from households to big industry, with no emissions reduction effect.

It was clear from the press conference that for Abbott and his strategists, their best hope of the Coalition winning the next election, or at least holding on to a number of hard-conservative seats, is to frame the key issues as being about high tax and wasteful government spending rather than about climate change.

This will now be a ruthless, dog-whistle election, whenever it comes. Abbott will have the climate change deniers and the rich and powerful coal lobby solidly behind his party's new position. He will present a 'respectable' policy, of believing the climate change science, supporting the agreed Copenhagen targets, and disagreeing with the Government only on its high-tax, coercive ETS.

But, just as Howard profited from Pauline Hanson's racism while professing to disavow it, Abbott's campaign will derive covert energy from climate change deniers and coal lobbyists. They knew he was their man, and he has now — by one vote — brought the entire Liberal Party with him. It was a successful Machiavellian strategy.

There is tragedy here. Turnbull and Hockey cancelled each other out. Turnbull was earning belated respect for his courage against the odds. Had Hockey withdrawn his candidacy and put his support behind Turnbull, on the grounds that there was now a clear ETS choice before the party, it might have gone the other way.

Labor would be unwise to underestimate Abbott's power to attract votes in a double-dissolution election. The ETS bills are so compromised now in the public eye (many see them as a big polluters' feeding trough) that Abbott, a tough populist street fighter, could make heavy inroads into the Government's support.

Abbott's triumph changes the climate change policy chessboard in ways that will take time for the Government to analyse. Rather than triggering a double dissolution on this ETS, Rudd could decide to take policy back to the drawing board.

Rudd might be tempted by a simpler, more understandable, full public-dividend carbon tax, as advocated by environmentalist James Hansen and by market economists like Alan Carmody.

He might also look at greater resort to direct regulatory action to move Australia away from its 93 per cent reliance on coal-burning for its electricity. He might want to think about more direct Keynesian public-spending solutions to this massively entrenched market failure.

For Turnbull and Hockey, the personal dilemmas are now great. Could they in good conscience stand as Liberals in the next election, which they will know was provoked by the machinations of climate change denialists and carbon lobbyists whose views now control the Liberal Party?

Yesterday's outcome changes the character of the Australian Liberal Party, and may yet destroy it as a serious alternative government. Whatever Abbott's latest protestations, the outcome will polarise Australian politics around the issue of man-made climate change and what to do about it.

I see this as a sad result. It would have been in the national interest now to go forward with a consensus strategy on climate change, however flawed the execution of that strategy. Now, we are back to square one.

Tony KevinTony Kevin is author of Crunch Time: using and abusing Keynes to fight the twin crises of our era (Scribe 2009).



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Existing comments

Look on the bright side ... Someone named Tony Kevin is going to have the pleasure of seeing his name on newspaper headlines in the 2010 and 2013 elections (after which Tony Julia will get his turn for 2017 and 2020).

Rod Blaine | 02 December 2009  

I agree with Tony's excellent analysis except perhaps to emphasize that Kevin Rudd, Penny Wong and the Labor government must also shoulder much of the blame for this situation. There was - and probably still is - much popular support for climate change action, but they completely failed to harness this to the advantage of caring for the environment. And I would not so easily bypass James Hanson's suggestions for a climate change tax on polluters which is then passed on t ordinary tax payers to help them pay for rising energy price rises. This at least motivates everyone - including polluters - to cut back on energy use.

Paul Collins | 02 December 2009  

Copenhagen will give us some idea of world opinion on climate change and the need for a carbon reduction scheme. The Liberals have given Rudd an opportunity to step back and reassess how best to attack not only climate change in Australia but also the Coalition's attitude (at present there is no policy). The ETS was difficult enough to understand in its original form, it was even more indigestible when it was amended. There is a great opportunity now for the Greens to become Macchiavellian and use their influence on the Government. Already this morning debate/discussion in the media has been on personalities rather than principles. Thank God for Eureka Street where on the whole principles come before personalities - not easy where matters of power, possessions and prestige are concerned.

Uncle Pat | 02 December 2009  

As a thinking Catholic who questions the 'agendas' put in front of me I am delighted that Tony Abbott has won the leadership of the Liberal Party and that SOMEONE out there will represent the views of the considerable group of people who DO question the IPCC's version of climate change which has been challenged by many eminent scientists around the world.

Tony Abbott is a clear thinker and articulate representative of views which have found no voice in the past few years.

I am thrilled he won the ballot fairly and squarely.

Skye | 02 December 2009  

God help us! I shadder to think what wild things Abbott is going to try on us! It's a shame he is so untrustworthy, machiavellian, secretive, manipulative, etc. You just don't know what he'll do next. Is this the leader we want? I certainly think not! Well done Tony!

Nathalie | 02 December 2009  

Abbott yes, Machiavelli, no.

How can anyone accuse Tony of being like Machiavelli. He's too upfront and the voices that elected him, albeit by one vote are anything but conniving, self-serving, manipulative and secretive.

I want to say that the voices of "all the way with Climate Change and Carbon Taxing" are more Machiavellian than "let's proceed, but with a little caution, let's wait till we see the lay of the land at Copenhagen."

Tony has his faults, but he is very upfront, we all know what to expect and some of us think that most of what he says is fair dinkum.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala-Delegate NSW | 02 December 2009  

I'm sorry, Tony, but I seem to have missed the point. If Tony Abbott said
"I think that climate change is real and that man does make a contribution ... We do want to reduce our emissions and those targets [the emission reduction targets proposed by the Rudd Government of 5–25 per cent by 2020] stand ... We will have a strong and effective climate change policy, it just won't be this ETS.'" then how does this make him a "climate change denier"?

Or "Machiavellian"?

Or bring "the rich and powerful coal lobby solidly behind his party's new position."?

Just possibly, if Kevin Rudd now does the things you suggested he might do, then Abbott's win could hardly be anything but a good thing.

Sometimes the best policy is indeed to go back to square one and begin again.

John R. Sabine | 02 December 2009  

All you say is spot on but the ETS is flawed strategy. Even the revised Turnbull one does not really address the CC needs. But at Copenhagen, the world will come to terms with actual strategies, we wold hope and not try to recover the commercial lossess through a tax regime that will cripple the "lesser" economies, perhaps even Australia.

Richard Teo | 02 December 2009  

I find it puzzlng that Eureka Street has come out so one-sided on the climate change debate. In fact there seems to be no debate as far as you are concerned. Wisdom, Jesuit or divine, is not held solely by those who accept that what we are experiencing is indeed anthropogenic. Use of language such as "deniers" is unhelpful to a balanced debate. Giving Kevin Rudd a trophy to take to Copenhagen could cost Australia much more than we can afford.

Robbles | 02 December 2009  

Whatever Abbott actually thinks about climate change is irrelevant. As Turnbull said, he has taken every possible position there is according to which has suited his best interests in gaining power. How else can one explain the shift from 'climate science is crap' to 'I think that climate change is real and that man does make a contribution'?

What is relevant is that Abbott owes his new position to the climate change deniers like Minchin and will retain it only so long as he toes the climate deniers' line. Hockey lost because he would not toe that line.

Because Abbott is cunning and devious, he will probably survive longer than his predecessors, especially if he manages to emulate Howard's capacity to whip up populist prejudice against refugees, immigrants, gays, and any other clearly identified and not well understood other.

But don't expect any sensible policy alternative to come forward; after all 'policy' is what Kevin Andrews has been working on since the last election!

Ginger Meggs | 02 December 2009  

Skye's comment "as a thinking Catholic"prompts me to mention that I claim the same description but the "thinking "part questions the vigin birth, turning water into wine,feeding a multitude with two loaves of bread,the Assumption, but the proven science of global warming and climate change is irrefutable.Your hero Tony Abbott changes his mind continually to suit his argument.

JACK KENNEDY | 02 December 2009  

I agree with Robbles. As far as I am aware, Eureka Street has not featured any articles from eminent people on the other side of this issue.

I do not know how articles for an online magazine are procured. How ever it is done, it would boost Eureka Street's credentials in my opinion, if we had people other than posters presenting alternative viewpoints on this key issue, and others as well.

Timothy Scully | 02 December 2009  

Read the correspondence too!

Susan | 02 December 2009  

"I tipped Turnbull to win...". "I tipped wrongly that Abbott would be eliminated in the first round..the final contest..between Turnbull and Hockey". Tony K then goes on to make predictions about future political events.I hereby recommend that future auguries uttered by the author of "Crunch Time", no longer be heard.

Tony Abbott Machiavelian? (politically expedient without morality, crafty and deceitful, unscrupulously cunning); these are serious charges against a patently decent and courageous man. "Cometh the hour - cometh the man".As it was John Curtin, Tony Abbott will be the man Australia will need if and when our darkest hour comes.

Claude Rigney | 02 December 2009  

I strongly disagree with the views and the reasoning of Tony Kevin’s most unfair essay. Actually I became quite downhearted but only for a moment because I was quickly cheered by posts from Skye, Fr Mick and Robbles. It would seem that Tony Kevin has never heard of ClimateGate or ClimateTruth Overboard. Some may be interested in this snippet taken from an editorial in todays issue of the The Washington Times, I quote:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
EDITORIAL: Universities take action on Climategate
The Obama administration might think Climategate is a nonevent, but on Monday, Pennsylvania State University announced it was launching an investigation into the academic conduct of Michael Mann, director of the school's Earth System Science Center. Yesterday, it was announced that Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, would step aside while his university conducts an investigation. With so much fraud being exposed in the academic community that studies and promotes global-warming theories, an example has to be made of someone.

There are dozens of researchers at other institutions involved in this scandal surrounding leaked e-mails that discuss covering up evidence of global cooling and destroying research that discounts global warming. For example, in the United States, the National Center for Atmospheric Research is in the thick of the e-mail chain...

Rosemary | 02 December 2009  

Another measured article from Tony Kevin. The only point I would add is that I suspect Kevin Rudd is in fact a sceptic if not an actual denier. If he truly believed humans were largely responsible for climate change his policy would reflect the science, not the politics. He would be aware that the climate doesn't respond to politics but rather concrete action. He has gravely miscalculated here, and I think Tony is correct, Abbott will make mileage out of the impossible task of asking the public to fix there own problem. He will only need to remind them of how hopelessly flawed Rudd's ETS is, and how 'we need action on the ground'. He could start by referring to the electorate as 'climate soldiers' in the 'war on carbon'. To continue Tony's chess metaphor, Rudd has sacrificed his last pawn, and we have just seen Abbott bring out his Queen for the first time. The practical and political solution to Rudd's problem would have been to put forward a workable 25% - 45% reduction target and the only enemy (considerable admittedly) would be the lobbyists. The proposal would have been rejected, but Rudd would be the hero who tried to save the planet. Now he looks redundant.

David Akenson | 03 December 2009  

Rosemary, let's assume for the moment that there has been some dodgy science and fraud in some parts of academia, in relation to climate change. Does that mean that it is all one big left-wing conspiracy, as Nick Minchin seems to think? After all, fraud happens in cancer research, but we don't discard the results of all the valid results that come from that field.

Science, by its nature, is always work in progress, but I put it to you that there is more evidence for man made climate change than there is for most of the statements in the creeds or the teachings of the Church that Tony Abbott holds so dear.

Ginger Meggs | 03 December 2009  

It is fantasy to imagine that human-induced climate change is not occurring (see following paragraphs); this is the context within which such political machinations as these are viewed.

Earth is bathed in sunlight with a range of wavelengths between 300 nm (nanometres) and 6000 nm. It gets warmer unless it emits a balancing amount of earthlight in a range of wavelengths between 6000 nm and 100000 nm. Carbon dioxide hinders this emission sufficiently to keep things warm enough for life as we know it.
Over the last couple of centuries, humans have burnt more than enough fossil fuel to account for the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide that we've seen.

Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide is hindering emission of earthlight sufficiently as to make things to warm for life ... as we know it.

It is wishful thinking to imagine that human-induced climate change is not occurring; this is the context within which we must account for ourselves to our children.

(Surplus carbon dioxide has dissolved into the oceans, turning them slightly more acidic; the discomfort is spread all around.)

David Arthur | 03 December 2009  

This article by Tony Kevin is one of the astute summaries of the current situation in Federal politics. There is much about the proposed ETS legislation that I didn't understand but I knew enough to know that we, as a nation, had to do something! The thought that the Liberal Party could once again go to an election with policies that divide and undermine our reputation as a nation that cares about the world at large (think back to the Children Overboard scandal) is sad! Kevin Rudd, for all his flaws, seems to have had the desire to bring Australian to the table of countries that were willing to engage on climate change. As Tony Kevin suggests, he would do well not to underestimate his new rival, the Machiavellian Mad Monk! Methinks, Tony Abbott has learnt too well from his Jesuit mentors!

David McGovern | 04 December 2009  

So Eureka Street doesn't present the other side. There's no scientifically-proven 'other side'. Debating whether catastrophic climate change or global warming exists is like debating whether gravity exists. The same ignorance can be seen to be operating in the phony creationism (or 'intelligent design') versus evolution debates - the kind that would normally occur on Laputa. You may as well debate whether it's safer to ride on a helicopter or on a magic carpet - that's how ridiculous it is.

Dorothy | 04 December 2009  

But realistically, if not technically, Malcolm Turnbull did win the vote, and the party room knows it. Your tip was correct. If Fran Bailey and the two Liberals who most likely are moved forward at by-elections this weekend had been in the room voting, Tony Abbott would have been defeated. The parliamentary Liberal party has no proxy system. May I suggest that one reason Mr Turnbull continues to complain and protest after he has been beaten is because he knows he wasn't beaten. The Liberal Party members in the Federal Parliament are plainly split into two camps, at least two. And who were the candidates who acted on principle? And did it matter?

Desiderius Erasmus | 04 December 2009  

Thank God, Turnbull has gone! He has only proved himself since departing to the back bench, that he was only in it for himself. He is not a team player. He has shown his true colours - a spoilt sport. Goodbye Turnbully.

Peter Flood | 09 December 2009  

Most comments miss the point of this whole debate.

Firstly, having lived through the global heating period and local drought of the 1940's (which came and went) to be followed by the hysteria of the late 60's-early 70's when we were supposed to freeze to death or die of starvation due to the cold. This too came and went, only to give way to the present hysteria.

These are natural cycles governed by the sun and earth's orbit but have little to do with the debates referred to above.

In 1968 Paul Ehrlich and his wife Anne published a book 'The Population Bomb' which strongly advocated a reduction in the world population. Mr Ehrlich used the low point of the global cycle to frighten us in submission to his main objective.

The current heating scare has been pushed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)the brainchild of HRH Prince Phillip who is on record as saying that if he was reincarnated he would like to come back as a virus to reduce world population.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)has issued - in time for Copenhagen - a report 'State of World Population 2009', which advocates an eight million limit on world population, as a means of carbon reduction.

Clearly the ultimate objective is reduction of world populatiion.

Watch for it!

Pat Healy | 11 December 2009  

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