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'Tide is shifting' against Nationals on climate policy

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Federal Liberal MPs say the tide is turning against their Nationals colleagues opposed to Scott Morrison’s push for net-zero emissions by 2050.

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Tensions have been high in government ranks over an internal push to commit Australia to the emissions target, with the Nationals hitting out at the proposal and saying it would hurt the regions.

Yesterday, Nationals leader and deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said the government’s coalition partner could not support any emissions target without a guarantee to protect regional jobs and industries.

However, moderate Liberals are backing the plan and North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman says the climate measures will benefit regional areas.

“Right now, [the Nationals] are focused on what the economic transition would be, but the tide is shifting,” he said on Tuesday.

“It will be a driver of new jobs and industries and this is the silver lining of the climate change cloud.”

Zimmerman also said the prime minister had yet to make a decision on whether to attend in person a major global climate conference in Glasgow in November.

A survey of government backbenchers has found 12 – including Mr Zimmerman, Liberal senator Jim Molan, and former Nationals leader Michael McCormack –  support a net-zero emissions target.

But the majority of backbenchers have yet to commit, the survey published by The Australian found.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said a 2050 net-zero emissions target was achievable.

“Agriculture can play its part,” she told ABC television.

“I talk to my colleagues all the time, there’s a range of views …. We need to bring the Australian population with us.”

But Nationals MP have hit out at any potential net-zero plan, with senator and former Resources minister Matt Canavan indicating there would be no way he would support the measure at the expense of coal jobs.

“This is too great a cost for our country to bear,” he said.

“The UN said if you go to net-zero, you would have to end [the coal industry] by 2030, and it’s not something I can contemplate.”

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie also opposed the push, saying it was easy for urban Liberals like Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to push for the target because the impact on their “affluent constituents” would be minimal.

“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 emission-intensive,” she wrote in an opinion piece published in The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday.

A full Nationals party room meeting on the issue is not expected to be held until October 17, by which time Morrison could release more details.

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