Moderate Liberal MPs sign on to crossbench-led climate action group

Parliamentary Friends of Climate Action aims to serve as a safe place for climate policy, away from ‘partisan politics’

Several Liberal MPs have signed on to a crossbench-led climate action committee, as the parliament’s independents attempt to take partisan politics out of the nation’s climate policies.

Tim Wilson, Dave Sharma, Jason Falinski, Katie Allen, Angie Bell and Trent Zimmerman are among the Liberal MPs to sign up to the Parliamentary Friends of Climate Action group, along with Labor’s Ged Kearney and Josh Burns as well as Adam Bandt from the Greens and Andrew Wilkie.

Established by Rebekha Sharkie and Kerryn Phelps late last year, the independent Helen Haines has stepped into Phelps’ role as co-chair, with Zali Steggall to serve as deputy chair. Sharkie has pushed for a cohesive climate policy since her election, while both Haines and Steggall vowed to make climate action a priority in their campaigns.

The group aims to serve as a safe place for climate action, away from the “partisan politics” which has dominated Australia’s attempts at establishing a policy, including within the major parties themselves.

“No other policy issue has been plagued by such partisan attacks and the end result is two decades without any meaningful public policy action and reticence by the private sector to invest in Australia’s climate transition,” Sharkie said in September.

“Climate action should be an issue that crosses the political divide. Managing risk is actually quite a conservative approach to take.

“This is where a group such as the Parliamentary Friends of Climate Action, chaired by independents, can play a part in providing a forum to listen to the experts.”

Steggall said it was a way of bringing ideas together with tangible action.

“I’m calling for a sensible approach to climate change that is bipartisan and productive, which I hope this group will bring,” she said.

The first presentation is to be held on Monday, when parliament resumes, with the group to hear from the executive director of the Global Health Alliance, Misha Coleman, the chair of the environmental health working group from the World Federation of Public Health Associations, Liz Hanna, and the honorary associate professor of the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Kathryn Bowen, on the climate impacts on health.

Kearney said she believed bipartisanship was crucial to the group’s success.

“It’s a great opportunity to try to move past the last decade of division – to become a driving force for bipartisanship and hopefully real action,” she said.

Wilson, who shuns the descriptor ‘moderate’, describing himself as a “modern Liberal” said he believed it necessary to be part of the group, having concluded “that only the Coalition can deliver sustainable, evolutionary climate policy”, after what he termed “revolutionary failures” from Labor and the Greens.

“Some of us want sensible, sustainable policy that confronts Australia’s emissions challenge, focuses on technology and economic growth and doesn’t leave Australians behind,” he said.

The Liberal party room has been one of the most fraught grounds for climate policy, with the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull recently lashing his party for its climate policy failures.

“The Liberal party has just proved itself incapable of dealing with the reduction of greenhouse gases in any sort of systemic way,” he told the Australian.

“The consequence … is without question that we are paying higher prices for electricity and having higher emissions.”

Speaking to the ABC, the outgoing Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos said he believed the “uncertainty over policy” had settled within the Liberal party room.

While some of his soon-to-be former colleagues, such as Eric Abetz, claimed to be “agnostics” about the climate science, Sinodinos said he believed we have to “act in accordance with the science”.

“The science can always change, of course,” he said. “Beautiful theories are slain by ugly facts. But the fact of the matter is as policymakers we have to act on the best advice available ...

“The best information available from our scientific agencies, from the CSIRO, from the international bodies and are relevant to this, I can’t sit here and make a judgment against those sorts of bodies and I don’t believe that these bodies are somehow engaged in some global conspiracy on this topic.

“This is a very, very difficult problem we’re dealing with. I know why some people find it hard to deal with because it requires taking a whole series of actions over a very extended period that sometimes we find hard to get our heads around. The fact of the matter is we have to get on and keep dealing with the issue.”

In the wake of the May election loss, Labor is also grappling with its climate policy moving forward, although senior members of caucus continued to publicly slap down attempts from colleagues to walk the party’s position backwards.


Amy Remeikis

The GuardianTramp

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