Mike Steketee was one of several commentators echoing Turnbull’s point that the ETS is basically the policy that the Howard Government took to the 2007 election.
He infers from this that the poor old Liberal Party has been captured by a rump of reactionaries who have taken advantage of the party’s current authority vacuum. By this account, while he might have shared their views, Howard was too pragmatic not to recognise that public opinion favoured restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.
Given that the majority of the parliamentary Liberals are probably not climate change sceptics, and that a dozen of them might be knocked off in an ETS election, this makes the rage against Turnbull seem more irrational than it is. Furthermore, it lets Howard off the hook too easily.
Of course many of the Liberals are true AGW deniers, but what really send mots of them into fits of indignation, even the non-deniers, is multilateralism. They think that the United Nations, along with all the treatises set up under its auspices, is a device for corrupt and backward countries to gang up on honest and prosperous countries like ours, with the connivance of hypocritical European governments harbouring ulterior motives, cheered on by naive left-wing Western intellectuals. The Kyoto Protocol was just another strand in this plot, along with opposition to the Iraq War, condemnation of Israel, and criticism of Australia’s refugee and indigenous policies.
It was Howard who set the tone for this attitude of contempt and heroic non-cooperation. While his resistance to carbon cuts may have melted in his last year of office, his opposition to ratifying the Kyoto agreement remained as stubborn as his refusal to apologise to the Stolen Generation. And he maintained the rage after leaving office in his famous Irving Kristol Lecture :
Those who hold to conservative values continue to face a major ideological battle.
The left liberal grip on educational institutions and large, though not all, sections of the media remains intense.
Global warming has become a new battleground. The same intellectual bullying and moralising, used in other debates, now dominates what passes for serious dialogue on this issue.
In office, most of his positive climate initiatives involved unilateral action, and he enjoyed claiming that Australia had met its notional Kyoto targets without needing to sign. His one multilateral initiative, the ‘Sydney Declaration’ he produced at the 2007 APEC, with its emphasis on ‘aspirational targets’, had a subtext of defiance toward multilateral prescriptive arrangements.
The Liberals, if not the whole Coalition, will eventually sign on to the ETS bill in some form, though many of them will do it reluctantly. What Howard’s Disciples won’t countenance is the sight of Kevin Rudd at Copenhagen proudly making Australia a dupe of those Machiavellian multilateralists who connive to enmesh us in their web of treaties.