The Prime Minister Scott Morrison found himself in a very awkward spot on the day the world’s most authoritative climate science body released its latest report.
He was in the radio studio of one of the nation’s most strident global warming sceptics, Alan Jones. He was being hammered for not following Donald Trump out of Australia’s emissions reduction commitments made at the Paris conference in 2015.
His answers were instructive and politically dangerous for him with the Wentworth by-election just two weeks away.
Mr Morrison told Jones he wouldn’t be pulling out of Paris because it amounts to nothing anyway.
He said – contrary to his own government’s analysis – that Australia would meet its 26 per cent emission reductions by 2030 “in a canter”.
Furthermore, he said “what’s to be gained by ripping it [Paris] up? I don’t think there’s much to be gained … it’s not going to affect electricity prices.” And he says it doesn’t bind Australia to any of the international initiatives designed to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Mr Morrison waxed lyrical, informing Jones his government was not bound “to go and tip money into that big climate fund … I’m not going to spend money on global climate conferences and all that sort of nonsense. I’m not going to get in there”.
The Prime Minister received strong support from the Deputy Prime Minister, Nationals’ leader Michael McCormack. He dismissed the consensus of the Climate Panel’s 90 scientists and thousands of pieces of research, that coal should be virtually eliminated from electricity within 22 years. At risk is the world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr McCormack gave no weight to these warnings, saying why should he take notice “of some reports?”
It was all designed to play into the Nationals’ coal constituency and the Liberals’ hardline conservatives like Tony Abbott and Craig Kelly.
Liberal campaign workers in Wentworth are finding the greatest concern among voters is the belief the party has fallen into the hands of these very strident conservatives.
While many are resigned to the fate of their hero Malcolm Turnbull, they are worried his commitment to combatting climate change is also going by the board.
It is these very voters that former Liberal leader and member for Wentworth, John Hewson, appealed to at a rally on the weekend. He says the seat is “ripe for a protest vote”.
He’s urging voters to send a message to the government that they want it to take climate change seriously. They can do this in the knowledge that they will get a second chance to review their vote in six months’ time at the general election.
Liberal moderates are preparing to fight back against the conservatives who used Mr Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee as an excuse to dump him. They fear a wider voter backlash in other metropolitan seats unless the government comes up with a credible energy and climate policy.
It is sure to reignite the divisions that destroyed Mr Turnbull. They have been swept under the carpet ahead of the by-election.
But it is not only a Liberal implosion that is threatening. The Nationals are close to panic about their prospects at the election. Given that their MPs have been the most outspoken coal champions they will not give up their positions easily – if at all.
There is already talk that Mr McCormack is too accommodating of the Liberals and not cutting through. One strategist says last time under the colourful leadership of Barnaby Joyce the Nationals held their seats against the anti-government swing. They may have to go back to him to save the furniture, is the thinking.
It’s a recipe for electoral disaster in metropolitan seats around the country, according to one senior moderate.
It’s a toss up what is heating faster – the climate or internal Coalition politics.