Malcolm Turnbull has sensationally hit out at News Corp after he was dumped from the New South Wales clean energy board, claiming the state government “couldn’t take the heat” from the Murdoch press.
“News Corp are thugs and bullies,” Mr Turnbull told The New Daily, hours after he was controversially dropped from his position as chairman of the NSW Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy board.
“It’s in defiance of the facts. The facts don’t matter. [News Corp] is an absolute scourge on our democracy, and you’ve got a case study today.”
Mr Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister between 2015 and 2018, was named last week by the NSW Coalition government to lead the climate change body.
NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean said the clean economy board would “drive a clean industrial revolution”, including advising on proposals under the state’s $1 billion ‘Net Zero 2020-30’ plan, with an aim to lower emissions and create “jobs of the future”.
Last week, Mr Kean said it was “a privilege to have Mr Turnbull leading the board”.
He praised the former PM as “ideally placed to help NSW reduce its emissions in ways that grow the economy”.
But on Tuesday it was an abrupt about-face, as he announced Mr Turnbull was being dropped as the candidate to chair the board.
“The focus should not be on personality … no person’s role on the board should distract from achieving results,” Mr Kean said in a statement.
“For this reason, I have decided not to proceed with his appointment as chair.”
It came after numerous complaints from NSW Coalition members against Mr Turnbull’s appointment.
Some had raised concerns about his positions on other boards relating to energy.
Much of the criticism came after Mr Turnbull had spoken about a moratorium on new coal mines just a day after his board nomination was announced, and his opposition to a mine expansion in the Hunter region – near where he owns a rural property.
On Tuesday, deputy premier John Barilaro – an advocate of mining – claimed Mr Turnbull’s coal comments had “pulled my pants down within 48 hours of his appointment”.
Speaking to TND, Mr Turnbull stood by his comments about coal, but claimed they had been misinterpreted.
“We need to plan the transition from coal. No doubt it’s going to happen, and you can do transitions well, or badly, or stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening,” he said.
“Having an uncontrolled, unplanned series of new mine approvals and expansions is simply going to cannibalise the demand from existing mines.”
The Mount Pleasant mine near Muswellbrook claims its expansion would create hundreds of new jobs, but Mr Turnbull claims that would be “at the expense of 500 jobs somewhere else”.
“Demand for coal is not increasing, it’s declining,” he said.
“You’ve got to plan ahead. If you stay in denial, the people who lose will be the workers who lose their jobs and have nothing to replace it.”
Mr Turnbull said he was disappointed at being dropped from the clean economy role, which he noted had no role in approving coal mines.
But he placed much of the blame squarely on News Corp publications, which he claimed had run a “vendetta” against him and the appointment.
Rupert Murdoch-owned papers and TV stations had in recent days attacked Mr Turnbull and the NSW decision to appoint him to the board.
“I’ve been speaking to Matt [Kean], and the reality is the government was feeling the heat from News Corp and they couldn’t take it,” Mr Turnbull claimed.
“Of course I was disappointed, but I’ve been in politics a long time. It’s a rough business. News Corp are thugs and bullies.”
Mr Kean, speaking on Sky News, apologised to Mr Turnbull for the situation and said he took “full responsibility” for the decision.
“At the time it was the right decision, but it became apparent a lot of our supporters had concerns. The last thing we wanted to do was alienate the community,” he said.
“I’m very sorry I put Malcolm in this position. He didn’t ask for the job. I offered it to him.”
Mr Kean later said the decision “has nothing to do with News Corp”.
Mr Turnbull recently joined another former PM, Kevin Rudd, in calling for a royal commission into the media organisation.
On Tuesday, Mr Rudd tweeted criticism of the decision to drop Mr Turnbull, claiming the NSW government “bend over backwards to appease the climate-denying fringe”.
Mr Turnbull echoed similar sentiments.
“How crazy that the coal lobby and the climate deniers at News Corp get to veto the chairman of this board. It’s ridiculous,” he said.
“The influence of News Corp and their fellow travellers on the electorate is not nearly as large as their influence on members of the Coalition parties.”
Tuesday’s decision represents at least the third time Mr Turnbull has been dumped from a job by Coalition colleagues over his views on climate.
He was spilled as opposition leader in 2009 after an internal party dispute on climate, then as PM in 2018 over an energy policy.
“In politics, everyone knows your real enemies are those inside your party, not outside it. That’s the rivalry that’s most intense,” Mr Turnbull claimed.
“The right wing of the Coalition basically don’t believe we need to take action on climate.”