Australia PM Abbott Ousted by Advocate of Climate Action

Energy and Climate Report provides current, thorough coverage of clean energy, efficiency, and climate change legislation, regulation, policy, legal developments, and trends in the U.S. and...

By Murray Griffin

Sept. 14 — Australia's climate-skeptic Prime Minister Tony Abbott was ousted Sept. 14 as leader of the ruling Liberal Party by Malcolm Turnbull, a vocal advocate of strong action on climate change.

Prime Minister-designate Turnbull won a party room ballot for the leadership, 54–44.

The new leadership could prompt changes to Australia's policy on climate change, although Turnbull was careful to downplay the prospect of a dramatic shift at a news conference at Parliament House after the vote.

The government's existing Direct Action climate change policy “is one that I support,” Turnbull said.

He noted that government policies, however, generally are “reviewed and adapted all the time.”

Liberal Party deputy leader Julie Bishop, who is Australia's foreign minister, said during a media conference that there would be no change to the 2030 emissions targets that Australia would take to United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.

In August, Australia committed to cut emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

Direct Action

The Direct Action plan was the Abbott government's alternative to a carbon tax, which it discontinued in 2014. Direct Action is meant to give financial incentives to major emitters to cut emissions.

Turnbull's statement of support for the government's Direct Action program leaves room for potentially significant changes in how the policy is applied.

For example, under Abbott, the government refused to countenance any reliance on international carbon units in the immediate future to help meet emissions targets, but the Direct Action legislation allows their use.

Turnbull's elevation to the leadership also could prompt adjustments to the “safeguard mechanism” rules that are being finalized and will apply emission limits to very large emitters.

Abbott Legacy 

Under Abbott's leadership, the Liberal-National Party government axed the carbon pricing scheme that was introduced by the former Labor government and weakened the national target for generating electricity from renewables. It also sought to abolish the independent Climate Change Authority, which was established to advise on emissions targets and policy, and Australia's green bank, known as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Its attempts to dissolve the two bodies were stymied by the Senate, however.

The Abbott-led government had languished in voter polls for months on end. The successful Sept. 14 challenge by Turnbull followed an unsuccessful attempt in February.

In December 2009, Abbott challenged Turnbull—then the leader of the Liberal Party—and was victorious by one vote.

Soon after he was dumped as leader in 2009, Turnbull criticized Abbott for rejecting climate change science.

“The fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change,” Turnbull said in a 2009 blog post written days after his defeat.

To contact the reporter on this story: Murray Griffin in Melbourne at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com