Friday, February 09, 2007

The Malcolm Turnbull / Peter Garrett climate change debate

Mrs. Lemming, some friends, and I ended up watching the debate last night between the Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the opposition spokesman, Peter Garrett, on the ABC last night. The topic was global warming, and what the government is, or should be doing about it.

The transcript is available here. My thoughts follow:

Turnbull started out extremely poorly. Asked before the debate started about the ongoing Murray-Darling water conference, he prattled for several minutes while saying almost nothing of substance.

Later, when rebutting Garrett, he tried putting words in Garrett’s mouth, by claiming that Garrett made several anti-growth statements in 1987. I don’t know what intention of this was, but the effect was very counterproductive. Firstly, it reminded us all that in 1987, Garrett was a hugely popular rack star. Secondly, it gave the impression that Turnbull was a nitpicking whinger, who preferred trivia about the past to answers about the future.

In contrast, Garrett was focused, comprehensible, and on-message. He clearly and consistently made the case that the Government was either unwilling or unable to understand the issue, much less address it, and that Australia had squandered its renewable talent and technology as a result.

Towards the end, though, the tables turned. When asked why China was outproducing Australia with wind power, Turnbull gave a very plausible and intelligent answer describing the differences in electricity distribution networks between the two countries. In contrast to his earlier evasions and personal attacks, this gave the impression that at least on some of the technical issues, he did actually understand and appreciate relevant details and complexities.

In contrast, Garrett started wandering towards the end of the debate, talking about American politics, writers, and other non-core issues only marginally related to the effect of climate change on Australians and what the government can and should do to address it.

Both of them missed chances to hammer home their points and expose each other’s flaws, but they still put on respectable performances for people only recently promoted to the front bench.

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