The outgoing Liberal moderate Trent Zimmerman says his former colleagues should embrace Labor’s 43% emissions reduction target if the Coalition wants to win back the Liberal party’s progressive heartland at the next federal election.
Zimmerman, a prominent moderate, lost his seat on 21 May to the teal independent Kylea Tink. On Monday he told the ABC that if the incoming Liberal leadership wanted to win back electorates like North Sydney, or other seats where the government’s record on climate change was a problem, having a “sensible approach” needed to be at the top of the list.
Rather than launch a new round of the climate wars in the new parliament, he said, the Coalition should accept the Labor party had a mandate for its 2030 emissions reduction target of 43%. That was “an easy step the opposition could take”.
He said the National party also needed to accept the imperative of emissions reduction if it wanted the Liberal party to be able to win sufficient seats in the major cities to be able to form majority government.
When the Queensland National Matt Canavan declared during the campaign that the government’s net zero target by 2050 was “dead”, that was “one of the killer moments for us”, Zimmerman said.
“There’s a whole package of reasons as to why we lost inner-city seats like mine and clearly climate change was one of the key issues,” he said. “The fact the National party leadership and individual members were seen to not be genuinely enthusiastic about our net zero commitment.”
Resistance to climate action from Nationals and Liberal rightwingers “undoubtably had an impact”.
While some of the departing Liberals have pointed the finger at Scott Morrison, believing the former prime minister was a drag on their campaigns because of his unpopularity with centre-right metropolitan progressives, Zimmerman said the Liberal party should not delude itself that the 2022 election was lost because the frontman was unpopular.
“Blaming an individual may mean we don’t learn the lessons that need to be learned,” Zimmerman said.
He said the Coalition lost a substantial number of seats in the city and copped significant anti-government swings in some regional contests because voters did not like the former government’s policy offering.
Women were unhappy with the former government and a number of voters were also angry Morrison didn’t follow through with his promise to legislate a national anti-corruption body, he said.
The Liberal party lost six heartland seats to climate-focused independents on 21 May, including Kooyong, which was held by the former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, and a host of other inner-city seats including Higgins, Reid and Bennelong.
The Liberal party is expected to instal the Queensland rightwinger Peter Dutton as its new leader on Monday. Zimmerman said Dutton had “a pragmatic streak” and he would need that quality to reboot the Coalition’s battered electoral fortunes.
Some rightwingers want the Coalition to move further to the right and target Labor’s outer suburban and regional blue-collar territories, effectively writing off its own progressive seats in the cities.
Zimmerman said on Monday he had disagreed with Dutton’s stance on some policy issues but the new leader would be fully aware the party had to “regain the trust of voters in electorates like mine” to plot a pathway to victory in 2025.
“I think it’s important he’s a constructive opposition leader,” the former MP said.