Resources minister Keith Pitt pushes back against Josh Frydenberg, who has made the case for signing up to 2050 target.
The federal resources minister, Keith Pitt, has pushed back against Josh Frydenberg after the treasurer made the case for the government signing up to net zero emissions, declaring resources industry jobs were more important than “demands from foreign countries or the United Nations”.
The Queensland National told Guardian Australia anyone could front-run the government’s internal deliberations on climate policy ahead of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow but “there’s currently no proposal nor agreement”.
“Everyone’s entitled to float a boat and I’ll be putting the jobs of the more than one million Australians employed directly and indirectly in the Australian resources sector well in front of any demands from foreign countries or the United Nations secretariat,” Pitt said.
With metropolitan Liberals increasingly concerned the National party is dictating the terms of the government’s climate policy, Frydenberg made a significant public intervention on Friday, articulating the economic case for Australia to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.
The finance minister, Simon Birmingham, backed Frydenberg’s arguments and also signalled his opposition to offering the Nationals “handouts” to clinch a deal on climate policy in the lead-up to the crucial UN summit.
Government sources have told Guardian Australia the energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, is telling colleagues privately that the government could try to appease Nationals trenchantly opposed to the 2050 target with a halfway house ahead of Cop26.
The government could decline to explicitly endorse the specific mid-century commitment, while announcing a roadmap of actions that would set Australia on the net zero path.
But this landing point would be unacceptable to Liberals who believe Australia needs to make this transition, rather than pretend to make the transition. Internal tensions have escalated within the government over the past couple of weeks.
Without being definitive, Pitt has been signalling for months he is not supportive of a net zero commitment. His Queensland colleagues Matt Canavan and George Christensen – two of Barnaby Joyce’s most loyal supporters – have articulated more hardline views.
But the National party’s former leader Michael McCormack and the former frontbencher Darren Chester have this week argued the case for the government to either make the net zero pledge or give it serious consideration.
Chester says the Nationals needs to be able to appeal to younger voters. McCormack says the trade environment is changing, and Australia risks losing export income if its climate policies are out of step with key allies.
While Pitt insisted that jobs in the resources industry had to come first, some high-profile players have no issue with a net zero commitment.
Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, who has established a green hydrogen business, welcomed Frydenberg’s intervention. He said a net zero target was “critical for Australian businesses, Australian jobs, our communities, our children’s future, our world”.
“The planet is cooking and we are running out of time,” Forrest said in a statement. “That is why the action taken at Cop26 in November is so important.
“For this revolution to happen, we need targets. Targets are our last chance to slow, then stop, the planet cooking. Australian businesses need a target. Children of the world need Australia to act.”
Joyce, who is negotiating with Scott Morrison about the landing point, said on Friday the Nationals wanted to make sure “that we keep people in central Queensland in a job”.
“It’s very important to those in the blue-collar jobs in central Queensland that they’re able to pay for their house, pay for their car, keep themselves in the life that they’ve worked very hard for,” the deputy prime minister said.
Joyce was asked whether or not he supported the target, and he stepped around the question.
On Friday, Birmingham expressed confidence that the government could settle on a climate policy “in ways that protect jobs across Australia, especially in regional areas”.
When asked what the government would be prepared to pay to secure Joyce’s support, Birmingham indicated the government would avoid direct handouts.
“We always work through these issues carefully, and it’s important that Barnaby, I have every confidence he’s not, you know, seeking handouts in other ways,” Birmingham told Sky News.
The government is expected to outline its position next month.