Zali Steggall’s climate change push has the backing of the bulk of the Lower House crossbench. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
Pressure is building on the Federal Government to do more to address climate change with politicians now turning to Australians to ask for their help, as Parliament continues to bicker over the best way forward.
- Crossbench MPs are united in a push pressuring the Government to cut carbon emissions
- It comes as Nationals and Liberals bicker over Government funding new coal-fired power plants
- Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull dubs a push for Government funding for coal “nuts”
Independent MP Zali Steggall, who toppled former prime minister Tony Abbott from his Sydney blue ribbon seat of Warringah, announced on Monday she would introduce a private member’s bill to Parliament.
“This is for the long-term safety of Australians,” she said.
Her parliamentary push comes as tension between the Coalition parties bubble over, with Liberal and Nationals MPs openly criticising each other despite sitting on the same Government benches.
Some in the Nationals are pushing for new coal-fired power plants, a bid urban Liberals in socially progressive electorates are resisting.
The former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has even weighed into the debate and has slapped down the rhetoric some Nationals have put forward.
Ms Steggall wants a national plan to further reduce emissions, which would be guided by the establishment of an independent climate change commission (CCC) that would advise the Government and Parliament.
While it has the support of the crossbench, the bill is expected to fail because it does not have the backing of Labor and the Government.
Zali Steggall addressed a climate rally on the front lawns of Parliament House on the first sitting day of the year. (ABC News: Sean Davey)
But Ms Steggall remains confident she can convince some MPs in the major parties to change their minds and believes voters could help play a role.
“Let’s burst the bubble of Canberra,” she told reporters in Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison often uses the term “Canberra bubble” when dismissing questions from journalists.
Ms Steggall said the Prime Minister cannot ignore voters and has set up a website outlining how Australians can get in touch with their local MP to voice their concerns.
She is hopeful people power will force the Government to act.
“2020 is a new decade. Let’s run a line in the sand on the past divisions we have had,” Ms Steggall said.
Climate change protesters outside Parliament House for the first sitting of the year. (ABC News: Sean Davey)
‘It’s been a fault line in the Coalition for a long time’
While the debate on climate change intensifies, a handful of Nationals have been agitating for greater Commonwealth investment in coal.
Mr Turnbull, who was in Canberra for the Indonesian President’s visit, said the issue has been a “fault line” within the Coalition for some time.
“Those people who are advocating that the Government should fund coal-fired power are basically making a case for higher emissions and higher energy prices and that is nuts,” he said.
At the weekend, the Federal Government announced a $4-million feasibility study for a proposed coal mine in Queensland.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has downplayed the prospect of federal money being pumped into the project long term.
“Ultimately, a project like that will have to stack up commercially, it will have to stack up on its own right, and that is obviously a matter for after the feasibility study,” he said.
But the message being issued by his colleague, Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen, couldn’t be more different.
“In North Queensland, a clean coal-fired power project has been granted $4 million by the Morrison Government for planning works to get the project to construction stage,” he said in a statement.
Dave Sharma rebuffed Nationals MPs’ push for the Government to fund new coal-fired power plants. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
In a clear sign the debate is escalating within the Coalition, Sydney Liberal MPs took to Sky News to rebuff any suggestion that federal money should be used.
“I don’t think we should be funding coal fire power stations,” Liberal MP Trent Mr Zimmerman said.
Sources have told the ABC that politicians like Mr Zimmerman and Dave Sharma, in the neighbouring seat of Wentworth, are facing pressures in their once safe Liberal seats.
Senior Liberal figures fear supporting new coal powerplants will put the safety of urban Liberal seats at risk.
“I can’t see us in a position where the Government is underwriting a new coal-fired power station,” Mr Sharma told Sky News.
“Certainly, there’s a case to be made to extend the life of existing coal-fired power assets and if the private sector wants to come in and do this then that’s a different proposition.”
George Christensen wants the Federal Government to help fund new coal-fired power plants. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)
New emissions target
The Federal Government is assessing what emissions targets it will pursue beyond 2030.
A number of countries have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Senator Cormann confirmed that was under consideration in Australia.
“We will consider over the next few months and in good time before COP 26 in Glasgow what our 30-year target should be to 2050,” he said.
“We will be guided by wanting to have an agenda that is environmentally effective and economically responsible.”
While the Government argues changes to climate policy need to be considered in the context of the broader economy, Ms Steggall said it would be more costly not to act.
“What we have seen over this summer … is businesses grind to a halt due to air pollution, we’ve had regional communities devastated by drought and productivity down, we’ve had bushfire communities shut down for months,” she said.
“Business as usual is not a zero-sum game.”