Liberal MP Dave Sharma (Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

While some in the press gallery talk of a Scott Morrison “pivot” on climate action, the government’s actions, rather than rhetoric, remain those of a denialist funded by fossil-fuel donations.

The “gas-led recovery” and the fiction of carbon capture and storage remain government policy, there is no long-term emissions abatement target, and its 2030 emissions abatement target is laughably inadequate.

Nonetheless, many journalists think not cheating in order to achieve that target is some sort of serious shift, and report it as such.

That’s incited chatter from what are often called “Liberal moderates” about climate action. Dave Sharma, Wentworth MP and former Alexander Downer adviser when Timor-Leste was bugged, tweets regularly about how much the government is doing.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne says the government will “have a target with a proper plan” and “have ambition for zero emissions in the second half of the century”. Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg has taken time out from demonising industry super and The New Daily to claim his party takes climate seriously.

Liberals in urban seats face a growing push from within their communities on climate change — one that pushed denialist Tony Abbott right out of politics in 2019. Meantime hardliners in their ranks deny climate change, and they’re only able to govern because of the support they receive from an institutionally denialist party, the Nationals.

But the concept of the “Liberal moderate” pushing for action on climate change is a myth. There are no Liberal moderates on climate change. It’s not merely a matter of talking the talk but not walking the walk. There are only collaborators with extremists and denialists who have facilitated reckless and dangerous climate policies — and the attempt to peddle these policies overseas — and supported the government’s current attempts to support fossil fuels.

At every stage in the past decade when asked to support policies that would exacerbate climate change or stymie climate action, Liberal moderates have a near 100% record of supporting those policies, no matter how extreme.

Just three have voted against policies that exacerbated climate change in all that time: Malcolm Turnbull, Judith Troeth and Sue Boyce, who voted in 2009 in support of Turnbull’s deal for an emissions trading scheme with the Rudd government. Some so-called moderates like Greg Hunt gleefully joined Abbott in his climate denialist policies when he defeated Turnbull.

None have since — including Turnbull — who supported the repeal of the Gillard government’s successful and highly efficient carbon pricing scheme. Turnbull, of course, later lost his leadership after attempting to establish an energy policy that was at least neutral towards fossil fuels.

The repeal of the carbon pricing scheme. The abolition of the Climate Change Authority. The attempted abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The adoption of inadequate 2030 targets ahead of the Paris agreement. The funding of a coal-fired power station study. The adoption of a gas policy written by major gas producers. The adoption of carbon capture and storage as a serious abatement policy.

Each time “Liberal moderates” have stood up for climate inaction and fossil fuels, shoulder to shoulder with their denialist colleagues: facilitating climate denialism, working with climate criminals, enabling Australia’s increasingly lonely support for coal, gas and oil — and taking the donations of fossil-fuel producers.

A more accurate term for them is “collaborators” or “co-conspirators”.

If you want an actual Liberal moderate on climate change, look to Matt Kean in New South Wales. He has broken free of the entire denialist rhetoric about climate v jobs and other lies, and understands that renewable energy is a huge economic opportunity.

He gets that abandoning carbon and creating jobs and investment go together perfectly. And he’s unafraid to stand up to denialists in his own government.

That’s what it takes. Anyone else pretending to the title “Liberal moderate” is a fake, using that term to hide their collaboration, to portray them as pushing hard for genuine action behind the scenes in government when all they do is help strand Australia in a fossil-fuel fantasy.

Collaborators is what they should be termed. Anything else is self-interested rhetoric to hide inaction.

Peter Fray

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