The Liberals were the first main party to wholeheartedly embrace the challenge of global warming. In 1990 Andrew Peacock, and again in 1993 John Hewson, went to the electorate with a commitment to cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by the year 2000.
In December 1997 the Howard government signed the Kyoto Protocol, which the prime minister described as an ''absolutely stunning diplomatic success''. He celebrated that Australia was able to ''make a massive contribution to the world environmental effort to cut greenhouse gases'' but had done so in a way that would protect Australian jobs.
Between 1997 and 2002 the Australian government, while trumpeting what a good bargain it had achieved, had no doubts about anthropogenic global warming and was committed to reducing it.
In 2002 the government reversed itself, refusing to ratify Kyoto, even though it argued it would still meet its commitments. Its rationale was diplomatic rather than scientific: it would only be part of an agreement that included the world's biggest polluters. It is unlikely it would have adopted this course if George W. Bush hadn't withdrawn the United States the year before. Neither leader had felt impelled to share their intentions with their electorates at the preceding election.
From late 2006 Howard realised that for political reasons the government needed to improve its credentials on global warming. (In his memoirs Howard declares himself agnostic on climate change, which is perhaps the reason all his discussions focus on the politics rather than the substance of the issue.) The government sprang into action, so much so that the environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull, claimed Australia led the world in policies on climate change. The government went to the 2007 election proposing an emissions trading scheme, apparently with unanimous internal support.
Under the first opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, the party adopted a classic harassment strategy. It did not question the need for an emissions trading scheme, but instead focused on any possible cost or inconvenience that would come with it.
Under the second opposition leader, Turnbull, there was more involvement in trying to frame a bipartisan policy, with detailed bargaining between government and opposition rarely seen in Australian politics.
But then a group of Coalition party members dramatically broke ranks. After the issue had been part of Australian politics for two decades, in 2009, probably for the first time, there were senior Liberals prepared to publicly deny the science. The factional chief Nick Minchin declared that climate change sceptics probably constituted a majority in the party. Suddenly, instead of conformism, there was a very public and uncompromising stance against Turnbull.
Tony Abbott won the leadership by a single vote, and the party had been split down the middle on the Rudd government's ETS. However, only Turnbull publicly signalled his difference from the new party policy, which was in direct contradiction to the previous position all had publicly adhered to.
Partly because his militant oppositionism unnerved Labor, bringing reversals from Kevin (greatest moral challenge of our time; let's put it off indefinitely) Rudd and Julia (public forum) Gillard, this stance served the Coalition well in the lead-up to last year's election. Abbott's ''Direct Action'' slogan remained largely uncosted and its environmental effectiveness unexamined, while the diplomatic isolation into which his stance would cast Australia also went unremarked.
From July on, there are likely to be majorities in both houses of Parliament supporting action to combat global warming, and the Prime Minister has committed herself - seemingly irreversibly - to introducing a carbon tax.
These mongrels should hang their head ground-zero low with shame:
We can expect loud and unanimous outrage from the Liberals on the perfidy of Labor and the Greens, but whenever the substance of global warming is discussed or the complexities of policy responses to mitigate it arise - Turnbull aside - they will seek to be as mute and inscrutable as their 1960 Laotian counterparts.
Turnbull aside... who is the stand-out Australian politician from the major parties in showing the conviction of his beliefs with respect to carbon mitigation. I believe this will stand him in good stead in the future. Gillard is on notice. Not from Tony "climate change is crap" Abbott, who has two conflicting positions. But from the Liberal who has not used up his moral capital.
Watch this space. Climate change politics is the most fascinating politics of all, including Australia's, as even the doyen of the local denier press has noted.
Global Warning Climate Change Energy