AS the issue of ‘Net Zero’ by 2050 took centre stage in Canberra this week, the Nationals Party Room spent hours debating the issue, struggling to reach consensus on its position on the policy.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made his mind up to travel to the Cop26 Climate Conference in Glasgow at the end of October, where he is expected commit Australia to meeting net zero emissions by 2050, saying that not to do so would put Australia’s national security at risk.

Speaking earlier in the week, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said his party was not taking a haphazard approach to its climate change policy, and pledged to keep the Federal Government intact.

“We have to make sure that we don’t put our nation in the position that the United Kingdom finds itself in because the renewable energy isn’t filling the void as the modelling said it would,” he said.

“I believe in coal fired power and there’s a capacity for us to have base load deliverable power.

“I acknowledge fully that the Prime Minister as leader of the Cabinet has right to go to Glasgow and state his position. However, I think everybody understands that it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Nationals agree to this − not by a long shot.

“We will do our earnest and best endeavours to try and make sure that we set a path where we keep harmony in the Coalition.”

Member for Mallee Anne Webster has been in Canberra for all of the fun this week and she spoke to the ‘Weekly about the debate, saying that she was confident that agreement could ultimately be reached.

“I think we are heading in the right direction. It needs to be remembered that we only received the plan on Sunday and we talked for four hours,” she said.

“We have vastly divergent views in the National Party Room, fundamentally because we represent different parts of Australia.

“I have always been spruiking renewables and clean energy in Mallee, because that’s predominately what we have. We don’t have fossil fuels so it’s an easy argument for me.

“We want to be at the centre of hydrogen development and at the centre of investment to improve our grid uptake and to ensure we are doing everything we can to provide support for innovative solutions for farmers.

“Whether that be carbon soil bio diversity, revegetation projects or funding research and development to improve our output.”

Dr Webster said reducing the amount of heavy transport in our region will assist in reducing emissions.

“This is why I have been pushing for the completion of the Murray Basin Rail Project, including the standardisation of the Ballarat line, because it will assist in reducing our carbon emissions by having freight largely go on rail. At present there is a significant proportion that can’t,” she said.

“I know that some people may think that we have dragged-the-chain on this and that we are being obstructionist, that as someone said we are the tail wagging the dog, but it’s not like that.

“For those of us who represent regional communities, we want to make sure that our communities are not going to bare the brunt of the decisions that we make.

“Closing down our primary industries is not an option. We have to find ways to reach net zero without decimating our iron ore without decimating our coal exports at this point in time because that it was Australia is riding on.”

Nuclear energy should be on the table for discussion

Even with the use of hydrogen, wind and solar, it is generally acknowledged that they alone won’t generate enough energy to replace the base load power that coal fired power stations currently provide on the Australian eastern seaboard and now many people are saying that nuclear energy has to be in the mix and that the discussion should be on the table.

Dr Webster said that technology will provide the pathway to reaching net zero by 2050 and that lifting the moratorium on nuclear energy should be on the table for discussion.

“It makes no sense to me to be talking about net zero emissions without having that conversation,” she said.

“We are the largest natural resource for uranium in the world, we export it quite happily, and the fact is nuclear is one of the cleanest forms of energy that we have.”

During her visit to Mildura earlier this year, Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience Senator Bridget McKenzie also said that all options, including nuclear generated electricity, should be on the table for discussion.

“I think we’ve all been very clear, whether it is the former leader, the current leader, the Senate leader or the Deputy Leader, David Littleproud, on behalf of the party room over a long period of time, when it comes to a net zero emissions, commitment by 2050, we want to understand as the party that represents rural and regional Australia, what the implications are going to be of that decision,” Senator McKenzie said.

“And it is only fair, right and just and responsible of us to ask that question.

“And it is only respectful and collaborative for our Coalition partners to have the courtesy to have that conversation. That’s all we’ve been saying.

“Now a lot of people have chosen to make mischief with that and let’s face it, the National Party Federal party room is a broad church when it comes to matters of climate change and emissions reduction.”

“Labor’s leader Anthony Albanese weighed into the debate this week saying that it was extraordinary that the Nationals spent four hours on Sunday debating whether they would support a decision that was made in the Cabinet last week.

“You had the Prime Minister not even in the room when decisions are being made and you have a government and indeed a nation being hostage to a few people in the National Party,” he said.

“We all know that it is in Australia’s economic interest to have action on climate change including net zero by 2050 and a pathway to get there.

“If it’s good for the economy now, the question for the government is what has the cost of their eight years of inaction and putting politics before the national interest, been?

“Eight years of policy announcements that are never delivered and that has occurred on more than 20 occasions.”

By JOHN DOOLEY