Politics

Labor accuses Nationals of trading opposition to net zero for extra cabinet position | Australian politics

The federal Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, has said he supports the “process” that led the party to back a net zero emissions target even as he came under fire for opposing the climate policy backed by a majority in the party room.

Joyce on Monday insisted his opposition to the target was irrelevant given the final decision reflected the will of the party room. The Nationals secured an extra cabinet position as part of the Coalition deal, with the resources minister, Keith Pitt – who also opposed the mid-century target – reelevated.

Scott Morrison’s cabinet was expected to sign off on the agreement between the Liberals and Nationals on Monday night. Labor, meanwhile, homed in on divisions within the Nationals and called on the government to legislate the 2050 commitment and upgrade its medium-term emissions target.

The Nationals have refused to countenance any change to the 2030 target, with Morrison instead expected to release an updated forecast for the end of this decade before he leaves for the Glasgow summit on Thursday.

In parliament on Monday, Joyce all but confirmed he had opposed the proposal for setting the net zero target but maintained he would “100% support our process of going to Glasgow” and the government’s position.

“That process of course was that our position would not be determined by the executive, it would not be determined by one person, it would be determined by the views of the party members and yesterday they did precisely that,” Joyce said. “The decision is settled, we are going forward as a coalition government to make sure we do the very best.”

Labor challenged Joyce over his changing views and also targeted Pitt, who last week declared that solar panels don’t work in the dark, about his commitment to the policy, suggesting he had “traded away his opposition to net zero for the resources sector for a cabinet promotion with extra salary”.

“Why is it about your job not regional jobs?” Labor’s Pat Conroy asked.

Pitt, who had been dumped from the cabinet after Joyce resumed the leadership in June, said he would “continue to deliver” for regional Australia and the resources sector.

“They [the Labor party] are all about digging up dirt but not in the way the resources sector does it,” he said.

Labor’s shadow minister for climate change, Chris Bowen, said Pitt’s elevation as part of a deal “tells the lie” of the fragile climate pact struck between the two parties.

“It’s not about jobs in the regions – it’s about one job for one member of the National party. It’s all about them, not about the people they are meant to represent.”

Bowen accused the government of being a “rolling rumble of chaos and secrecy”, highlighting the internal opposition to the net zero goal as evidence the government was not committed to addressing the climate emergency.

“The Australian people will have a choice: a party which doesn’t really believe in net zero by 2050, there’s no plan to get there and it’s all about the politics, or an alternative government, which believes passionately that the world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity,” Bowen said.

While pledging to update Labor’s medium-term emissions targets after the Glasgow summit, Bowen would not be drawn on whether the party would stand by its previous commitment to cut emissions by 45% by 2030, which had been derided as “economy wrecking” during the 2019 election campaign.

Given internal resistance, Morrison has abandoned efforts to formally increase the 2030 target in the lead-up to Glasgow, despite pressure from the US and the UK to lift interim targets to help keep only 1.5C of global warming within reach.

Bowen said he was prepared for an “inevitable” scare campaign once Labor’s medium-term position was revealed but he was confident Labor could win the election “with a good and ambitious climate policy.”

Morrison in parliament rejected suggestions the Coalition had adopted Labor’s position on net zero by 2050, saying the opposition had a target “with no plan”.

“The policy of the Coalition is to have a plan with a target. So people actually know what we plan to do to achieve the target that they want to achieve.”

The prime minister said details of the government’s plan would be released “soon enough”.

In a Senate estimates hearing, the Nationals Senate leader, Bridget McKenzie, was pushed to reveal details of the deal brokered between the Coalition parties but said she would not discuss a cabinet submission.

“The first rule of fight club is not to talk about fight club,” McKenzie said.

But the Nationals deputy leader, David Littleproud, said details of the agreement would be unveiled on Tuesday.

“We will be honest with the Australian people about this rather than just sign up blindly,” he said.

In the run-up to the Glasgow summit, the government is also expected to release an updated technology roadmap and the Treasury modelling that underpinned the net zero commitment, which Morrison has signalled will be presented to the United Nations as a nationally determined contribution.

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