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Coalition’s net-zero plan to include rural reviews

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Scott Morrison will outline plans to get to carbon neutrality ahead of his trip to Glasgow. Photo: AAP
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Federal cabinet has signed off on “safeguard” reviews of the economic impact of the government’s 2050 net-zero emissions target on rural and regional communities, ahead of a global climate summit.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who will leave Australia this week for the United National COP26 climate summit, said the Productivity Commission reviews would be conducted every five years.

“It will be a safeguard for rural and regional Australia,” he told The Australian on Tuesday, adding it would provide “accountability” for the government’s emissions plan.

“This will be a real-time ‘actual lived experiences’ assessment by the Productivity Commission.

“We will track what our emissions are but we will also track what our economic performance is.”

The reviews form part of a deal between the Liberals and the Nationals to secure the junior Coalition partner’s support for the emissions reduction target.

The remainder of what the Nationals will get in terms of protection for regional jobs and industry is expected to be spelled by Mr Morrison on Tuesday.

But it’s believed there might be a guarantee the government won’t pursue a US-style methane target, which could affect livestock farming and natural gas extraction in the regions.

There are also likely to be agreements on “economic infrastructure” and on-farm carbon abatement programs tied to the target.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the government would examine how the net-zero plan could be refined in coming years.

“This is not static, it’s been years in the making, built around the goals that our government had announced,” Senator Birmingham told ABC TV.

“These are the types of things we’ve got to focus on as a nation and a globe and that’s certainly what Scott Morrison will be expressing in Glasgow.”

Despite the agreement, some Nationals MPs remain critical, with Queensland senator Matt Canavan warning the net-zero target could cost the Coalition seats at the next election.

“I’ve heard from lots of people over the past day that they are very upset,” Senator Canavan told ABC radio.

“At the last election we said that a 45 per cent emissions reduction cut would cost more than 300,000 jobs and put a wrecking ball through the Australian economy.”

Senator Birmingham brushed off concerns about a campaign against the net-zero plan in key regional seats at the next election, which is due by May next year.

“It’s not unusual in the Liberal Party and National parties that we have people in our ranks who test these propositions,” he said.

“That testing helps make sure we address some of those other concerns.”

A majority of Nationals MPs were apparently won over by Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s argument that $20 billion of investment in low-emissions technologies over the next decade would leverage at least $80 billion in public and private investment by 2030 and 160,000 jobs.

Australia is the world’s fourth-largest energy exporter and its actions are considered crucial to reducing emissions and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

But Labor climate spokesman Chris Bowen said the fact that the government’s 2050 target won’t be legislated meant it wasn’t serious about change.

-AAP