Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Garrett vs Turnbull: The Real Climate Change

Oh, I tried not to blog the Garrett vs Turnbull faceoff on tonight's 7.30 Report. I thought it could be a damp squib; a polite gentlemans' tete-a-tete. Instead, it proved fascinating viewing, not only for its own sake but to demonstrate the way in which the ground on which the Government and Opposition are stand is shifting beneath them.

I entered the debate determined to be impartial (believe it or not, this is how I, a dedicated Fabian, enter all debates), but I started to wonder if we'd hear from Turnbull instantly launched into a long, uninterruptable soliloquy - indeed, his technique of debate appeared not only to be to out-talk Garrett, but to out-talk Kerry O'Brien. I was quite surprised at some of the slips in Turnbull's research. Early on, he seemed to suggest that China and India were not signatories to the Kyoto Protocol they are). Nevertheless, the debate remained mainly civil, if rather one-sided.

Then Turnbull really stepped out and accused Garrett of `favouring low economic growth' in his pointing out that greenhouse pollution increases in proportion to the affluence of a society. Garrett's observation - made, as Turnbull said, in 1987 - is an unquestioned fact. The reason that China and India pose such a threat is that their growing middle class will inevitably consume more - more power, more resources, more food, more of everything they were previously unable to buy or import. The difference between these countries and Australia is that they are recognising and anticipating this threat. Both Garrett and Turnbull identified China as a flashpoint; Garrett to point out that China's reduction targets are far superior to Australia's, Turnbull to argue that China's interest in wind power is mainly due to the fact that it has no national power grid and - yes, again - ultimately a matter of economics.

Let's pause for a second and think about how quickly the climate change debate has moved, not only in the last year but the last six months - a period that started with Ian Macfarlane dismissing Al Gore's `An Inconvenient Truth' as Hollywood entertainment, and ended with the Prime Minister making a complete U-turn on carbon trading and appointing one of the government's best known new recruits to prosecute the government's case.

This is what made it so interesting that the arguments Turnbull made sounded so retrograde. Certainly, he is working against his party's history of complete contempt for the idea of climate change - but arguing both that there is no need to panic, and that we should hold off addressing the problem if it proves too expensive seem out of touch when, this time last year, they wouldn't have rated a raised eyebrow.

What a turn of events.

Is this - tantalising thought - is this the beginning of the end for the idea that the economic case is where the buck always stops? I remember a time where you could hear three Howard Government Ministers interviewed in a row about their respective portfolios, and each would arrive at the same conclusion: `The only way to ensure a strong X is by maintaining a strong economy'. This was the argument on which Turnbull ultimately relied during tonight's debate. That the more convincing case was the one advocating for doing something because it's right - even crucial - rather than because it's cheap is a real breakthrough; a real change of sentiment from the early part of this decade.

Turnbull appeared threatened and over-prepared. Garrett appeared - well, relaxed and comfortable, familiar with his topic and confident of his position on it.

Don't take my word for it - wait a few hours and read the transcript!

As a postscript, it will be interesting to see how Garrett and Turnbull continue to prosecute their cases in the media. The way in which various commentators, Ministers and Shadow Ministers become the `go-to' person on various issues is highly influential on how the public views these issues (Kevin Rudd's focus on the AWB scandal is a good example of this). This week, 2UE's John Laws gave Garrett a lengthy and comprehensive interview (fifteen minutes is nearly unheard of on today's radio, even for interviews with the Prime Minister or Premier), concluding with an open invitation to come back and discuss climate change `whenever he liked'. However, I can't imagine that 2GB rival Alan Jones will give anyone other than Turnbull the position of 2GB's unofficial environment spokesperson. As for Ray Hadley, I literally can't manage to picture him raising the topic at all).


At 9:27 pm, Blogger Ben said...

Turnbull needs to improve his television performances - this was the second 7.30 interview he screwed up. He needs to be able to shape the debate better and stay on message, and on the offensive.

At 10:40 pm, Anonymous Jacinta said...

I too thought that Turnbull was let down by the calibre of the material he relied on. He almost seemed embarassed by Garrett's statements. Interestingly most listeners of 4QR 612 local ABC Radio thought Turnbull was the 'the more professional' and 'came over better'. Maybe it depends on your political leanings.

At 9:45 am, Blogger Minotaur said...

I've also been surprised by how many of my colleagues thought Turnbull did the better job. Perhaps they thought Garrett was too laid back? If that's the case, I still argue that Turnbull was not laid back enough. Maybe I was reacting to what the Australian dubbed his `barristerial self-importance' (and apparently, some of his agree with me).

I note that the media is largely painting the debate as a bit of a fizzer - I must admit in retrospect that I found it interesting mostly for its symbolic nature - the first time New Labor has faced off New Liberal. It's true that there wasn't a great deal of engagement between the opponents, but I'm glad it didn't just turn into a personal slanging match, as it could have. And in the end, what's there to engage on? Both sides will only ever offer their best way of addressing the problem, inevitably be coloured by the philosophies of the parties that originated them.

By the way, the transcript has now been posted here

At 9:54 am, Anonymous Milltown Pete said...

Fascinating viewing I agree but not for the subject matter. What astounded me was to degree to which both of these independantly-minded and charismatic personalities have been neutered by their respenctive party spin doctors. In fact, it was only that both showed their lack of political experience in their somewhat hokey presentations that stopped the thing from being the full-on, hand-up-the-back-of-the- dummy mouthing of political doctrines.
The message was simple, unequivocal, inarguable and lays down the tactics that will be employed in the Real Campaign.
Labor will say "We care more"
Libs will say " Yes, but we handle the economics of it better".
The whole thing could have been over in ten seconds.

At 9:13 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

Heh - the points about spin-doctoring are apt, Pete. Isn't it ironic that people are always talking about how much they want leadership, candour and truth from their politicians - and yet the people parties choose for exactly those qualities seem to do their hardest to turn them into talking point-sprouting, on-message party robots.

As someone commented to me today - if only Matt Santow was real ... perhaps the comment should have been `if only a party machine that accomodated the likes of a Matt Santow were real'.

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