Tensions within the Turnbull government over climate change have erupted with a skirmish over Australia’s commitment to the Paris agreement during a Senate hearing.
Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos was visibly frustrated during Thursday’s hearing in Canberra as former Howard government minister Ian Macdonald grilled the chief scientist over why Australia was sticking with the Paris climate pact.
He lamented Australia’s rising energy costs and asked why a nation contributing around one per cent of the world’s carbon emissions should take action.
His questions amid the growing expectation President Donald Trump will withdraw the US from the agreement on Friday (AEST).
The backbencher repeatedly sided with climate change sceptic Senator Malcolm Roberts in his arguments with the minister, and at one point complained Senator Sinodinos was out of order for shutting down One Nation senator’s conspiracy theories about fraudsters within NASA.
Senator Sinodinos hit back, suggesting the veteran Liberal was living in the past.
Australia’s high energy costs were partly caused by uncertainty around energy policy, he said, insisting the Paris agreement would help solve the problem.
“We make a lot of agreements and we make them as a small country because it’s in our interests,” Senator Sinodinos said.
“It’s in our interests to get stability around climate issues.”
Senator Macdonald rejected the minister’s explanation, insisting the world’s biggest emitter, China, was not taking action against climate change.
“I accept that’s your view and the government’s view – but I’m sorry, the facts are otherwise,” Senator Macdonald said.
The terse exchange had to be broken up by the committee chair, Senator Jane Hume, a fellow Liberal.
The verbal fracas cames as another Liberal MP, Craig Kelly, who chairs federal parliament’s environment committee, wrote on Facebook of having the “champagne on ice” for Mr Trump’s expected announcement.
The government insists it is committed to the Paris agreement and meeting its 2030 target.
Chief Scientist Alan Finkel said a US withdrawal would be a blow to the accord “but it’s not fatal”.
“We are a well-respected country and we have to show leadership,” he told the hearing.
Senator Roberts had earlier claimed NASA was manipulating climate data.
“You’re alleging that we’re dealing with a group of people who massage data and (are) essentially dishonest and fraudsters?” Senator Sinodinos asked.
“That’s a very serious allegation against a group of people who helped to propel us to the moon, who are held in very high regard across the world, with whom Australia has a very strong relationship.”
Senator Macdonald objected, insisting the Estimates hearing was for senators to ask questions without the minister querying their motives.