Labor has seized on the re-opening of wounds in the Coalition’s internal climate policy war, accusing it of creating a “lazy, toxic scare campaign” as the Coalition argues among itself over the future of net zero targets and reprised its accusations of a hidden Labor “carbon tax.”
The eruptions within the Coalition ranks over the last 48 hours shows little has changed within the Coalition since it took government in 2013 after Tony Abbott’s devastatingly successful “axe the tax” campaign.
Queensland Nationals senator and former cabinet minister Matt Canavan declared on ABC that net zero was dead”, arguing that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was causing countries to walk away from their own targets.
“Angus Taylor announced there is no set trajectory, we are not following a linear path like the Labor Party, the thing is net zero is dead anyway,” Canavan told the ABC.
“Boris Johnson said he is pausing it, Germany is building coal and gas infrastructure, Italy is reopening coal-fired plants, it’s all over.”
Not only are Canavan’s claims about other countries’ commitments largely untrue – his comments have triggered a flurry of his Coalition colleagues to distance themselves from the rogue Queensland senator.
The comments came days after another Nationals candidate described the Coalition’s net zero commitment as ‘flexible’ and not binding.
Canavan sent Coalition colleagues scrambling to distance themselves from the comments, including moderate Liberal and Wentworth MP Dave Sharma, who is facing a major re-election challenge from ‘climate independent’ Allegra Spender.
“Matt has a long-standing view on this issue, and he argued against a commitment to net zero before Glasgow, but he didn’t win that argument,” Sharma told ABC Radio National on Wednesday.
“The government and the cabinet adopted a net zero target by 2050 and updated our emissions predictions for 2030, and that’s the direction of the policy, and that’s the commitment of the government.”
In one day, Matt Canavan declared "net zero is dead" and Barnaby Joyce defended a colleague who said net zero by 2050 wasn't binding. These are the people Dave Sharma votes with. The past three years have shown he can't stand up to them. Today has shown nothing will change.
— Allegra Spender (@spenderallegra) April 26, 2022
Former Nationals leader Michael McCormack said that the Nationals remained committed to the net zero target, and that there were enough ‘sensible’ members within the party to make sure that remained the case.
“Some people say things in an election campaign, for reasons known only to themselves, but we’ve agreed to it, the National Party has agreed to it,” McCormack said.
“There are enough sensible people as a national party to ensure that people know that we are committed to it.”
The Nationals agreed to support a Coalition government commitment to a net zero emissions reduction target in the lead up to the COP26 climate talks held in Glasgow last year.
The conditions of that agreement remain unknown but are likely to have included significant funding commitments for projects in National held areas, as well as the re-elevation of Nationals MP and resources minister Keith Pitt into the federal cabinet.
That deal, however, was openly opposed by Matt Canavan, who has long advocated for an expansion of Australia’s coal industries.
The latest comments were jumped upon by Labor’s climate and energy spokesperson, Chris Bowen, who said that the Coalition’s commitment to net zero was in “tatters”.
“It reminds us that the LNP is prepared to say one thing in Hinkler and another thing in Higgins. Who are prepared to say one thing in Wide Bay and another thing and Wentworth, they’re lying,” Bowen said.
“They can’t be trusted because if they can’t say the same thing regardless of where in where you are in the country – if you’re misleading voters depending on their preferences on climate – then you can’t be taken seriously. ”
Bowen also hit back at characterisations – made by Whitehaven coal chief Paul Flynn – of Labor’s plan to strengthen the Safeguard Mechanism as a “carbon levy by stealth”.
Labor’s climate policy package includes a proposed strengthening of the Safeguards Mechanism – a policy first developed and implemented under the Abbott government – to impose stricter caps on major industrial emitters.
Bowen said that Morrison had resorted to a “lazy and toxic” scare campaign over Labor’s climate policy.
“This is the lazy, toxic, scare campaign that the Liberals and Nationals have been addicted to for 20 years,” Bowen told the ABC.
“Scott Morrison will continue to engage in that lazy toxic scare campaign because he’s not really committed to climate action. He prefers to run the scare campaign and to use the lazy language that he employs and to and to lie about the economic impacts.”
Chiming into the debate, prime minister Scott Morrison conceded to reporters on Wednesday that the Coalition’s Safeguard Mechanism was never supposed to ‘bind’ companies into cutting emissions.
“The difference is how the thresholds work and the fact we put incentives in place,” Morrison said. “What Labor is doing is binding them on this and issuing penalties on those companies so they couldn’t be more different. What Labor has is a tax, a sneaky carbon tax.”