'Lonely minority whistling Dixie': Liberals ridicule Nationals over coal power
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'Lonely minority whistling Dixie': Liberals ridicule Nationals over coal power

Liberal MPs have spoken out en masse to ridicule their Nationals colleagues over a push for a government-backed coal power station in Queensland, blasting the idea as unworkable and economically illiterate.

The drive for a new coal-fired power station - led by National Party leader-in-exile Barnaby Joyce - has exposed a damaging divide in the Coalition just two months before the election.

Opposed: Trevor Evans, Trent Zimmerman and Tim Wilson slammed their Nationals colleagues over the idea.

Opposed: Trevor Evans, Trent Zimmerman and Tim Wilson slammed their Nationals colleagues over the idea.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The idea was slapped down by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday, who argued such a proposal would never be approved by the Queensland Labor government.

His MPs in the Liberal party room went much further, however, saying it was unthinkable the Coalition would support a government-funded coal-fired power station, and demanding "discipline" from their colleagues.

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Their message was also directed at MPs on the right of their own party inclined to support underwriting a coal power plant.

"The economics don’t stack up, the federal government has zero experience in it, and quite frankly the party room would not support it. I would not vote for that," Brisbane MP Trevor Evans told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit:

"In terms of there even being a suggestion that this should be done – I would characterise it as a very small and lonely minority whistling Dixie on this."

Liberal MP Tim Wilson, who eschews the term "moderate" in favour of "modern Liberal", applauded the Prime Minister for hosing down the Nationals suggestion, and called on his colleagues to show "discipline".

"I presume the intention is to deliver lower prices? When has government building anything led to lower prices?" he asked.

"We have a policy and what we need is discipline so we can deliver our reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable electricity plan before and after the election."

Victorian Liberal senator Jane Hume said a "sensible government" would not build a coal-fired power station.

Victorian Liberal senator Jane Hume said a "sensible government" would not build a coal-fired power station.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Victorian Liberal senator Jane Hume, a former investment banker, said the government's Snowy 2.0 and Tasmanian hydro projects enjoyed strong support in the party room.

"A sensible government should not be in the business of funding, owning and operating a new coal fire power station if the market has already determined that it doesn't stack up financially," she said.

North Sydney Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, a leader of the moderate faction in NSW, cited the "strong stream of renewables coming online" as a reason to resist the Nationals' push.

"A Liberal government should not be in the business of building new coal-fired power stations when the market is not prepared to make those investments itself for good economic reasons," he said.

That position was backed by other moderate Liberals including Mackellar MP Jason Falinksi and Liberal candidate for Wentworth Dave Sharma.

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The intra-Coalition stoush comes ahead of an election in which Queensland looms as the key battleground state, with several Nationals MPs in the Sunshine State holding their seats by thin margins.

Six MPs - Keith Pitt, George Christensen, Michelle Landry, Ken O’Dowd, Llew O’Brien and Barry O’Sullivan - wrote to Mr Morrison and Nationals leader Michael McCormack calling for "immediate action" to underwrite a new coal generator in their home state.

Mr McCormack said he could support a new coal power station "if the business case stacks up". But Mr Joyce said on Monday that was not good enough, as he did not care "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin".

The issue has become a flashpoint for leadership tensions in the junior Coalition partner, with rampant speculation a challenge could be launched before the election. Mr Joyce dismissed that prospect but said he would stand for the leadership if it became vacant.

Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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