Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 20 April 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew MearesAn emissions intensity scheme could become official policy of the NSW Nationals on Friday, a move that would represent a split from the federal leadership and a challenge to the Turnbull government’s climate change agenda.
After the state’s Young Nationals backed the contentious proposal in April, the motion will be on the agenda at the party’s annual conference, a two-day gathering that will draw hundreds of rank-and-file supporters, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
The call for a national emissions intensity scheme will be hotly contested as will the removal of abortion from the NSW Crimes Act and an increased Syrian refugee intake.
The policy battles highlight the generational evolution taking place within the party, which is deeply conservative at a parliamentary level but more socially and environmentally progressive among younger members.
Jess Price-Purnell, chair of the NSW Young Nationals, said rural and regional Australians could see climate change happening and younger residents were generally more open-minded.
“I’ve got a child and am pregnant with a second and I’d quite like them to be able to breathe the air and drink the water when they grow up,” Ms Price-Purnell said.
“I’m not happy to sit by and do nothing. I’m a big believer in changing things that need to be changed. Even if the motion doesn’t get up, we’re excited about starting the conversation about future-proofing ourselves and our energy security.”
Several attendees said it was difficult to predict the outcome of the vote but said the motion had attracted strong support and had a good chance of passing. One source predicted “probably not but I wouldn’t stake my life on that”.
The chair of the party’s NSW Women’s Council, Claire Coulton, said many farmers were concerned about the implications of climate change for the bush.
“We absolutely need a proactive stance, whether or not that’s an emissions trading scheme, the important thing is that we’re debating it so that people understand it’s important,” Ms Coulton told Fairfax Media.
Ms Coulton is the daughter of Mark Coulton, the Nationals MP for Parkes, who stands with Mr Joyce in opposing stronger action on climate change.
Small Business Minister Michael McCormack, a senior NSW National, said industry did not need another version of a carbon tax but welcomed free-flowing and “vigorous” grassroots debate.
“While I appreciate we need to work towards a lower emissions economy, we can do it ways other than starting a process which may well end up an impost on business, on farmers and families,” he said.
An emissions intensity scheme would impose limits on how much a power station can freely emit. Cleaner generators that emit less than the limit earn credits, and sell them to high-emitting generators above the baseline.
Mr Joyce has expressed disbelief in climate change science and said he was “surprised” when the NSW youth wing backed an emissions intensity scheme.
Late last year, after saying all options were on the table in a review of Australia’s future energy sources, Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg was quickly forced to rule out an EIS following a backbench backlash.
The NSW Young Nationals also broke with their federal leaders in 2015, calling for the legalisation of same-sex marriage and a free vote in the Coalition party room.
Mr Joyce, NSW party leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will address the conference on Friday.
Among a total 65 motions to be debated, others concern a royal commission into the banks, mental health, needs-based schools funding and electricity prices.