Former prime minister Tony Abbott has fired a warning shot to Malcolm Turnbull over energy policy, saying he will cross the floor if the government tries to legislate a clean energy target.
The Australian quoted a government source on Wednesday saying Mr Abbott had made clear he would not vote for a clean energy target.
The Turnbull government has a one-seat majority, underlining the potential impact of a rebellion from Mr Abbott or other Coalition MPs.
Up to six Coalition MPs were likely to follow the former prime minister’s lead, the paper said.
In an interview with Alan Jones and his former chief of staff Peta Credlin on Tuesday night, Mr Abbott said there was “no chance” the party room would support a “significant increase in the amount of renewables in our system”.
Asked if he would support a clean energy target, Mr Abbott replied: “It would be unconscionable, I underline that word unconscionable, for a government that was originally elected promising to abolish the carbon tax and end Labor’s climate change obsessions to go further down the renewables path.”
The former PM also wrote in an opinion piece in News Corp on Wednesday that “this is where the Liberal and National backbench might need to save the government from itself”.
The clean energy target is the key recommendation from the chief scientist Alan Finkel’s report into Australia’s energy future.
The report, commissioned by the government, was intended to help the government develop an energy policy amid years of division within the Coalition and across the Parliament.
The government has not ruled out pursuing a clean energy target, but Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said last week that a report from the Australian Energy Market Operator had “reset the debate”.
That report warned that Australia risked blackouts over summer due to a shortfall in baseload power, prompting attempts from the government keep open the AGL-owned Liddell coal power station in the Hunter Valley.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) September 19, 2017
A clean energy target would provide incentives for low emission forms of energy generation. So-called clean coal such as carbon capture and storage and new HELE coal plants could potentially be considered “clean energy”, depending on how the target was formulated.
Labor previously indicated a desire to compromise over the clean energy target. But it remains wary of any mechanism that would incentivise new coal projects, arguing a preference for more gas power instead.
“Coal is going to be part of our energy mix going forward, let me be very clear on that,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on Wednesday.
“But what Australia needs is we need an end to the war on renewable energy which Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party are pursuing.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull repeatedly dodged questions on Mr Abbott’s intervention on Wednesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said as a backbencher the former PM was entitled to “ventilate” his views.
But he told Sky News that he would surprised if Mr Abbott did anything to help Bill Shorten into the lodge.
“I don’t think a former prime minister is going to move to put a Labor government into power,” he said.
Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Abbott said that Australia’s attempts to reduce emissions would not make a significant impact globally.
Emphasising his support for coal fired power, he said: “We have Snowy 2.0. Let’s have Hazelwood 2.0.”
Victoria’s Hazelwood power station stopped operating earlier in the year after French operator Engie suddenly announced it would close the facility.