The former prime minister was part of a panel on young people and politics with his daughter Daisy Turnbull-Brown, who is wellbeing director at St Catherine’s College, and high school student-leaders Eloise Aiken, Ethan Cheng and Alice Morgan.
Mrs Turnbull-Brown said while adults want teens to learn critical thinking skills “at the same time there are certain people in our society, be they politicians or commentators, criticising teenagers for having a voice and for taking part in democracy”.
She said contemporary high school students often get their news and political views from “total strangers” on the internet rather than from “the kitchen table” as they used to.
Mr Turnbull said until 20 years ago, people got information from “curated media” such as The Sydney Morning Herald or the ABC whereas now “people are able to choose the news they want, they can select their own facts”.
“When people start talking about alternative facts you’re in serious trouble. You see this most notably on climate change,” he said.
Ms Aiken said she didn’t “feel respected as a young person from the leaders of the country” but admitted many young people didn’t respect political leaders either. “It’s a two-way street,” she said.
Mr Turnbull said “one of the problems that most politicians have is they can never admit they’re wrong, and it is just so pathetic”.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Turnbull said his Snowy-Hydro 2.0 initiative “put energy storage on the map” which is the “key to transitioning to a zero-emission energy sector which we can absolutely do now, at lower cost than burning coal”.
He slammed the “toxic alliance” of “right-wing politics where global warming is seen as some sort of ideological or religious issue; the right-wing media – principally the Murdoch media – who even went to the extent of denying the real cause of the fires, and became a laughing stock; and … that vested interest in the fossil fuel lobby, the coal industry.”
Australia’s transition to a zero-emissions economy is being “held hostage by very narrow sectional interests that have enormous leverage over the Liberal-National parties”, he said.
Asked what Australians can do to effect change, he suggested lobbying their MPs and writing to their local papers, but said “ultimately it’s only through the ballot box that this will change”.
Jacqueline Maley is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. In 2017 she won the Peter Ruehl Award for Outstanding Columnist at the Kennedy Awards