Malcolm Turnbull on Murdoch, lies and the climate crisis: “In Australia the same forces are at work that made Trump possible” | Australian politics
TThe United States has suffered the highest number of Covid-19 deaths: about 600,000 at the time of writing. The same political and media actors who deny the reality of global warming have also denied and politicized the Covid-19 virus.
In his honor, Donald Trump poured billions into Operation Warp Speed, which helped develop vaccines in a timeframe that matched the program’s ambitious title. But he also downplayed the severity of Covid-19, then sold quack therapies and mocked cities that mandated social distancing and the wearing of masks.
Trump’s disastrous management of the pandemic resulted in an election defeat in November 2020. It says a lot about the madness of American political discourse that then-presidential candidate Joe Biden kept saying: “Wearing a mask is not a political statement.”
Out of our relative safety and common sense, Australians viewed America with increasing horror. As if the Covid-19 catastrophe weren’t enough, the callous police murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 sparked a wave of outraged anti-racism protests in the United States and around the world. And then events took another dire turn.
In anticipation of defeat, Trump had been busy claiming that the election was being rigged by the Democrats. He predicted widespread electoral fraud and prepared for an “I wuz robbed” case if the result was against him. He did that in 2016.
As it happened, Biden won convincingly. Trump and the Republican Party launched more than 60 legal challenges against the outcome. Its failure did not stop the misinformation campaign.
Relentlessly, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media plaque claimed that Biden stole the poll. A protest march was scheduled in Washington on January 1st, 2021, the day Congress was to formally count the votes of the electoral college and confirm Biden’s victory. The protest was specifically intended to pressure Congress, and in particular then Vice President Mike Pence, to overthrow the people’s decision and declare Trump to be re-elected.
They gathered by the thousands. Trump ended it with a typically inflammatory speech that culminated in a call to march on the Capitol. The mob besieged and broke into the home of US democracy. They poured down the corridors threatening to hang Pence and speaker Nancy Pelosi. Several security guards were killed, as was one of the insurgents. Fortunately, none of the lawmakers were found by the mob, although several appeared to have encouraged them in the lead up to the attack.
Mourners pay their respects to the police officer who was injured in the attack on the US Capitol. Photo: Kevin Dietsch / AFP / Getty Images
It was nothing less than an attempted coup, promoted and encouraged by the president himself and his media allies like Murdoch, who through Fox News has probably done more damage to US democracy than any other individual.
Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaigns have tried to exacerbate divisions in Western democracies and undermine popular trust in their institutions. By creating and exploiting a market for insane conspiracy theories detached from the facts, let alone science, Murdoch has done Putin’s job – better than any Russian intelligence agency could ever have imagined.
That is why I supported former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s call for a royal commission in the Murdoch media that would not act like a conventional news organization but more like a political party, advancing its own agendas, revenging its critics and covering up for his Friends.
In April, I reiterated these points in an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, as I did when the Australian Senate investigated media diversity. Of all the confirmations, none was more significant than that of James Clapper, the former US director of national intelligence, who said Fox News was “a megaphone for conspiracies and falsehoods.”
We must face the uncomfortable fact that the systematic partisan lies and misinformation of the media, both mainstream and society – what Clapper calls the “truth deficit” – has done tremendous damage to liberal democracies, no more than that USA itself. Thanks to this relentless diet of lies, a quarter of Americans and 56% of Republicans believe that Trump is the real President today.
Biden has a more traditional and rational administration. The friends and allies over whom Trump was outraged around the world breathe a sigh of relief. The US has re-joined the Paris Agreement, and Biden is trying to lead the world with deeper, faster emissions cuts.
But the same forces that strengthened Trump and made it possible are still at work in the US and here in Australia. In April, the Murdoch press urged the New South Wales government to reverse its decision to appoint me to chair a committee to advise on the transition to a net zero emissions economy. My “crime” was not to support the continued unrestricted expansion of the open pit mine in the Hunter Valley. In the insane right-wing media chamber that is so influential to many Liberal and National Party members, the most important prerequisite for deliberating on net zero emissions is apparently unreserved support for coal mining.
A coal truck in a mine in the Hunter Valley
As if we hadn’t demonstrated the Murdochs’ vendetta tactics enough, Sky News Australia punctually aired a “documentary” on May 2nd, disparaging me and Rudd as political twins who were separated at birth. As a job, I was told that it gave hatching a bad rap. But the message was clear to anyone holding Murdoch accountable: step out of line and you will be next.
And while politicians are accountable, the Murdochs are not. Her abuse of power was so shameful that James Murdoch resigned from the company. However, his brother Lachlan is thoroughly responsible and apparently more right-wing than his father. Nonetheless, he has decided to return to Australia with his family to flee the hatred and division in America that he and his father have exacerbated.
As bushfires raged in the summer of 2019-20 hoping this raw reality of global warming would end the insane, politicized climate wars in Australia. Well it didn’t. The pandemic outbreak served to distract everyone, although the irony of following virus science and ignoring climate science seems to have been lost to many members of the Australian government.
Australia faces its friends and allies more than ever. All of our closest friends – the US, UK, EU, Japan and New Zealand – are now committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
On May 18, the International Energy Agency published a new report on how the world can and must achieve net zero. For the first time, this expert agency, which has always been seen as sympathetic to the oil and gas sector, called for investments in new oil, gas and coal projects to be stopped and we quickly switched to renewable energy and storage. They described how we could have more and cheaper electricity as a result.
“We will continue to mine,” says Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the future of coal – video
At the same time as this report (of which the Australian government was informed in advance), Scott Morrison decided to announce that his government would invest $ 600 million in the construction of a new gas-fired power plant in the Hunter Valley. The energy sector, regulators, NSW government and other experts agreed that the power plant was not needed – $ 600 million wasted. To the rest of the world, increasingly confused by Australia’s fossil fuel fetish, it must have looked like a calculated “fuck you” to the global consensus calling for climate change.
For those concerned about the lack of leadership in the climate field, Morrison says his five predecessors lost their jobs one way or another because of climate policy. He is determined not to let the right wing of the coalition do what he did to me. Before June, he would point out instability in the National Party and warn that climate change could spark a revolt in the party room, led by Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and others to overthrow Michael McCormack. That has now happened, and Joyce advocated a change on the basis that McCormack no longer took action against Morrison’s pursuit of a net-zero commitment.
So Morrison is determined not to be a leader on climate; He wants business and other governments to take the lead, and events take their course, so that the zero emissions transition occurs without any discernible action by the Australian government. In the meantime, he will continue to support coal as a totemic issue to rally working class voters in the mining areas.
Scott is long in tactics and very short in strategy. Regarding the climate, he underlines my greatest concern for his government: that, while it will win elections, it will do little in office. And now that Barnaby is back as Deputy Prime Minister, he has another excuse not to do anything.
This is an edited excerpt from the new preface to A Bigger Picture by Malcolm Turnbull (Hardie Grant Books, now available in paperback)