Liberal MPs say Peter Dutton should let party room decide new climate position

At least two Liberals have indicated they are prepared to cross the floor to support Labor’s legislation to cut emissions 43% by 2030
2022-06-21 17:30

Liberal MPs are urging Peter Dutton to let the party room decide a new position on climate change policy in the wake of the Coalition’s devastating election loss, with calls for the conservatives to take more ambitious emission reduction targets to the next election.

While the new opposition leader has declared the Liberal and National parties will oppose government legislation to cut emissions 43% by 2030, at least two Liberals have indicated they would be prepared to cross the floor on the bill when it comes to parliament next month.

The Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer told Guardian Australia she believed a bipartisan approach to the target should be considered, while the New South Wales senator Andrew Bragg said he would consider his support for the legislation “guided by the views of investors”.

In the wake of the May election loss that saw six Liberal seats lost to teal independents, MPs said there needed to be a reassessment of the Liberal and Nationals climate change policy, which would face its first test when parliament resumes next month and Labor introduces a bill to enshrine the 43% emissions target in law.

The Senior Liberal Anne Ruston, now the opposition’s health spokesperson, said that the party room needed to have the debate.

“It’s up to the party room to reframe our position now we have got through the election for our policy position going forward,” Ruston told Guardian Australia.

Archer, who defied a swing against the government to hold on to her marginal seat of Bass, said she believed the Liberal party needed to have a more ambitious 2030 target and she would consider Labor’s legislation on its merits.

“I am open to considering all legislation, as I have previously said, and I have a strong view that good ideas are not bound to one side of the aisle or the other, and we ought to be acting in the best interests of all Australians,” Archer told Guardian Australia.

“I personally think we should be looking at the 2030 target, and in terms of what the number is I suppose that is arbitrary to a point, but for me the important part is what the legislation says and how that target might be achieved, that is the relevant point.

“The politics has moved past whether we take action on climate change or not. Of course we should. I think the target itself is only one part of it, it is no good having a target if you don’t have actions that will actually achieve it.”

Archer said she hoped the party heeded the “clear message” sent by the electorate on climate change, pointing to the result in seats lost to independents who had campaigned on climate and integrity, and warned against weaponising climate targets at the next election.

Bragg, who has previously argued that Australia’s medium-term target should be at least a 40% reduction in emissions, said he would look at the legislation once it was introduced to parliament.

“I will be guided by the views of investors, because I want the transition to be paid for by investors, including foreign investors, not taxpayers,” Bragg told Guardian Australia.

“I will be speaking to the market about what is required to get that investment, it is a very big transition that we are talking about here. That will be a key input to my decision as a legislator and how I look at the legislation.”

The Liberal MP for the seat of Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, said he wanted to see the “substance” of Labor’s bill beyond the headline figure, but he was supportive of more ambitious targets.

“I don’t have a problem increasing the targets, I have been calling for that for some time, the reality is we are already well ahead of our Paris targets and they (Labor) are going to get the benefit of that.

“I have always argued that we should be a bit more ambitious, and the sooner we can move to net zero the better, more to have credibility with a seat at the table so we can tell others what needs to be done.”

On Sunday, Dutton said the Liberal and National parties would vote against Labor’s 43% emission reduction target, and said he believed the opposition may revise its medium target to about 35% before the next election.

A senior moderate said, however, the expectation was Labor’s legislation would still need to follow the normal process of going through the relevant shadow minister and shadow cabinet before a recommendation was taken to the party room.

On Tuesday, Dutton said legislating a commitment put more onerous requirements on businesses and households.

“We took our policy to the election. Millions of Australians voted for us on that basis and that’s the position we’ll take forward. Obviously, over time, if you’ve got new information before you, if you’ve got a new proposition that can be considered by the party room.”

The new opposition leader told 2GB Australia needed to do “whatever we can to increase the use of renewables but [do] it in a way that doesn’t turn the lights off”.

He said at the moment, coal and gas were required to firm up renewables because batteries could not yet perform that task for long stretches.