Use Biden agenda to commit to net zero: Malcolm Turnbull

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has urged the Morrison government to end a policy “vacuum” on climate change by seizing on the new agenda from US President Joe Biden to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.

Mr Turnbull, made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in the Australia Day Honours list, named climate change action as one of the main “unfinished” policies of his leadership.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says climate change was his unfinished business as leader.Credit:James Brickwood

But he said Prime Minister Scott Morrison would “absolutely” face pressure to commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions as the new US administration sought more ambitious pledges worldwide.

“Energy and climate policy remains a vacuum at the federal level and that is because of the toxic politics,” he said.

“I’m hopeful that with Biden elected as President the change will make it easier for Morrison to switch to a more rational climate and energy agenda.”

Mr Turnbull was one of 845 people named in an Australia Day list that included scientist and mathematician Cheryl Praeger of Perth, Rabbi John Simon of Melbourne and former tennis player Margaret Court, who were also awarded ACs.

Women received 210 awards, or just under 37 per cent, and Governor General David Hurley said more work needed to be done to achieve gender parity and diversity in other areas.

“I am determined to make sure that the Order of Australia reflects the diversity and breadth of our community,” he said in a statement.

Speaking to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, Mr Turnbull said Mr Biden’s victory meant there was “absolutely” pressure on the Morrison government to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, in line with commitments from the US and other countries.

“Scott does not have strong views on climate, in my experience. I don’t think it’s an issue that particularly motivates him, one way or another. So he views it in a political way, I think, above all,” he said.

“He’s very concerned to not allow the right to undermine him the way they undermined me on this issue.

“So if Lachlan Murdoch would be to switch his views on climate, that would be enough of a leave pass to get on with it.

“It’s about that poisonous combination of right-wing populist politics within the Coalition, right-wing media, principally Murdoch, and the fossil fuel lobby.”

Mr Morrison has talked of achieving net zero emissions some time in the second half of this century but avoided a commitment to 2050, even as Japan and South Korea say they will achieve the target by that date, while China aims for 2060.

“We’re working hard to work out when that can be achieved, not through taxes, but by technology and the smart innovation of companies and researchers and scientists here in Australia as part of our technology roadmap,” Mr Morrison said in Queensland last week.

The federal government’s latest projection, issued last month, said the Technology Investment Roadmap would help cut emissions to 436 million tonnes in 2030, which is 29 per cent below 2005 levels, but critics of the policy have dismissed the assumption and called for stronger action.

While former prime minister and fellow republican Paul Keating declined to accept the Companion of the Order of Australia, Mr Turnbull said the award was an Australian honour that had been separated from the imperial system under Gough Whitlam in the 1970s.

Mr Turnbull noted that he had scrapped the restoration of knights and dames under his predecessor, Tony Abbott, and laughed off the idea that he might have been Sir Malcolm without that change.

“The knighthoods were one of Abbott’s crazier but, in truth, less harmful initiatives,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Australians are just prepared to accept an honours system — just — but it is always invidious because there are always deserving people who are not recognised because they are not pushy enough, or not prominent enough, or not good enough at organising people to nominate them.”

Mr Turnbull says he accepted his AC because the Australian honours system was separated from the imperial honours system under Gough Whitlam.Credit:James Brickwood

Mr Turnbull backed the effort by the Governor-General to make the honours more representative of the community.

He also said the Australia Day honour owed much to his family, his staff and others in his government.

“Public service at the level I served is a very much a team effort, so it’s not an individual achievement. It’s awarded to an individual, but it represents the efforts of many others.”

Mr Turnbull named the Snowy Hydro 2.0 project as one of his biggest achievements but said he was disappointed more had not been done since he lost office in August 2018 to build the “battery of the nation” hydro scheme in Tasmania.

This project needed an interconnector to be built across Bass Strait as envisioned, as well as more pumped hydro projects in Tasmania to generate renewable energy, he said.

Reverend Court, was awarded an AC despite backlash following a journalist’s decision to leak the announcement last week.

She was awarded the honour for “eminent service to tennis as an internationally acclaimed player and record-holding grand slam champion”, and as a mentor of young sportspeople.

Rabbi Levi received his AC for “eminent service to Judaism through seminal roles with religious, community and historical organisations”, and for advancing interfaith understanding.

Dr Levi was the first Australian to be ordained as a rabbi, and he has been given multiple awards for his service to Australia’s Jewish community.

Professor Praeger was also given an AC for her service to mathematics, tertiary education, and as a champion of women in science and technology careers.

She had previously won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2019, and is an honorary member of the London Mathematical Society.

Former Socceroo Tim Cahill was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his distinguished service to sport, while former Australian Diamonds netball coach Lisa Alexander was made a Member of the Order of Australia.

There were 571 recipients in the general division of the Order of Australia, including four ACs, and 28 recipients in the military division.

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