Liberal MP Tony Abbott lashed out at the “social and economic costs” of climate action as he struggled to get ahead in a live Sky News candidate forum yesterday. The forum turned out to be a climate change debate in everything but name.

The pro-coal former Prime Minister locked horns with rival candidate Zali Steggall, who is standing as an Independent in Abbott’s once safe Liberal seat of Warringah in NSW.

Steggall said the Coalition has failed to deliver meaningful policy on climate action, renewable energy and electric vehicles (EV). In response, Abbott claimed people have a right to choose coal-fired power and fossil-fuel powered cars.

Steggall also told the Sky News audience Australia is not on track to meet its Paris Agreement obligation.

Former PM Tony Abbott is fending off Independent candidate Zali Steggall’s attempts to win his seat of Warringah.

Wind and solar power are the cheapest form of baseload power now available, she said. Yet the Coalition has overlooked renewables like solar panels. It has also failed to plan for an “orderly retirement” of ageing coal-fired power stations.

Steggall said a credible independent authority like the Reserve Bank could “take the politics out of climate change”. This also reduces the influence of powerful lobby group like the coal industry.

Only a bipartisan approach to energy and climate policy will safeguard our children’s future, Steggall added.

Tony Abbott responded, saying Australia should still meet the emission reductions of 26-28 per cent he signed up to while Prime Minister.

However, he added that overly ambitious targets will damage the economy. Because Australia only contributes 1.3 per cent of global emissions, he said emissions targets are a “futile gesture”.

He also criticised his rival candidate’s suggestion for a climate change commission. People need to take back control over their own lives, he said. Sub-contracting policies to experts or commissions stops people making their own decisions.

According to Steggall, government has many levers to make EVs more accessible to the Australian public. She said Norway already had 50 per cent EVs, while they make up only 0.2 per cent of new car sales in Australia.

Steggall warned Australia is therefore missing out on the global EV revolution, adding there would be no charging network ready for EVs when it happened here.

In response Abbott suggested Australia might create its own car industry – a suggestion met with incredulous laughter from the audience. The Abbott Government was responsible for scrapping subsidies which led to Holden shutting shop in Australia.

Abbott then reiterated Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s argument that EVs will push out much-loved utes and four-wheel drives.

In terms of supporting Labor or the Coalition if the election resulted in a hung parliament, Steggall replied:

“My preference when it comes to supply and confidence would be the Coalition. But when it comes to climate change I would back the best policy.”

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However she realizes that Labor is taking the high road in climate change debate, so by default they have that best policy that she seeks.

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