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Harsh climate greets Turnbull in the west

IN John Howard's day, a visit to Western Australia was a chance to preach to the converted.

Almost two years after Mr Howard departed the political scene, the latest federal Liberal leader has found the trip across the Nullarbor a lot less satisfying.

It was a bruising encounter for Malcolm Turnbull, who escaped from the WA Liberal conference with a face-saving change to a resolution on negotiations for an Emissions Trading Scheme that gives him a little more wriggle room than expected.

A motion calling on Mr Turnbull not to negotiate amendments to the federal government's ETS until after the Copenhagen climate summit was heavily debated at the meeting.

In the end, the conference watered down its resolution, demanding that Mr Turnbull not conclude negotiations until after the summit.

Among those most damning of Mr Turnbull's desire to negotiate with Labor over an ETS was former state politician Bill Hassell, profiled just last week in WA Business News, who thought fears of a double dissolution election were unworthy of an opposition leader.

However, it was not all one-way traffic. WA backbencher Wilson Tuckey, an outspoken critic of Mr Turnbull's plans, also copped some flak for his campaigning.

Mr Turnbull's deputy, Perth-based Julie Bishop, and WA Premier Colin Barnett backed his position.

Both sides of the Liberal Party's internal climate debate will probably take heart from the results of a Lowy Institute Poll, which found the issue continues to drop as a priority for Australians.

In 2007, the institute found Australians ranked tackling climate change as the equal most important foreign policy goal for Australia. This year it ranked 7th out of 10 possible goals - down 10 points since last year and 19 points since 2007.

Lowy said fewer people see global warming as a threat to our national interests. Out of 12 possibilities, global warming ranked as the 4th most critical threat facing Australia.

Lowy Institute's Michael Wesley said Australians seemed to be moderating their views on climate change just as world leaders were preparing for negotiations in Copenhagen.

“When Australians were presented with a choice among three options for dealing with global warming, the most popular was still for the most pro-climate position - that 'we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs', but support for this option was down 12 points since 2008 and 20 points since 2006", Dr Wesley said.

“This is also the first year that this position has not had majority support."

However, Dr Wesley said a large majority (76 per cent) of Australians still see climate change as a problem, and people who felt this way tended to see obtaining a solution to the problem as increasingly urgent.

While the climate change bickering within his own party is further damaging Mr Turnbull's chances of prime ministerial triumph, he may have some consolation in news last week that former federal treasurer Peter Costello has finally announced his resignation from parliament.

The departure of Mr Costello may give the Liberals a headache in terms of a difficult by-election but it also removes one of the key alternatives to Mr Turnbull's leadership.

Last Wednesday's announcement followed the resignation of former opposition leader Brendan Nelson, creating two by-elections most likely in late November. Mr Nelson has accepted a role as Australia's ambassador to the European Union.

The Victorian Liberal Party endorsed Kelly O'Dwyer to run in Mr Costello's seat of Higgins in the next election several weeks ago, while Paul Fletcher last month gained endorsement to run in Dr Nelson's seat of Bradfield.

“Although I will return to private life I hope to continue some measure of service to the public in the future," Mr Costello said.

The former treasurer said he wished his federal Liberal Party colleagues every success in the next federal election.

John Howard heaped praise on his long-time former deputy.

Mr Howard said he worked in "close professional harmony" with Mr Costello in more than 11 years of government and his resignation ended a "remarkable political career".

“He has served both Australia and the Liberal Party with much distinction and success," Mr Howard said in a statement.

“The current strength of the Australian economy, in stark contrast to the rest of the world, is due far more to Peter Costello's work as treasurer than the policy decisions of the Rudd government."

Uranium setback

Returning to matters more local, BHP Billiton received a setback in its race to establish the state's first uranium mine.

Environment Minister Donna Faragher last week extended the public consultation period by a month for BHP's Yeelirrie uranium project, generally viewed as one of the most advanced of several planned uranium mines.

The mining giant has proposed an open-cut uranium mine, a processing plant and associated infrastructure, with the uranium oxide concentrate to be exported either through South Australia or the Northern Territory.

BHP has previously said that it could have the operation up and running by the end of 2014.

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