Regional Australia has “footed the bill” for Australia’s “social conscience” on climate change for too long and won’t be rushed into a net zero target, David Littleproud says.
The deputy Nationals leader made the comments ahead of Prime Minister Scott Morrison attending a virtual summit held by US President Joe Biden later this week.
Australia has been an international pariah on climate change, consistently refusing to follow other Western powers by committing to a net zero emissions target by 2050.
Mr Morrison has softened his stance in recent months, saying Australia intended to reach net zero “as quickly as possible and preferably by 2050”.
But Mr Littleproud said on Wednesday any move towards net zero would not come at the cost of the regions.
“We’ve footed the bill for the social conscience of this nation for far too long,” Mr Littleproud told Sky News.
“We’ve done the heavy lifting and we can’t continue to foot that bill for the nation. We’re prepared to look at it in an open, transparent way to see how we get there and who pays for it.”
The government on Tuesday announced $539.2m in funding for clean hydrogen and carbon capture technologies it claimed would create 2500 jobs.
Mr Littleproud said the government was taking practical steps to reduce emissions, claiming just 16 of the 130 countries to commit to net zero had outlined how they intended to reach the target.
“At the moment it’s a lot of platitudes,” he said.
“I think Australia’s an honest country. If we’re going to commit to it, we’re going to look the people down the eye and tell them how we’re going to get there and who pays for it.”
Nationals senator Matt Canavan said on Wednesday thousands of Australians relied on carbon-emitting industries for work, a fact that “is not changing anytime soon”.
“Trying to think otherwise is like the 10-year-old kid who gets up on his parents’ roof, thinks he is Superman and jumps off,” he told Today.
“He doesn’t have the technology and falls flat on his face. We don’t have these technologies, they’re not coming anytime soon.”
Mr Canavan described a net zero target without an adequate road map as “wishful thinking on steroids”, saying China would be the only beneficiary of Australia moving too soon.
But Mr Littleproud rejected suggestions the comments could spark another “war” within the Coalition on climate policy, saying it was “healthy” to have a diversity of ideas.
Australian exporters to Europe were set to face tariffs after the European parliament rubber-stamped a plan to introduce a carbon levy on countries showing a “lack of co-operation” on climate action.
Mr Littleproud lashed the bloc, saying 21 of 27 European Union member states were not on track to meet their 2030 targets.
“They’re imposing a moral tariff on us about a 2050 commitment and saying, ‘Well, just trust us, we’re going to meet 2050’,” he said.
“I mean, let’s get real about this, and I think there needs to be some honesty.”
It comes after the UK’s conservative government unveiled plans to slash emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared with 1990 levels.
The plan, described by Westminster as “the world’s most ambitious climate change target”, comes five months after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson banned Mr Morrison from a virtual climate summit hosted by the UK.
The UK said Australia’s climate objectives were not sufficiently ambitious to warrant a seat at the table.