Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing pressure within governments ranks over a report by Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel which includes a key proposal for a clean energy target.
Government MPs on Tuesday evening left a second party room meeting after more than three hours of discussion, which had followed on from an earlier presentation from Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg.
It’s understood about 30-odd MPs spoke up, with one-third including Tony Abbott expressed misgivings.
Another third were broadly supportive, while the remainder were non-committal but asked questions.
The former prime minister reiterated his concerns about power price affordability and the future prospects of coal usage.
Other MPs spoke about the gas market and the use of renewable energy.
The tone of the meeting was described as “inquiring”, “business-like” and with “no unpleasantness”.
Mr Frydenberg played down suggestions of a backlash.
“It was only right that we went to the party room today and had a full and frank discussion about what is happening in our electricity market, why we are facing higher prices, why there has been increased instability, all in the context, too, of our international agreements and targets,” he told ABC TV.
“There was an overwhelming feeling among those in the party room tonight that business-as-usual is not an option.”
The Finkel report released last Friday advocated a clean energy target which would require a proportion of electricity to come from generation below a set emissions level.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the clean energy target should be taken seriously by the coalition, and Mr Turnbull had again “failed on climate change”.
“Just when Australians thought that the climate change wars were over, it looks like a new civil war in the Liberal Party has taken it up to a new level,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Earlier, Mr Shorten asked the prime minister in parliament whether the government would work with the opposition to address a doubling in wholesale power prices, a rise in pollution and a fall in renewable energy jobs.
Mr Turnbull said Labor’s plan had “unrealistic targets, a 50 per cent reduction in emissions … and no idea of how to get there”.
Labor frontbencher Mark Butler asked the prime minister whether he supported Dr Finkel’s comment that “it would be surprising if governments were to endorse a scheme that incentivised” coal.
Mr Turnbull said the Finkel plan would not stop new coal-fired power stations being built.
“What he seeks to do there is to provide incentives for lower emission technologies including but not exclusively renewables,” Mr Turnbull said.
The government will need Labor or the crossbench’s support in the Senate to pass any laws to implement the Finkel plan.