Labor denies breakaway pro-coal group points to division on climate policy | Australia news


Labor MPs have sought to downplay suggestions of a breakaway pro-coal group within the party, as the Coalition seized on the report to accuse the opposition of divisions over climate policy.

Following a report by Channel Ten on Wednesday night that a group of about 20 right-aligned Labor MPs dined regularly to canvass policies in support of coal workers, attention shifted from the Coalition’s internal ructions over climate policy to Labor.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said he had been unaware of the factional dinner, but downplayed its significance, and said his MPs were united on wanting action on emissions reduction.

“That’s what happens in Canberra – people go out and people chat about ideas. There is nothing unusual about this,” he said.

“The Labor party is united in our position that climate change is real, that we need to act on lowering our emissions.

“Good action on climate change means more jobs, lower emissions and lower energy prices.”

The Channel Ten report said that the group of 20 MPs had become known as the “Otis group” in reference to their restaurant of choice in Canberra.

The senior right-aligned senator Don Farrell said the group was made up of “good solid Labor people, interested in supporting coal workers”.

The Coalition turned on Labor over the report in parliament on Thursday, with the prime minister, Scott Morrison, accusing the opposition of having “no alternative policy” on climate change.

“When 20 members of the Labor party gather at the Otis restaurant, what I’m more mystified by is that they can actually find a consistent position of the leader of the opposition that they can actually oppose,” Morrison said.

“I’m staggered that they can find any consistency in the leader of the opposition’s policy on emissions or electricity or coal or any of these things, because he has it each way every day.

“My advice to those who are meeting down at the Otis regularly is to just wait until tomorrow because he’ll have another policy.”

The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, who is facing an uprising from Queensland Nationals over his leadership style, used a question on the party’s approach to developing regional Australia to also target Labor over its “rebel group”.

He read from a menu from the Otis restaurant to say that the Labor MP for the seat of Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, had “egg all over his face” over the report.

McCormack faced a spill motion last week, largely driven by disgruntled Nationals MPs who want the Coalition to support the development of a new coal-fired power station in Queensland.

Both the Coalition and Labor are grappling with how best to frame climate change policy ahead of the next election, with the parties under pressure to take action without losing political ground in coal-mining seats in Queensland and New South Wales.

Nationals MPs are arguing that the Coalition won the election on the back of support from regional Queensland, where the LNP promised support for a feasibility study into a coal-fired power station in Collinsville in the seat of Capricornia.

But moderate MPs want the government to adopt a more “ambitious” climate change policy to respond to the concerns in inner city Liberal-held seats, including some who want to sign up to the commitment of a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050.

Two moderate Liberal MPs – Trent Zimmerman and Dave Sharma – have also both declared that the federal government should not be in the business of underwriting coal-fired power stations.

The minister for emissions reduction, Angus Taylor, told parliament on Thursday that the government was considering “all technologies”, including renewables and coal.

“We’ll support all technology that drives down the price of electricity, that keeps the lights on and that brings down emissions,” Taylor said.

For Labor, the meeting of right-aligned Labor MPs comes as Albanese indicates the party won’t be rushed into announcing a new climate change policy.

While the party’s shadow minister for climate change, Mark Butler, said after the election that the party’s policies for ambitious action are “unshakeable”, some of the party’s MPs have warned against moving too far to the left.

On Sunday, the party’s deputy leader, Richard Marles, did not rule out Labor supporting new coal developments, saying coal would remain an important part of the economy for “decades to come”.

Labor’s shadow resources minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, who suffered a large swing against him in the coal seat of Hunter, has also been agitating for the party to do more to support the mining industry.

But amid the simmering tensions, MPs sought to downplay the Otis group’s significance, with Marles calling the report of the dinner a “total beat up”.

“At the end of the day, people were having a dinner,” he told Sky News.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

The Victorian senator Kimberley Kitching said on Twitter that she was “pro coal-worker” and all workers, but was also “passionate about renewables and the jobs they bring”.

“ALP conferences determine policy not dinner parties,” she said.



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