Former Australian PM calls party colleagues' conduct over climate change "idiotic"

Malcolm Turnbull, a political conservative who served as Australia's prime minister up until August of 2018, was bounced out of office by the right-wing of his own party largely over his support for cutting carbon emissions.

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

"The right-wing climate deniers treat an issue of science and physics and fact as though it was a question of ideology. And their conduct is not just idiotic, it is downright dangerous."

That's what former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a political conservative, told 60 Minutes correspondent Holly Williams in an interview that aired this week as part of a report on the fires ravaging Turnbull's country. 

"Dangerous for us here in Australia and around the world," Turnbull said.

When Williams reminded Turnbull he was calling conduct by members of his own party dangerous and idiotic, Turnbull did not waver.

"Well, of course, it is dangerous and idiotic not to be taking the strongest action to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions," Turnbull said.

Fires in Australia have burned 27 million acres and killed 33 people and an estimated billion animals. Turnbull, who served as prime minister until August 2018, said he was warned while in office that fires in the country were getting worse because of climate change.

"Everyone has known this," Turnbull said. "We've been warned by the climate scientists. Everyone has been aware of this except for those who, well, the climate change deniers are aware of it, but they choose to deny reality."

Turnbull was forced out of office by the right-wing of his own party largely over his support of cutting carbon emissions. He was replaced by Scott Morrison, who has minimized climate change and been criticized for his response to the fires.

Morrison has prioritized protecting Australia's mining industry, coal is the country's second-largest export. And members of the current government argue it's not Australia's responsibility to act on climate change since the country only produces about 1% of global emissions.

"Isn't there some truth in that?" Williams asked Turnbull. "I mean, if, if the U.S. doesn't act, if China and India don't act to cut emissions, it doesn't matter very much what Australia does."

"Well, if we don't act, if we don't act, a wealthy advanced economy facing the harsh reality of climate change, if we don't act and show leadership, why would anyone else act?" Turnbull said.

See the full 60 Minutes report on the fires in Australia here.