Net zero emissions plan at impasse with Nationals still refusing to endorse target

The Coalition is set for a showdown on Tuesday, as Liberals and Nationals tackle the government's proposed climate policy behind closed doors.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP

The Nationals are still refusing to endorse a target of net zero emissions by 2050, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to insist the global economic reality means Australia has no choice but to act.

The Nationals party room met again on Monday as parliament returned to further discuss the net zero proposal and incentives aimed at easing concerns over what the transition means for regional Australia.

But with the United Nations’ COP26 climate talks in Glasgow only a fortnight away, the deadline is fast approaching for the Coalition to reach an agreement. 

Mr Morrison was pressed about the Coalition’s progress on securing the deal during Question Time on Monday.

“What we are doing is carefully considering the implications of these very serious issues for Australians right across the country,” he said. 

But Mr Morrison indicated he would take an updated policy platform to Glasgow as the negotiations continued.

“The government decision on the government’s commitments for Australia in relation to COP26 will be made by the government in cabinet,” he said.

The details of the plan remain scarce but Energy Minister Angus Taylor has emphasised it will adopt a technology-driven approach focused on supporting regional communities.

Mr Morrison said he believed the regions could be the "biggest beneficiaries" from the transition but added that it would be "foolish" to suggest they would not face "negative consequences".

“[We] are working together to make sure Australia succeeds over the next 30 years in the world economy that is going to be challenged by the world response to climate change,” Mr Morrison said.

“It is going to have a very real impact on rural and regional communities.” 

The Nationals’ failure to reach a consensus follows a four-hour meeting on Sunday where the party room was given a briefing by Mr Taylor about the policy proposal.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has said there’s no rush to secure a deal - with his divided party still unconvinced about the plan put forward.

“We choose to go into a Coalition because we believe it's the right thing for Australia, but we're not chained to [it]," he said.

"We do the right thing for regional people." 

Mr Joyce added that his party would not be “forced into a corner” over the government’s proposed pathway as it takes its time to consider the proposal.

“If someone believes they're being forced into a corner, you know what they're gonna do, they're gonna say no,” he said.

Negotiations are set to continue with a joint Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday before the federal cabinet meets on Wednesday to consider the plan.

But Mr Joyce has refused to confirm reports that billions of dollars in regional support programs have been offered in the agreement.

“I want to spill this notion there this is some magical number running around - there is not,” he told parliament.

Nationals MPs still divided

Resources Minister and Nationals MP Keith Pitt is among those to publicly declare that his party is not satisfied with the plan.

“The position is no. We are clearly having discussions and those discussions will continue,” he told reporters.

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan - a fierce opposition of a net zero emissions target - was another to share his concerns about the roadmap put forward. 

“I felt after the meeting yesterday I was being asked to marry a girl that I hadn’t met because we really weren’t given the whole story,” he told reporters.

“There is a big risk here that this plan doesn’t work out and people are hurt.” 

But Nationals Deputy Leader David Littleproud said the party room would continue to work through the detail of the plan.

“We're not signing up to anything just yet, but we're being pragmatic enough to understand this is a global issue that's not going to go away,” the Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia said.

Nationals MP Darren Chester said the meetings were “positive”, sharing his support for a pathway forward that can protect jobs and industries in regional communities.

“If we're so confident of those jobs being created then we need to have a jobs guarantee for regional Australia,” he said.

'You need a strong interim target'

Labor’s energy spokesperson Chris Bowen has criticised the Coalition government’s failure to reach a consensus on the policy, with just two weeks to go before the crucial climate talks in Glasgow.

“After eight years in office - after 493 weeks in office after 70,000 hours in office, Scott Morrison wants more time,” he told reporters.

But Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he believes an agreement on net zero would eventually be settled despite still expressing scepticism.

“I have no doubt that the government will land net zero by 2050,” he said.

“[But] unless it's legislated - it can't be taken seriously.” 

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Source: AAP

Amid the Coalition’s deadlocked negotiations, independent MP Zali Steggall reintroduced a climate change bill to parliament, which includes a 60 per cent emissions-reduction target by 2030.

“Taking net zero by 2050 to COP26 is not a plan, it's not a commitment, you need to take that and a strong interim target,” Ms Steggall said.

Australia is currently committed to reducing emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 as part of the Paris Agreement.

But Mr Joyce has already shot down the prospect of the Coalition adopting a more ambitious 2030 target, ahead of their party room meeting on Sunday.

The Greens have also warned that a net zero emissions pledge by 2050 needed to be backed up by a more ambitious medium-term target.

“What matters is 2030, the whole Glasgow summit is about taking action now before it’s too late,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

Published 18 October 2021 at 6:25pm
By Tom Stayner