The Deputy Speaker of Australia’s House of Representatives has warned Prime Minister Scott Morrison not to blindside the Nationals party room in an effort to lock in a plan to cut carbon emissions.
- Llew O’Brien says he will not back any plan to cut carbon emissions unless it benefits his electorate
- He warned the PM against trying to pressure the Nationals into supporting such a plan ahead of this month’s major climate summit
- His Wide Bay electorate includes the Noosa Shire where the council has declared a climate emergency
Wide Bay MP Llew O’Brien, a long-time supporter of Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, said he had not even seen “the basics of a plan” about reaching net zero emissions, but said he would oppose signing up to any such goal if it risked penalising his constituents.
Mr Morrison is negotiating with the Nationals over how the government plans to meet a net-zero target by 2050, ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this month.
The Queensland MP said he was not going to back a long-term policy unless it was a good thing for his regions, which include the wealthy Noosa shire — where the local council has declared a climate emergency — as well as Maryborough and Gympie.
Mr O’Brien said he wanted the next generation to enjoy the environment, but also have access to health and education.
‘Which hospital do you want shut?’
Mr O’Brien said if a carbon emissions target put the resources industry at risk it could make those things harder to fund.
“I would be an irresponsible local member if I was committing to anything without seeing all of the detail and ensuring that anything that we signed up for was going to benefit the people of Wide Bay more than the people of Berlin or Paris or Stockholm.”
A report from The Business Council of Australia has found a more ambitious carbon emissions target could boost the economy by $890 billion and create 195,000 jobs over the next 50 years.
It has called for 46 to 50 per cent target for 2030 that would make it easier for Australia to hit that 2050 target.
Last month, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg publicly backed a 2050 goal for net zero emissions.
Mr Morrison himself has said he wants the same thing “preferably” by 2050.
US President Joe Biden has set the same goal, as had the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union.
Fast food giant McDonalds is also aiming to be a net zero emitter by the middle of the century.
Mr O’Brien left the Nationals party room early last year after backing Mr Joyce in an unsuccessful spill against then-leader Michael McCormack, but rejoined in December.Rebel voting for a cause
He remained on the crossbench as an LNP member during this time and continued to support the government.
He previously helped force the launch of the banking royal commission and the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide by threatening to cross the floor and voting against his own party.
Mr O’Brien said he would again be forced to fight the prime minister of the day if the Nationals were blindsided on climate targets.
“That would be a bad idea.
“That’s where they will see Llew O’Brien stand up and call it out.”
Late last week, Mr Morrison said he was looking forward to a “good faith process” about its new climate targets.
“I’ll be working that through, as a government, over the next few weeks obviously in the lead-up to COP26,” he said.
“We want the best for the environment, and we want to do the right thing for the world, as we always have.”
PM faces bind over target
Bron Stevens has lectured in politics and international relations for more than 30 years, including at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
She said Mr O’Brien’s comments put the PM in a “bind” as he attempts to negotiate the deal.
“The sixth IPCC report is so clear, and the actual observational findings are so real, that it’s really hard to see how anybody can rationally reject it. Though they do.”
She said the Liberal MPs in the capital cities are pushing one way, but regional MPs in the coalition are going the other.
“The country, on the whole, is moving itself towards ‘we have to do something’, but the Nationals seem to be fairly substantially split,” Ms Stevens said.
MP says climate warnings ‘alarmism’
Mr O’Brien also said there was “a lot of alarmism that’s designed to scare people” about climate change, and the country’s focus should be on reducing the national debt driven up by the pandemic.
But not all of his electorate is on the same page.
The Noosa Shire Council, in a southern corner of the Wide Bay electorate, declared a climate emergency in 2019 and has vowed to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2026 — a policy it adopted five years ago.
The council has also released a draft plan on how it will respond to likely sea level rises between now and the end of the century which will affect “a significant number of beachfront private dwellings” in Sunrise and Sunshine Beach.
Mr O’Brien said he would look at any proposal from the government and give it due consideration.
“But that’s not going to be the plan.
“Right about now we’re getting very close to it, and these are things that also need a lot of scrutiny.”
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