Nationals could break away: Labor’s election win spurs more Coalition climate wars

Federal election 2022

The Liberals’ election wipeout is sending shockwaves through the Coalition and reigniting the climate wars, with moderate Liberals calling for the more ambitious policies and the Nationals warning they could break from the alliance and ditch their commitment to net zero emissions.

Labor also faces pressure in parliament with the Greens likely to have the balance of power in the Senate, but the new government could still get its climate plans through the upper house as moderate Liberals leave the door open to working with Labor to pass legislation.

Labor’s election victory has kicked off a round of finger pointing between Coalition partners the Liberals and Nationals over who is to blame for their loss. Credit:Michelle Mossop

The Greens are demanding a swift end to fossil fuels, which would be politically untenable for Labor and the blue collar unions, a faster push to hit net zero emissions by 2035, an immediate stop on new coal and gas projects, and an end to thermal coal and gas exports by 2030.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has vowed to “end the climate wars” and said any government he leads would not increase its goals to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050, and he has ruled out any deals or power-sharing arrangements with the Greens.

NSW Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg said he was “open minded” to Labor proposals and “people just want us to get on with it”.

“There is a very large economic opportunity for Australia in getting to net zero and beyond net zero,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“We will be relying on foreign investment to fund the transition and we need to give clear market signals that we are on track.”

The Liberal Party could lose 20 seats to Labor, Greens and independent candidates with more ambitious climate goals.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said on Monday the Nationals party would reconsider its support for the net zero target that the Coalition took to the election, and he would not rule out breaking away from the Liberals.

South Australian Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said on Sunday the Coalition had paid a price for failure to agree on climate policy, which culminated in the demise of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee policy in 2019.

“The failure to be able to do so at that time has caused a significant price down the track,” Birmingham said.

“The Nationals party need to look at where the Liberal party has felt this pain and reflect upon how it is that we, together, can manage to form majority government in the future and what will be necessary for us (the Liberals) to do if they won’t shift.”

Joyce said his “preference” was to work with the Liberals in Coalition but didn’t rule out breaking from the Coalition.

“I’ve already heard that Senator Birmingham suggests that’s something that they might want to consider. Well, that’s a decision for the Liberal Party,” he said.

“I’ll leave any discussions that might resonate around the Nationals for the Nationals.”

Joyce said the net zero policy would be reconsidered.

“After an election, on all policy, there is a discussion and that’s not saying that you’re going to drop it or you’re going to stick with it. It says that we allow people, in the dignity of our party room, to reflect back on what was pertinent in their electorates.”

Laura Hillis, from the Investor Group on Climate Change, represents institutional investors who have total funds under management of more than $2 trillion. She said international investors have “billions of dollars ready to invest” in critical minerals projects, which are needed for clean energy technology, but they were put off by the policy uncertainty caused by Australia’s climate wars.

“Investors have been sitting there for the past few years looking at the enormous transformational opportunities in Australia but they weren’t able to do anything.”

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