Charlatan,opportunist,climate change denialist:Keating unloads on Dutton

Former prime minister Paul Keating has compared Peter Dutton to the “most wicked and cynical of individuals” in a searing statement that accuses the opposition leader of opportunism and climate change denialism in his advocacy for nuclear power.

As the political debate over nuclear energy became increasingly personal over the weekend,when the Coalition mounted character attacks on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and teal MPs,Keating released a statement late on Sunday that began:“[Peter] Dutton is a charlatan – an inveterate climate change denialist.”

Paul Keating,known for his biting insults,issued his statement calling Dutton a “charlatan” a day after the opposition leader made a strikingly personal attack on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Paul Keating,known for his biting insults,issued his statement calling Dutton a “charlatan” a day after the opposition leader made a strikingly personal attack on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.Kate Geraghty,Rhett Wyman

“A denialist now seeking to camouflage his long-held denialism in an industrial fantasy[nuclear power] ... Dutton,like[former prime minister Tony] Abbott,will do everything he can to de-legitimise renewables and stand in the way of their use,” Keating wrote.

“Only the most wicked and cynical of individuals would foist such a blight on an earnest community like Australia. A community which fundamentally believes in truth and decency and which relies on its political system to advance those ideals.”

The former Labor prime minister,known for his biting insults,issued his statement a day after Dutton made apersonal attack on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese by calling him a “child in a man’s body”,a fraud and an appeaser,in off-script comments at a Liberal Party function on Saturday.

In a further escalation of rhetoric on Sunday morning,Nationals leader David Littleproud backed Dutton’s characterisation while also describing teal MPs – the female independents who won seats from the Liberals on a climate change platform last election – as entitled,self-righteous and sanctimonious.

“It is so entitled for them to look down their nose,dripping with self-righteous sanctimony,saying ‘this[renewables] is the only pathway’,” Littleproud said onSky News.

The commentary offers a potential preview of election campaign attack lines the Coalition will deploy as it seeks to spruik its controversial nuclear policy,announced last week,which would build seven government-funded and owned nuclear power plants by the middle of the century.

Keating,in his statement,said nuclear power is the most dangerous and expensive energy source “on the face of the earth”.

“In advocating this,Dutton continues his party’s manic denialism,first articulated by Tony Abbott over a decade ago. Dutton,in his low-rent opportunism,mocks the decency and earnestness which recognises that carbon must be abated and with all urgency,” Keating wrote.

“No person interested in public policy – regardless of their affiliations or beliefs,should consider,let alone endorse Dutton’s backwardness,his unreal world view that the most lethal technology of another age is a contemporary substitute for nature’s own remedy.”

Dutton has claimed he wants to lead a mature conversation about nuclear power and on Saturday he said that cartoon memes about the safety risks of nuclear that had been posted on social media by Labor politicians – including images of three-eyed fish and koalas – showed “the juvenile nature of our prime minister”.

“He’s a man with a mind still captured in his university years. He’s a child in a man’s body,” Dutton said.

Littleproud,when asked on Sunday if he agreed with Dutton’s description,said:“Well,I do.”

Nationals leader David Littleproud has joined the increasingly personal attacks on other politicians.

Nationals leader David Littleproud has joined the increasingly personal attacks on other politicians.Rhett Wyman

“Unfortunately,the prime minister had an opportunity to lead,and to look at this and work through the issues that we’re putting forward. But instead,he’s used some churlish view to put out memes,” he said.

“He is leading this country and he’s about to put Australian submariners[sleeping next to] this technology every night. Why would you demean it in such a puerile way when this is safe technology?”

He then singled out the teals when making an argument that the bush had been overlooked in the push by Labor and independents to take an “all-renewables” approach to the country’s energy supply.

Kooyong independent MP Monique Ryan said Littleproud’s comments insulted people in those electorates who cared deeply about climate change and wanted a responsible transition to a clean energy economy.

“We need a respectful debate,” she said. “Instead of childish insults,let’s have a serious conversation about how the nuclear path will keep coal burning for decades longer and maim the economy by causing Australia to lose the billions in clean energy investment set to land soon.”

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek told Sky News she thought the Coalition’s nuclear policy was completely irrational.

“I think it’s a bit strange that Peter Dutton,having run around the country during the Voice referendum saying ‘give us the details,give us the details’,would object to people calling for the details on how his expensive,risky nuclear plan is going to work,” she said.

Asked for her reaction to Dutton’s comments about Albanese,Plibersek said:“Well,that was the same speech where he was calling for a mature debate. And he’s gone straight to the personal attacks. I think that speaks for itself.”

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Natassia Chrysanthos is the federal health reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age,based at Parliament House in Canberra.

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