News Corp and business council backflips on climate don’t mean mission accomplished, Labor warns

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<span>Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP</span>
Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Chris Bowen has warned that the Business Council of Australia and News Corp’s recent conversions to climate action does not mean mission accomplished for evidence-based policy to combat the risks of global heating, because misinformation will probably intensify.

Bowen, the shadow climate change minister, welcomed the more positive posture from the BCA, which now champions ambitious targets, and from News Corp – a trenchant media opponent of climate action that has now launched the “Mission Zero” editorial project.

But he said the new, “still early days” consensus in evidence this week, could easily fracture.

As cabinet on Wednesday considers the new roadmap Scott Morrison wants to unveil before the Cop26 in Glasgow, and the prime minister continues efforts to persuade Nationals to adopt a net zero target by 2050, Bowen said the Coalition needed to set a more ambitious target for 2030.

He said if Morrison failed to do that in coming days, Labor would up the policy ante. Bowen said Labor wanted to give the Coalition “one last chance and some room to maybe get it right” – but the Abbott-era 26 to 28% cut in emissions by 2030 was unacceptable.

“If the government doesn’t [increase the target], then we will outline our roadmap to net zero by 2050 with strong medium term ambition before the next election.”

Related: More Australians than ever are worried about the climate crisis, annual survey suggests

Earlier, the leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Bridget McKenzie, distanced her party from “the Liberal party’s plan” to cut emissions, declaring there will be “no deal unless it’s right for the regions”.

Morrison is attempting to persuade the National party to sign on to a 2050 net zero target. It is unclear whether the prime minister will also adjust the 2030 target.

While Liberals are optimistic that agreement with the junior Coalition partner can be reached, a number of Nationals – particularly from Queensland – oppose the shift.

McKenzie said the Nationals had “stood firm during this long debate” on climate policy and wanted to be “respected as the second party of government”.

“It hasn’t made us popular in certain dinner party circles but we’ve actually been able to avoid very bad outcomes for our country and our communities,” the Victorian Nationals senator told ABC Radio National on Wednesday. “There is no deal unless it’s right for the regions.”

Asked if it was right for the regions to get to net zero by 2050, McKenzie said: “Well, leader after leader of major parties have fallen on one simple point – that is that it hasn’t been right. We represent the poorest, the most marginalised people in the country – out of sight out of mind.”

McKenzie played down job opportunities in the renewable energy sector compared with mining.

After saying it was “fantastic” that a large solar farm in the NSW town of Moree had provided “a couple of hundred jobs during construction”, she added: “You know how many jobs are there right now? Five – and they’re mostly mowing the lawns under the panels.”

McKenzie would not be drawn on the proposed roadmap that has been considered by the government leadership group, saying the discussions were confidential.

“You’ll have to ask the Liberal party minister, Angus Taylor, because it’s the Liberal party’s plan,” she said.

McKenzie and fellow Nationals frontbenchers David Littleproud and Keith Pitt were briefed for the first time on Monday afternoon on the roadmap that has been worked up by the energy and emissions reduction minister, Taylor, with input from across the government. The Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, was in Monday’s briefing.

The roadmap includes assessments about when particular technologies would kick in to enable a transition to net zero emissions by mid-century.

Taylor was asked by the Nationals to provide more detail about the economic analysis underpinning the proposed roadmap for Wednesday’s cabinet deliberation. Some insiders insist the negotiation has a long way to go, and internal perceptions vary about the level of base support inside the Nationals for a climate policy pivot.

McKenzie’s comments essentially reaffirm the National party’s positioning before a scheduled party room meeting on Sunday, although the Victorian MP Darren Chester has sounded more optimistic about a deal, saying he thinks there’s “about a 95% chance” the Nationals will line up behind a net zero target.

Chester is now on a break from his party room because of escalating tensions with Joyce on a range of fronts.

Littleproud, the deputy leader of the Nationals, was upbeat about the prospect of a “pragmatic” outcome. He said the prime minister had “given the National party much comfort” by assuring them that rural and regional Australia “won’t foot the bill this time”.

“So we’ll just work through that roadmap with our National party colleagues over the coming days and make sure that we can all get comfort and understanding the impact on our local communities, and then make a pragmatic decision,” Littleproud told Sky News on Wednesday.

Bowen told Wednesday’s webinar net zero was the “bare minimum” required in any climate policy. He suggested the BCA, which branded Labor’s 45% emissions reduction target at the 2019 election as “economy wrecking” before deciding last week to champion a higher target, had made it easier for Labor to champion ambition.

“I think it’s going to be harder for the government to engage in [a] scare campaign about job losses when the BCA’s evidence is so clear,” the shadow climate minister said.

But he said progressives should not “just assume that means … a whole bunch of people will now support action on climate change”, adding people championing ambition “have to counter the misinformation – it will still be there”.

On Wednesday, the Liberal environment minister, Sussan Ley, said she wanted Australia to be “heading to net zero and doing it with confidence and seizing the opportunities it provides”.

Ley told the ABC there were “huge advantages” for rural and regional Australia, and opportunities for agriculture.

Asked about the push by moderate Liberals and Australia’s international allies to strengthen the 2030 target – now at the Abbott-era level of a 26% to 28% cut compared with 2005 – Ley repeated the government’s longstanding talking point about “meeting and beating” that threshold.

Ley said she would leave the issue of interim targets to the “very live” internal government discussions.

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