Musical chairs

As Scott Morrison assumes charge as Australia’s Prime Minister, the question is whether he can put an end to the country’s protracted political instability. He takes over from Malcolm Turnbull after a contest for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and is the sixth person to be Prime Minister in just over a decade; during this time none has lasted a full three-year term. Political instability feeds off an elusive bipartisan consensus on Canberra’s energy and environmental policy. Differences over finding an effective approach to tackle global warming go to the heart of divisions between the conservative and moderate sections within the Liberal Party in the world’s largest coal-exporting nation. This week, in a bid to stave off a challenge to his leadership, Mr. Turnbull deferred legislation on national emissions reduction targets it had committed to under the Paris climate accord. The overall package, which aims to reduce energy prices and comply with emissions standards, won broad backing from the Opposition centre-left Labour Party and the business community. But the ruling Liberal-National coalition’s efforts at a consensus were hamstrung by hostile backbenchers led by Peter Dutton, who launched an abortive bid for leadership and resigned as Minister for Home Affairs. Mr. Dutton is even said to have thought of pulling Australia out of the Paris accord. Last October, Canberra decided to phase out subsidies for renewable energy from 2020, under a policy that ostensibly sought to balance reductions in greenhouse gas emissions with the need to deliver reliable and affordable electricity. The climate-sceptic Tony Abbott, also of the Liberal Party, repealed a carbon emissions tax in 2014 when he was Prime Minister, fulfilling a poll promise to “axe the tax.” But he was careful to project the move as a mere reduction in the tax, not as an easing of emissions targets.

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