The Nationals have ended a marathon party room meeting on climate policy, but no position has been resolved after four hours of discussion.
MPs and senators met in Canberra on Sunday ahead of the Prime Minister’s trip to the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, where he is expected to commit Australia to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
Some members of the Nationals are resisting the move, warning it will cost jobs in regional Australia.
Before the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce insisted the Nationals would not be bullied into backing a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and also ruled out supporting more ambitious short-term climate targets.
While there is a sense the Nationals will end up backing the net zero policy, Sunday’s meeting was expected to be dominated by discussion of what concessions party members will demand in exchange for their support.
It could prove a costly exercise for the taxpayer, with some Nationals already publicly insisting hundreds of millions of dollars in financial support will need to be provided to regional communities and industries they believe will be decimated by the policy.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s meeting, Mr Joyce said his message to his colleagues was clear.
“I’d say, ‘you’ve been listening to your phones, you’ve been talking to your people in your electorate, this is your opportunity to convey those concerns and issues and sentiments of those electorates into this room’,” he said.
“And then in a collegiate way with others, we’ll try and land at a position as best we can.”
He warned that the Nationals would not simply fall into line and adopt the policy at the behest of the Liberals, despite governing in coalition with them.
“In the Nationals, on crucial decisions, we’ll make a Nationals decision like we have in the past,” Mr Joyce said.
“We are not in the Liberal party room, we’re in the Nationals room, and we will make a Nationals decision, and we won’t be held hostage to what other people may wish.”
Energy Minister Angus Taylor, a Liberal MP, was scheduled to brief the meeting on the government’s plan to reach net zero by 2050, before leaving the Nationals to debate the issue amongst themselves.
Australia is under pressure to not only commit to the net zero target ahead of the Glasgow summit, but to adopt more ambitious short-term emissions reduction targets by the year 2030.
When asked whether he would support any attempt to double the nation’s current short-term target, the Deputy Prime Minister’s answer was that it would be “highly unlikely”.
One of the most vocal critics of net zero is backbench Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, who described it as part of a “woke” agenda which would decimate regional communities and industries the Australian economy relies on.
“From what I’ve seen, the government doesn’t seem to have a plan, it has a prayer,” he said.
“It has a prayer that hydrogen will somehow just work out, save all our jobs — well, the Prime Minister might believe in miracles, but I don’t think we should gamble people’s jobs on a wing and a prayer.
“People’s jobs are at risk here, hydrogen and other technologies might not work out, so why should we gamble our future, our security, our strength as a nation on stuff that we don’t know actually works.”
The Coalition has been attacked as being weak on tackling climate action, but Finance Minister Simon Birmingham denied the government was being dictated to by the Nationals.
“We bring together people right across the country to be able to effectively consider all of the implications in issues,” he told Sky News.
In defending the situation, Senator Birmingham also appeared to urge his Nationals counterparts to back the net zero target.
“There’s no point pretending that there aren’t some parts of the Australian community who are concerned about the implications of these decisions,” he said.
“But an important message to them, and to those who represent them, is to understand that other nations are already making these commitments.
Labor insisted it will outline its emissions reduction targets, including 2030 commitments, closer to the next election and after the Coalition showed its hand.
“We don’t know what the ambition of the government is,” Shadow Finance Minister Katy Gallagher told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“I think what we’ve seen, eight years, three prime ministers, 21 energy policies and now the Prime Minister trying to wrangle a last-minute deal with the National Party about what they actually stand for.
“The government needs to govern, they are in charge, they need to agree to net zero, they need to legislate that target and they need to set medium targets — that is the minimum that the government should be doing.”
Senator Gallagher was asked whether she believed adopting a carbon price would be the most effective way of achieving net zero, as suggested by organisations including the Business Council of Australia.
“We are looking at everything, we are looking at all the information that is coming from all of the reviews, we are watching Glasgow and we will announce our policies in the lead-up to the election,” she responded.
“I think that’s the responsible thing to do.
“We will have different components to those policies, but I’m not in a position this morning to let you know exactly what they are.”
Former prime minister Tony Abbott repealed Labor’s carbon price legislation after winning the 2013 election, after years of campaigning against the policy.Internet Explorer Channel Network