Nationals won’t back a bigger medium-term emissions cut, David Littleproud says

‘Big hand of government’ isn’t needed to drive transition, Nationals leader says

The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, says his party will not support legislating a more ambitious medium-term emissions reduction target over the coming parliamentary term because the “big hand of government” isn’t necessary to drive the transition to low emissions.

In the wake of the Coalition’s devastating election loss, moderate Liberals are now urging Peter Dutton to let the party room adopt a more ambitious position on climate change policy, and at least two MPs have signalled they would be prepared to cross the floor to support Labor’s 2030 target of 43%.

But Littleproud told Guardian Australia the policy set by Scott Morrison did not need to change.

“The Nationals support the target we took to the election but the target is just that, a target, and Australians have proven if the government creates the environment and infrastructure around it, they’ll exceed the target.

“The big hand of government doesn’t have to come in and legislate – Australians are doing this, the marketplace is doing this, and I think we get better outcomes if we put the environment and infrastructure around it.”

Asked if there were any circumstances under which the Nationals would agree to a change in the Coalition’s medium-term target, Littleproud said: “We don’t believe the big hand of government needs to do anything beyond creating the environment.

“We set a target we made an international commitment and that gives us a licence to trade, and I think that’s important.

“I think Australians have demonstrated with Paris and what we did with Kyoto that we’ve got a proud record of overachieving on our targets and governments don’t have to do that, the Australian people do that, and we’ll continue to go down the pathway of investing in technology to help them achieve that rather than taxes.

“One of the things I’m worried about legislating 43% is that will bring in a safeguards mechanism that will increase taxes and put cost-of-living pressures up. That’s what worries me when a government wants to legislate a target with a tax attached to it. We don’t need to do that. We’ve proved we don’t need to do that.”

During the last parliament the Nationals agreed to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 but the junior Coalition partner, then led by Barnaby Joyce, kiboshed an attempt by Morrison to increase the ambition of the then government’s heavily criticised 2030 target of a 26% to 28% cut.

Littleproud is significantly more progressive on the climate transition than Joyce, who told his party room during last year’s fraught internal policy deliberation he did not support the net zero commitment.

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But the new Nationals leader has to manage hardcore opponents of the transition in his party room, including Joyce and the Queenslanders Matt Canavan, Keith Pitt and newcomer Colin Boyce.

During the election campaign, Boyce declared there was “wiggle room” in the Coalition’s commitment to net zero, and Canavan declared the target “all over bar the shouting”. In the wake of the May election loss, Joyce signalled that the Nationals may abandon their support for net zero emissions.

But since the election loss that handed six Liberal heartland seats to teal independents, Liberals have told Guardian Australia there needs to be a significant reassessment of the Morrison-era climate change policy.

This issue will face its first test when parliament resumes next month and the Albanese government introduces a bill to enshrine the 43% emissions target in law.

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

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

“We took our policy to the election,” he said. “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”.

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

But the Tasmanian Liberal Bridget Archer told Guardian Australia on Tuesday 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 Labor’s legislation “guided by the views of investors”.

The senior Liberal moderate Anne Ruston, now the opposition’s health spokesperson, says the party room needs 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,” she told Guardian Australia.

Senior moderate figures, including the former finance minister Simon Birmingham and the NSW treasurer, Matt Kean, also believe that the Liberals must adopt a stronger climate policy to help win back disaffected voters who would not tolerate inaction.


Katharine Murphy and Sarah Martin

The GuardianTramp

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