Opposition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull has hit out against climate change sceptics on his side of politics, saying there has been a “war on science” that contradicts common sense.
He also warned the Liberal Party against veering too much to the right, using his popularity as a moderate in the New South Wales seat of Wentworth as an example of wresting votes from Labor.
Asked at the National Press Club if Coalition members such as Barnaby Joyce who hold extreme views on climate have fuelled a war on science, Mr Turnbull said: “You’ve got to take the science seriously – and I do.”
Saying that “it’s no easy matter for scientific research to be peer-reviewed and published”, he described accepting the science as “common sense”.
“I do think there has been a war on science to some extent, an attack on climate scientists. Ignoring what the CSIRO says and ignoring what leading scientists say and discounting it all is silly.”
He likened climate change denial to “ignoring your doctor’s advice on the basis that someone down the pub told you his uncle Ernie lived to 95 and smoked a packet of cork-tipped cigarettes every day and drank a bottle of whisky”.
Late today, Mr Turnbull denied on Twitter that he had been aiming his remarks at anyone from the Coalition.
“What utter rubbish. I made no criticism of any of my colleagues. The ABC may wish that I had, but I did not,” he tweeted.
Mr Turnbull angered Coalition members last week when he delivered a blistering speech in favour of climate science which brought a measured reprimand from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
”Malcolm puts things in his own way and he’s entitled to do that, but Malcolm strongly supports the Coalition’s direct action policy,” Mr Abbott said at the time.
Today, Mr Turnbull was not retreating from the speech in which he contradicted Mr Abbott’s claim that the Chinese release “500 times” the amount of carbon into the atmosphere than Australia.
“I gave a speech about this last week, some of you may have noticed, about the importance of taking the science seriously – and that is of course the Coalition’s policy.”
Mr Turnbull criticised the tone of the climate debate, saying “the civility of political discourse should be taken seriously”.
“If our political discourse becomes abusive, and you see a lot of that on the internet I’m afraid, that debases the debate and undermines our capacity to assess arguments whether they are scientific arguments or indeed economic arguments on their merits.”
Mr Turnbull’s address to the Press Club focused on the Opposition’s alternative to the National Broadband Network (NBN).
He says the New Zealand government is building an ultra-fast broadband connection for 75 per cent of New Zealanders at a cost of around $480 million.
“That is about $500 a household. Compare that to the extraordinary expense we have in Australia,” he said.
Mr Turnbull outlined the Coalition’s broadband plan, which would use existing optical fibre and coaxial cable.
The Opposition would then invite private companies to deliver NBN-comparable broadband services to suburban and regional Australia.
“Telstra obviously would be in a prime position to tender for much or all of this role, but in order to do so it would need to separate its customer access network,” Mr Turnbull said.
Telstra is already providing up to 100 mbps in Melbourne, he added.
“It could do so elsewhere if Telstra is provided with the certainty required to make the modest investment needed,” he said.
Mr Turnbull said for regional areas, where such services would not be commercially viable, the Coalition would co-invest with companies and/or provide capital subsidies.
As perhaps the best-known moderate in the Liberal Party, Mr Turnbull said fellow moderates Mal Washer and Judi Moylan – who retire at the next election – “will be missed”.
He said the Liberal Party was a “broad church and must remain a broad church” retaining liberalism as well as conservatism.
“You win elections by persuading people who didn’t vote for you at the last election to vote for you. Elections are always won at the centre,” he said.
“The way you win elections is to get people who normally vote for the other side to vote for you.”
Mr Turnbull used his victory in Wentworth at the 2007 election – when his was the only Liberal seat in Australia to record a swing to the party – a result he credited to his stance as a moderate.
“There is no doubt there are quite a few people in my seat who, in another electorate, would not vote Liberal. I don’t regard that as a defect, I regard that as a strength, a political strength,” he said.
“If you say there are a lot of Labor voters like Malcolm Turnbull then that’s good because that means I’m more likely to hold my seat or increase my majority than I would if the case were otherwise.”