Monday, September 14, 2015

Abbott, Tossed Fellow

Well, things certainly escalated quickly today.  Australia's right-wing dipstick of a Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has lost his party's vote to remain leader and is no longer the country's PM.  The new boss is hopefully less of a jackass, but it doesn't look like by much.

Australia's 29th prime minister is Malcolm Turnbull, who ousted Abbott with the help of the Abbott's deputy, Julie Bishop, 54-44 in a vote of the parliamentary members of the governing Liberal Party, Monday night Australian time. In a late-night press conference, Turnbull, also a member of Australia's conservative party, said he came to power "seeking to persuade, rather than to lecture"—highlighting one of the chief criticisms of Abbott as an inflexible scold who failed to explain complicated policies to the Australian people. 
For those even remotely familiar with Australian politics, you'll know the last few years have been a bloodbath in the corridors of power, with fierce factional divides in both parties, Labor and Liberal, making the prime ministerial office the most treacherous room to occupy in the country. Three sitting prime ministers have now been toppled and replaced by their own parties, partly due to disagreements over climate change, terrible polling, and the management of Australia's resource-dependent economy. But Abbott's fall—in power for less than two years—is extraordinary: for a man who said he would bring stability back to the top job, he served in the position for a shorter time than the two previous prime ministers that he helped topple, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd (both members of the opposition Labor party). Pressure on Abbott had been building for months. 
Turnbull used to be a proponent of a cap-and-trade program, and he once called Tony Abbott's position on climate change "bullshit" because he Abbott was vehemently opposed to a market-based solution. Abbott himself has previously doubted the science behind climate change, then ran a brutal scare campaign against a carbon tax, arguing it would trash the economy. But it's unlikely, at least in the short-term before another election, that climate will be back on the agenda anytime soon: carbon pricing has cut to the quick of Aussie politics and become a symbol for deep ideological divides, something Turnbull is likely loathe to stir up, early in a new prime ministership. Commentators in Australia say Turnbull madeprivate undertakings not to rock the boat too much, as he locked up the votes to contest the leadership. 
Sure enough, Turnbull said at his first press conference that the government's position on climate change will stay the same for the moment. The current policy of government investments in carbon abatement (called "Direct Action"), rather than a market-based system "is one that I supported as a minister in the Abbott government, and it's one I support today," he said, describing it as "very well designed," and a "very, very good piece of work." Still, he did leave the door open to tweak the policy as he begins discussions with his new ministers.

We'll see where Turnbull ends up on the question of climate change, but four PMs in the space of less than three years makes me think that Australia's in a lot worse shape than a lot of people are aware of. Getting Canberra back at the forefront of the climate change fight is going to be vital in the years ahead.

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