As all eyes were on the lovefest between Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, and his New South Wales counterpart, Dominic Perrottet, another political meeting was taking place in Melbourne’s beachside suburb of Elwood on Thursday.
Ahead of a meeting of energy ministers on Friday, NSW’s Liberal treasurer and former environment minister, Matt Kean, joined the Victorian Liberal’s deputy leader, David Southwick, and the Brighton MP, James Newbury, to compare electric vehicle policies.
“Dom Perrottet and Dan Andrews can have their bromance but what we want to see, both myself and Dom Perrottet, is a Liberal government here in Victoria,” Kean told Guardian Australia.
The meeting came after the teal-aligned son of former Liberal premier Ted Baillieu, Rob Baillieu, suggested a Kean-like figure was needed to rejuvenate the party’s standing in Victoria. It also followed reports Peter Dutton would not be joining the campaign trail.
Addressing Baillieu’s suggestion, Kean was adamant the Victorian Liberals could appeal to socially progressive voters.
“What saw at the federal level was a backlash from traditional Liberal voters who felt they didn’t have a home within the Liberal party,” Kean said.
“The Victorian Liberal opposition has heard that message, and wants to ensure that people that are socially progressive but economically rational do have a place around the Liberal table.”
Newbury said he consulted Kean last year before the Victorian Coalition announced a plan to legislate an emissions reduction target of 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, which bears a resemblance to NSW’s plan.
“You can see your advice in the way we’ve shaped our policy,” Newbury told Kean on Thursday. “You can see how we have looked to NSW and your successes and it won’t be the end of it. We’re going to pinch from you a little bit more.”
Earlier this week, the Victorian Coalition announced that, if elected in November, they will pause the state’s electric vehicle tax – currently subject of a high court challenge – and spend $50m to boost the uptake of low-emission cars, including 600 new charging stations. Kean announced $39.4m to introduce 500 charging stations in NSW the same day.
The policies are a marked contrast from the Coalition’s position at the 2018 Victorian election, which included opposing the government’s net zero target and promising to build a new power station, fuelled by the cheapest option out of coal, gas or renewables.
Sign up for our free morning and afternoon email newsletters from Guardian Australia for your daily news roundup
At the time, peak body Environment Victoria described the Coalition as “environmentally reckless” and accused the opposition leader, Matthew Guy, of ignoring climate change.
The party went on to suffer a devastating loss. Newbury and Southwick’s margins shrank to 1.1% and 0.3%, respectively.
An electoral redistribution ahead of this year’s election sees Newbury’s shrink further to 0.5%, and Southwick’s seat of Caulfield turns from Liberal to Labor, albeit with a razor-thin 0.2% margin.
The duo are also facing challenges from independent candidates inspired by Zoe Daniel winning the plum Liberal seat of Goldstein at the federal election, which overlaps entirely with Brighton and takes in parts of Caulfield.
But Newbury and Southwick said they were pushing for stronger action on climate change well before the federal poll.
“What [the federal election] did is it actually allowed other people to get on board,” Southwick said.
“We were able to prove that we’ve got to be more relevant to Victorians, it’s something that’s so important, it matters. This is where the party needs to be.”
The duo faced resistance from some MPs in their own party over the policy, as well as their more progressive positions to support the Labor government’s bill to set up an independent treaty authority and unequivocally rule out amending laws banning gay conversion “therapy”.
But Kean, who is considered a leading moderate voice within the party, said it was imperative Liberals modernised and reflected the concerns of Australians.
“This is a new generation of Liberals that are coming through that are representing the values of our times,” he said.
These values, he said, include conserving the environment, affording equal economic opportunities to all Australians “regardless of their gender, or who they choose to love, or who they choose to worship” and helping young people enter the property market.
Earlier this week, Victoria’s energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said voters couldn’t trust the opposition when it came to the environment and spruiked the government’s plans to revive the State Electricity Commission.
The government wants half of all new cars sold in Victoria by 2030 to be zero-emission vehicles and offers subsidies of up to $3,000 for ZEVs under $68,740, she said.