Libs adrift in a hostile galaxy
THERE is a hilarious moment in the Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy when it is explained to one of the last remaining humans, Arthur Dent, that things are not what they seemed.
Shattering his life-long assumptions following the Earth’s destruction - that’s intergalactic progress - a higher being explains to the hapless Dent, that all those white mice in labs that humans thought were part of various experiments, were in fact, conducting an experiment on us. Humans were not as wise as they thought and now, their planet had been obliterated to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
I thought of this on two counts in recent days. First, there is the parallel with what Malcolm Turnbull, has been telling his troops: do nothing about climate change and the Earth as we know, will be destroyed.
``This is about the future of our planet and the future of our children and their children,’’ he said on Thursday night, bloodied but unbowed by a mass walk out of Right wing shadow cabinet members.
``It is one of the great challenges of our time ...as Margaret Thatcher said, right back nearly 20 years ago in 1990, this is about risk management. Or as Rupert Murdoch said, we have to give the planet the benefit of the doubt.’‘
And he went on in his inimitable ` no-backwards-steps’ way.
``Australians expect their political leaders to act responsibly ... we must be a party committed to action on climate change ... if where we are heading is for an election on the issue of should Australia take action on climate change or not, and if the Coalition is on the take no action side, then it will be a catastrophe for us and that is perfectly clear. We cannot be a responsible or credible political party unless we are committed to taking responsible action on climate change.’‘
Now that’s conviction. There is of course, plenty of good scientific evidence for this position but it is not enough for many Liberals and all of the Nationals. Despite most of them being ardent believers in God, for which, lets be frank, there is no evidence, many say a scientific consensus means nothing. Some even say we should take no action at all to lower emissions or conserve energy; that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and that the Earth is not warming at all. To them it’s all part of a giant leftist conspiracy motivated by anti-capitalists. Quite how the millionaire businessman, Malcolm Turnbull can be construed in this light remains unresolved.
The other prompt for recalling the Hitchhiker’s Guide was in relation to what was often called ``the Turnbull experiment’‘. This was the reluctant acceptance by some (but not all) conservatives in the Liberal party-room as the Nelson leadership disintegrated, that despite serious misgivings about him, the party may as well accept this undeniable force of nature and have its ``Turnbull experiment’‘.
The term was no accident. It was a deliberately pejorative description, recalling Labor’s disastrous ``Latham experiment’‘. Indeed, one conservative predicted that Mr Turnbull would be ``a rich, Liberal, Mark Latham’‘. Former treasurer, Peter Costello, whose relationship with Mr Turnbull was always acrimonious, had also warned colleagues considering Mr Turnbull that he would ``destroy the Liberal Party’‘.
But now, as the party elects to destroy itself rather than follow him to the middle, it may be more accurate to see the experiment in precisely the opposite terms - not so much their experiment with him but Turnbull looking down the microscope.
There is some evidence for this. More than once, and to the great ire of conservatives, supporters have referred to Mr Turnbull’s valiant attempts to modernize the party - to prepare it for election to office.
And it looks as though that was how Turnbull himself saw it - a kind of long-overdue intellectual renovation. After John Howard, he wanted to reshape the conservative party into a progressive, business-oriented outfit - and importantly, to re-assert the liberal aspect of the party thereby appealing to the same middle ground Kevin Rudd had captured. His plan was to encourage the Liberal Party to look forwards.
He saw climate change as a key factor in John Howard’s demise because it allowed Kevin Rudd to cast the ageing Liberal as yesterday’s man. And he knew that a clear majority of Australians are worried that the Earth is warming and want decisive action on it.
Boiled down, the plan was to see if the Liberal Party could be updated in line with broader community attitudes and thus be brought on to the middle ground of Australian politics. Mr Turnbull believed this could be done through sheer force of argument.
But now it seems, the results are in.
Political parties are not like companies where you can restructure them and so dramatically change their culture. Rather, the culture of a political party does not move quickly even if some elements within it do. Reason does not always prevail.
A final thought. This issue has now been instrumental in taking down three conservative leaders - Howard, Nelson, and Turnbull. It is, as one colleague observed, the party’s curse.
Who will be next?
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