The Morrison government will resist any internal push to walk away from its commitment to the Paris climate change targets, despite it dropping emissions reduction as a consideration of energy policy.
As the Coalition reeled from another shocking poll result caused by its infighting, some conservatives, while welcoming the shift in energy policy, demanded Prime Minister Scott Morrison go further and abandon the commitment to reduce emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
Senior sources said that though the government was now unsure how it would reach the targets, which were set by Tony Abbott in 2015, there could be no walking away from them.
For starters, it would jeopardise any prospect of a free trade deal with the European Union.
Attempts to stabilise the party in the aftermath of the botched coup to replace Malcolm Turnbull with Peter Dutton were on shaky ground on Monday with Mr Abbott less than enthusiastic about an offer from Mr Morrison of a junior role as an envoy for Indigenous affairs.
Labor Leader Bill Shorten said the Coalition was too unstable to govern and Mr Morrison should call an election.
“The sooner people in Australia get to have a say who is running the country, the better,” he said.
Mr Abbott also drove the dissent against the National Energy Guarantee which sought to mandate reliability and emissions reduction targets for electricity retailers.
Price and reliability
Because of its emissions reduction component, the policy became the catalyst for ousting Mr Turnbull. In his ministerial reshuffle, Mr Morrison separated environment and energy, the latter going to Dutton supporter Angus Taylor, a critic of the NEG and the Renewable Energy Target.
Mr Morrison said Mr Taylor’s priorities were price and reliability, not emissions reduction, and he did not rule out dumping the NEG altogether. That decision will be taken by the new cabinet when it meets. The intention is to stand firm on Paris.
But the rebels who were confident Mr Dutton would have abandoned Paris are demanding Mr Morrison do the same. Renegade Nationals MP George Christensen took to Twitter to pressure the new leader and minister.
“Looking forward to @ScottMorrisonMP & @AngusTaylorMP getting baseload underwriting scheme underway ASAP to develop new coal-fired power stations, inc one in Nth Qld. More is needed: major equity fund for new coal-fired power & abandon costly green treaties, mandates & subsidies,” he wrote.
Visiting a drought-stricken farm in Queensland on Monday, Mr Morrison declined to acknowledge human-induced climate change existed, let alone was responsible for the big dry.
“Climate is changing, everybody knows that. I don’t think that’s part of this debate,” he said.
“If people want to have a debate about that, fine. It’s not a debate I’ve participated a lot in in the past because I’m practically interested in the policies that will address what is going on here right and now.
“I’m interested in getting people’s electricity prices down and I’m not terribly interested in engaging in those sorts of debates at this point.”
One senior source said the government could let the electricity sector help reach Paris passively, given it was moving to cleaner energy, without policy guidelines. The designers of the NEG said without a 26 per cent target imposed on the sector, it would not reach that target by 2030, despite it being on track to hit 24 per cent in 2020-21, the first year of the NEG.
Mr Abbott, who helped drive the dissent that toppled Mr Turnbull, had been in line for a cabinet job had Mr Dutton prevailed. He was effectively snubbed by Mr Morrison when he unveiled his “new generation” ministry on Sunday by not even being offered the lowliest frontbench position of parliamentary secretary.
The Indigenous envoy is a non-ministerial job and Mr Abbott noted there were already many in the government with responsibility for Indigenous affairs, from the minister downwards.
“We’ve got a lot of people in this space, I want to know what value I can add,” he told radio 2GB.
He was pushed to take the job by 2GB shock jock Ray Hadley, who campaigned to bring down Mr Turnbull.
Mr Hadley indicated Mr Morrison had rung him ahead of Mr Abbott ‘s interview to impress upon Mr Abbott that the envoy offer was “a fair dinkum job”.
Mr Abbott did not agree.
“I had a fair dinkum job. I suspect I can manage some other things. Let’s see what evolves, Ray.”
Mr Abbott noted that as prime minister, he brought Indigenous affairs into his department because it “requires authority to get things done”.
“It needs someone at the very top to cut through, it doesn’t need someone running around at the margins,” he said.
“It’s something that I want to see us making a difference here but I just don’t want a title without a role.”
Mr Morrison said he would seek to persuade his colleague.
“Tony and I are continuing to talk about the role he can play and, as a former prime minister, I want to use his experience. I want to use his insights in an area I know he is deeply passionate about,” he said.
A Newspoll published on Monday confirms the findings of last week’s Fairfax/Ipsos poll in that the Coalition’s support has collapsed due to its internal warfare.
Leadership spills are supposed to provide a boost in the polls but Newspoll shows Labor leading the Coalition by 56 per cent to 44 per cent, up from 51-49 two weeks ago, and Mr Shorten more popular than Mr Morrison.
“It’s all up from here,” Mr Abbott said.
Many in the Coalition want Mr Abbott to also retire at the election so the party can draw a line under the factional wars which have torn at it for a decade. Mr Abbott scotched any such thought.
“I am not retiring,” he said.
“I still think I have a lot of public life left in me, I am determined to make the most of it.”
He said despite the collapse in the Coalition’s electoral fortunes “our country’s in better shape than a fortnight ago.
“The whole polity is better off today.”
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