Global focus on Australia: Tony Abbott cannot afford any new errors of judgment. Photo: Joe ArmaoFears post-2020 emission cuts will fall short
Tony Abbott is banking on a more orderly Parliament, a cross-party truce over MPs’ entitlement abuse and the unveiling of Australia’s post-2020 emissions cuts to help stabilise his leadership and reframe his government’s battered political fortunes after a horror winter recess fell captive to scandal.
Any cavilling with the depths of its poll trench was dispatched by the latest Newspoll, which showed voters continuing to walk away from a Coalition now trailing by 8 points, 46 per cent to Labor’s 54.
Joining the nation’s other 224 federal legislators in Canberra on Monday, the Prime Minister was grimly determined to send off with dignity his hand-picked but self-immolating speaker Bronwyn Bishop – reluctantly acknowledging her errors while publicly sealing his personal preference with a staged kiss for the cameras.
The defiant gesture may have been motivated by sympathy, but instead reminded Abbott’s internal critics of his vote-destroying protection of the disgraced veteran long after she had become electoral kryptonite.
Even those close to Abbott in the Parliament acknowledge he cannot afford any new errors of judgment.
The cabinet met on Monday night before Tuesday’s resumption of sittings proper, keen to get back to governing, with the first order of business being the emissions reduction target to be taken to the world’s biggest climate summit since Copenhagen, in Paris this December.
The government now has more riding on the believability of its response to global warming than had been expected even just months ago.
This is partly due to the changing nature of the climate change argument, which now can be seen separately from the long-gone carbon tax, and partly because resisting the science and belittling renewables is itself a growing political negative.
From his low-poll position, Abbott can identify few reform fights for which he has either the stomach or the political authority to strike out confidently. Yet in a strange turn-up, addressing climate change offers a sceptical government one important, if unlikely, way forward.
This is Abbott’s choice. He can emulate the errors of John Howard, Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd (x2) and Julia Gillard, all of whom stumbled in various ways on the tricky terrain of climate policy, or he can embrace the popular mood, rebrand his approach as visionary economic reform and set sail for bold, effective modernisation.
Canada’s switch to larger-than-expected cuts (though inadequate) and renewed US support for serious decarbonisation – let’s call it Obama-air – has depleted what cover Australia had for dragging the chain.
Liberal hardheads know Labor’s declaration of a 50 per cent renewable energy target did not come from guesswork but rather stems from extensive voter research about climate change, and particularly the popularity of wind and solar power.
While Abbott needs to get back to talking about the economy and jobs after months wasted on pointless culture wars (Q&A) and defending the indefensible (Bishop), he cannot do so by ignoring the climate question.
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