Bridget McKenzie takes swipe at ‘vacuous’ Frydenberg over net zero

Nationals cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie has taken a swipe at her Liberal colleagues, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, labelling their support for a carbon neutral economy by 2050 the “worst kind of vacuousness over values”.

The Victorian senator, who holds several regional-based policy portfolios, says too many federal MPs were worried about being “cool” rather than “the consequences of their decisions”.

Bridget McKenzie says too many MPs want to be fashionable about climate change.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The junior Coalition partner – which is bitterly divided on the issue – has put off a likely fierce debate on a net-zero target until a planned face-to-face meeting on October 17, warning they will not be pushovers on any net zero emissions pact.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised his government will take a plan towards a carbon neutral economy to the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow at the end of next month but has not yet committed to a 2050 target.

Senator McKenzie singled out Mr Frydenberg, the member for the Melbourne seat of Kooyong, and Dave Sharma, who holds the Sydney seat of Wentworth, in her criticism as the debate over the target hits fever pitch within the federal government.

“It is easy for the member for Kooyong or the member for Wentworth to publicly embrace a net zero target before the government has a position, because there would be next to zero real impact on the way of life of their affluent constituents,” she wrote in The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday.

“Our people, by contrast, are generally living in the electorates with the lowest per capita incomes, while the industries that underpin our regional economies are emissions-intensive. Not just in coal, but farming, transport, manufacturing, food processing and more.”

Mr Frydenberg last week warned that unless Australia moved on a 2050 target, sanctions by capital markets would increase borrowing costs, affecting everything from home and business loans to big infrastructure investments.

He urged banks, insurers and superannuation funds to show they were serious about achieving net zero emissions by continuing to support traditional industries such as agriculture and mining.

But several colleagues have questioned the wisdom and timing of his remarks, given Mr Morrison was overseas dealing with climate negotiations with several world leaders and the delicate stage of negotiations with the Nationals.

Mr Sharma, who regained his blue ribbon seat from an independent last election, urged the federal government last week to adopt emissions reduction target of 40 to 45 per cent by 2035 to secure the nation’s net zero future.

Senator McKenzie said her partyroom had a wide range of strong views, including those who want a rapid adoption of renewable technologies, those who fear the costs of doing so and those who believe any Australian contribution to emissions reduction won’t make a difference to global efforts.

“I am absolutely certain of one thing, however. Every single Nationals MP, to a man and a woman, will fight to protect the people we represent,” she wrote.

“Our opposition to carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes – which is now bipartisan policy, by the way – is based on the realisation that they would not only have hurt our people, but would also not have resulted in a reduction in global emissions.“

Senator McKenzie’s reaction to her Liberal colleagues are less diplomatic than her leader, Barnaby Joyce, who last week said Mr Sharma was “a great bloke” and simply talking to his constituents.

“The seat of Wentworth in, you know, Bellevue Hill, Vaucluse and that area, they are great people and entitled to their views. Now I’ve got to represent the people out there and their jobs.”

Mr Joyce said on Monday it was a “very vexed issue” within his partyroom but his colleagues were unified on the fact they did not want to harm regional communities.

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