Matt Canavan declares net zero by 2050 is ‘all over bar the shouting’ after PM tries to quell divisions

Labor earlier jumped on climate crisis split between Liberals and Nationals after Colin Boyce said emissions target had ‘wiggle room’

Queensland Nationals senator Matt Canavan has declared net zero by 2050 “all over bar the shouting” only hours after Scott Morrison attempted to hose down internal divisions – insisting the mid-century target was “absolutely” Coalition policy.

Labor criticised the “spectacular” split between inner-city Liberals and rural Nationals on the policy, criticising the Coalition for running a “fear campaign” on the opposition’s policy around coal jobs.

The fracas kicked off on Monday when the Liberal National party’s candidate for the Queensland seat of Flynn, Colin Boyce, said there was “wiggle room” in the commitment to net zero, calling it a “flexible plan” that was not legislated.

Speaking in the marginal seat of Herbert on Tuesday, Morrison said Boyce had since “clarified” he was talking about the pathway to net zero, not the target itself.

“Our commitment to net zero by 2050 is a commitment of the Australian government that I made in Glasgow,” he said.

“It is the government’s absolute policy. What he [Boyce] was referring to was our pathway to it and as technologies change and improve, then, of course, we’re going to get there and we’re going to get there by the best method possible.”

Boyce had actually referenced both the commitment itself and issues associated with achieving the target.

Later in the day, Boyce’s positioning was echoed by Canavan. The former resources minister told the ABC the Morrison government had not set a formal emissions reduction trajectory and had no intention of “following a linear path like the Labor party”.

“The other thing to say is the net zero thing is all sort of dead anyway,” Canavan said.

“Boris Johnson said he is pausing the net zero commitment, Germany is building coal and gas infrastructure, Italy’s reopening coal-fired power plants. It’s all over. It’s all over bar the shouting here.

“We’re talking about something that is 28 years away. What will happen in 28 years’ time, or the policies that will happen in 10 or 20 years, I think, should be up to the Australian people in 10 or 20 years, some of who might not even be voting [now].”

Morrison, who on Tuesday announced a $70m hydrogen hub for Townsville, tried to paint Labor’s commitment to a carbon credits scheme under the safeguard mechanism as a revived “carbon tax” that would hit the mining sector.

“Just be clear, it not only affects the coal industry, it affects mining and oil and gas production,” Morrison said. “It affects rail freight, it affects cement production, it affects fuel refining, and many other sectors are caught up in those arrangements, which would see them penalised and taxed.”

The safeguard mechanism, introduced by the Abbott government, requires 215 large polluters in Australia to keep their emissions below a certain level or face a penalty.

Are the Nationals backing away from net zero by 2050? | Campaign Catchup | Full Story Podcast

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, was pushed by 2GB radio host Ray Hadley on Tuesday to reiterate the same pledge once uttered by former prime minister Julia Gillard, that “there will be no carbon tax, ever” under a government he leads.

Labor has said that the government’s existing policy is not being properly implemented and has vowed to strengthen the plan, gradually ratcheting down the allowable emissions in a bid to reduce pollution.

But there was confusion over the weekend when Labor’s shadow climate spokesperson, Chris Bowen, told Channel Nine that coalmines would be included in the plan, after the shadow assistant climate spokesperson, Pat Conroy, had said they would not be included.

Bowen said industries like coal would work with the Clean Energy Regulator to find a “sensible pathway” to reducing emissions. The Coalition rounded on the safeguards changes, with a Nationals spokesperson saying in a statement to the Australian Financial Review that Labor’s plan had “sounded the death knell for the coal industry”.

Canavan, who has spent time campaigning in the coal-rich Hunter region, accused local Labor politicians – including Conroy, the MP for Shortland – of having been “caught out lying to their constituents” over the mines.

Hours before Morrison’s hydrogen announcement, Canavan said “we don’t need hydrogen” and called for the government to back the construction of the Collinsville coal power station.

At a press conference in Darwin, Conroy shot back at Canavan’s attacks. He explained that Labor’s policy made dispensation for industries like coal which faced international competitors who weren’t subject to such environmental controls in their own countries.

“The coalmining industry will not suffer a disadvantage or a negative impact compared to the international competitors,” Conroy said.

“That’s further confirmed by our independent and comprehensive economic modelling that made it very clear that … not a single coalmine would close early because of our policy, and not a single coalmining job would be lost because of our policy.”

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He said there was a “spectacular” split between the Nationals and Liberals on their own net zero policy.

“The deputy prime minister is backing in his candidate in Flynn saying their net zero emissions commitment by 2050 is optional, that there’s wiggle room and it’s not binding,” Conroy said. “Then we have the members for North Sydney and Wentworth saying that it is binding.

“I haven’t seen a bigger split in climate change since Malcolm Turnbull was prime minister. People should be focusing on this.”

Albanese had earlier defended Labor’s climate plans, trying to tamp down the Coalition attacks.

“The safeguards mechanism was the one introduced by Tony Abbott,” Albanese told 2GB. “It applies to exactly the same companies, not to one company more.


Sarah Martin, Josh Butler and Katharine Murphy

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