Malcolm Turnbull might not want to look at Monday night’s Four Corners.
Reporter Sarah Ferguson looks at what the party members really think about climate change and why they’re so reluctant to back their leader.
In October Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull said, “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.”
It was a potentially dangerous strategy because it tied his leadership to a single issue. Just how risky that declaration was is only now becoming clear.
At that stage coalition MPs had clear doubts about supporting an emissions trading scheme but now a range of Nationals and Liberals have told Four Corners they don’t believe that climate change is primarily man-made.
“The earth is not actually warming, we still have rain falling … we can go outside and not cook.”
“If the question is, do people believe or not believe that human beings …are the main cause of the planet warming, then I’d say a majority don’t accept that position.”
This may surprise many voters and it’s led some to ask if Malcolm Turnbull’s position as leader is now untenable.
The problems for the opposition leader are reinforced by Liberal insiders who say his handling of the issue was a “folly”. Another says Malcolm Turnbull is simply too “green” for the party he leads. Yet another senior figure justifies his refusal to support his leader’s views by saying it’s important for him to openly question the idea that man is changing the climate at all.
One man who does defend Malcolm Turnbull and his approach to this thorny issue is Shadow Resources and Energy minister, Ian Macfarlane. He believes …
“Well Malcolm … wants to show that we are a modern party …it’s part of the change, the evolution from John Howard to Malcolm Turnbull.”
Others disagree. They say the decision, in 2007 to embrace the concept of man-made climate change and create a policy supporting an emissions trading scheme, was a mistake that was forced on the party by the opinion polls of the time and the proximity of the federal election.
“In 2007, and post 2007 I have to say as a party we were intimidated by the force of the climate change debate. It just seemed to be an issue of the moment.”
To make matters even more complicated for Malcolm Turnbull, the Nationals leader in the Senate, Barnaby Joyce, has told Four Corners that the Liberal Party has betrayed the bush. He says he will argue against the scientific view that man has created climate change and warns that he will conduct a campaign in regional seats against any deal that would deliver a new tax on regional voters:
“I think we are going to win on the ETS. I think it’s going to be blocked in the Senate and we’ll end up with a double dissolution.”
This view that an election could be fought and won while opposing major greenhouse gas reductions is at odds with Malcolm Turnbull’s view that the Coalition must have a strong policy on greenhouse gas reductions or face electoral ruin.
To test this Four Corners commissioned a review of polling done in the past two years relating to climate change and voting intentions. That review makes it clear that concern amongst voters about climate change has “softened” over the past eighteen months.
The poll however also shows that while support for the Labor Party as the best party to manage this issue has fallen slightly, the voters have not transferred that support to the Coalition. The research review offers some intriguing insights into the dangers for any party with this issue, warning that climate change cannot be viewed in isolation from other factors, like costs and job losses.
All this makes the current negotiations over amendments to the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation significant, not just for the environment but the future of the Coalition and the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull.
It airs Monday 9th November at 8.30 pm and is replayed on Tuesday at 11.35 pm.