LNP net-zero position unclear: Labor

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Nationals senator Matt Canavan has declared a net-zero target "dead" as Prime Minister Scott Morrison reaffirmed his party's pledge as "absolute policy".

Mr Morrison on Wednesday defended the government's target of net-zero emissions by 2050, following comments made by a coalition candidate who described it as not binding.

Senator Canavan went further, telling the ABC: "Net zero is dead anyway. Boris Johnson said he is pausing it, Germany is building coal and gas infrastructure, Italy is reopening coal-fired power plants - it's all over."

Colin Boyce, the LNP candidate for the Queensland seat of Flynn, labelled the commitment "flexible" and noted "wiggle room" within it, a view Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce described as "completely understandable".

The comments prompted Labor to demand the prime minister clarify the government's position.

"Scott Morrison has a job to do today. Is net zero a firm commitment of the government? Or is it simply a flexible guideline as the candidate for Flynn has said?" opposition energy spokesman Chris Bowen told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

Mr Bowen said the coalition was saying one thing on climate change in seats such as Hinkler in Queensland, and another in Higgins in metropolitan Melbourne and Queens Park in eastern Sydney.

"They want to be on both sides of the stream - well they can't be."

Mr Morrison claimed Mr Boyce was talking about the pathway to net zero, rather than the strength of the pledge.

"He wasn't talking about the commitment itself, he has clarified that," he told reporters in Townsville.

"Our commitment to net zero by 2050 is a commitment of the Australian government that I made in Glasgow. It is the government's absolute policy."

Mr Boyce earlier said the net-zero pledge would not be legislated, although moderate Liberal MP Dave Sharma has previously described it as binding.

"It leaves us wiggle room as we proceed into the future. Morrison's statement that he has made is not binding," Mr Boyce told the ABC on Tuesday.

The Liberals and Nationals agreed to an unlegislated target of net-zero emissions by 2050, following tense negotiations ahead of the COP26 UN climate change conference in late 2021.

Mr Joyce acknowledged the government was on a pathway to net zero, but insisted major export sectors such as coal could not be exited immediately.

"We have acknowledged that, along that pathway, it is not a lineal form," he told reporters in Shepparton while campaigning in central Victoria.

"We understand that for this nation's economy to prevail, we cannot just step aside from our second biggest export or our third biggest export - that would be completely and utterly economically irresponsible."

Asked whether Labor's own climate targets were designed to appeal to voters in a number of marginal seats, Mr Bowen said the party's targets would be sold nationwide.

Labor is aiming for a 43 per cent emissions cut by 2030, exceeding the government's forecast figure of 35 per cent, but falling well short of a 75 per cent pledge by the Greens.

But Labor's foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong said their targets would not be heightened as Pacific nations call for greater actions.

Labor had previously pointed to the government's lack of climate change action as one reason the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China.

"We will be a genuine partner (on climate change) ... there are obviously areas where people would like us to go further, any minister who's represented the nation knows that internationally," Ms Wong said.

"But what we will not do is treat them disrespectfully and in the way this government has, which has in part been a contribution to the situation within the Pacific."

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