Turnbull's frank climate policy admissions

Malcolm Turnbull is towing the party line on climate policy, but his confirmation of a 2015 review of Direct Action hints at hope for a Coalition ETS. Meanwhile, it appears clear Labor will look to move the floating price forward.

When Malcolm Turnbull is around climate policy is likely to be a point of conjecture. And so it was last night when, as regular as clockwork, the topic came up on the ABC’s Q&A program and he confirmed a 2015 review of Direct Action was likely while freely acknowledging he wouldn’t be the best advocate for the Coalition’s policy.

That said, Turnbull is toeing the party line, albeit sans the three-word slogans his parliamentary colleagues appear so fond of.

He made a frank admission that emissions trading schemes had not worked particularly well to date, but he hoped we would one day see a global carbon price.

“I think if you want to reduce your emissions over the very long-term – by which I mean 50 years or something – then you are going to have to have a long-term market-based price on carbon,” Turnbull explained in response to a question as to whether he had altered his views on emissions trading.

“ I …imagine that will be where the world will get to; I might be wrong. To date emissions trading schemes… have worked better in theory than in practice.”

Emissions trading has had its fair share of problems and in saying carbon pricing had “worked better in theory than in practice,” he was making a solid case for a Coalition repeal.

Turnbull, a former environment minister during the tail-end of the Howard years, also put forward the simple case that the Coalition’s Direct Action plan and the government’s climate policy will both wind up reaching the same target – a 5 per cent reduction in emissions from 2000 levels by 2020.

Given the continued weakness in electricity demand in Australia due, in part, to factors outside climate policy, this target is hardly challenging. Nonetheless it is a bipartisan agreement and represents some kind of progress.

Turnbull’s nod to a review of Direct Action in 2015 – which was part of the plan in the lead-up to the 2010 election – brings the possibility of an emissions trading scheme from the Coalition firmly into play, as foreshadowed by Tristan Edis on Climate Spectator in May. 

It means that should the Coalition win power and have to rely on Senator Nick Xenophon to get rid of the carbon trading policy, it may agree to a deal with him for a revised scheme to be introduced from 2015. It would consequently be able to get rid of the current scheme as promised, while following through on a market-based mechanism which should be more aligned with Coalition policy than it currently is.

For the time being, however, Direct Action – a program that looks only as far as 2020 – is the Coalition focus.

"The Coalition’s policy is to use direct action measures to get to that 5 per cent cut by 2020 and I think… the policy will work up til that point,” Turnbull said last night.

“(Then) to have a review in 2015, consider what is happening elsewhere in the world then and plan out post-2020 policy then. So it is a much more short-term… a much more cautious approach than the one that was previously the Coalition policy.”

The problem is that we remain bogged down in political games, with the Coalition looking short-term on a long-term issue.

Meanwhile, fellow Q&A guest – and new deputy PM – Anthony Albanese indicated that born again Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will almost certainly try to orchestrate an earlier move to a floating carbon price.

Albanese, himself a former shadow environment minister, told Q&A last night:

“We’ve made it clear in terms of what we’d like to do (shift to an ETS in 2014 rather than 2015), but we are looking at the costings of all of that.”

Albanese said that the costings had been provided to the Cabinet this week, with discussion on the revised plan beginning yesterday.

He would not, however, be drawn into a discussion as to whether it would be affordable, simply telling host Tony Jones that he “won’t be announcing it here tonight.”

So we can be sure Rudd is keen to move to a floating price early. Now it’s just a matter of cost.