Fellow Nationals backbencher David Gillespie also told the party room the government should not give in to the idea that climate was important outside progressive voters.
While one MP described the debate as “predictable” in airing competing views, the robust argument included strong comments from Liberal MPs about the concerns they were hearing from city voters who wanted the government to act on the threat from greenhouse gas emissions.
Melbourne Liberal MP Katie Allen responded to Dr Gillespie by talking of the need for a “carbon-neutral” economy over time, while praising Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s comments to the National Press Club last week on the way the government would use technology to reduce emissions.
She noted her electorate was more interested in beating, rather than meeting, targets and said urged “all forms of technology” be kept on the table as an option.
North Sydney Liberal Trent Zimmerman said the government had to recognise the two Coalition parties had to appeal to different electorates and it would be a mistake to think climate change was not an issue among the government’s own supporters.
In a pointed remark about appealing to voters who had deserted the Liberals, Mr Zimmerman said the party could not win back the seat of Warringah, once held by former prime minister Tony Abbott, if it did not have a convincing message on climate change.
Fiona Martin, the Liberal MP for the electorate of Reid in Sydney’s inner west, responded to the Nationals by telling the meeting she held a marginal seat and that climate change had become one of the big issues for her constituents in recent months.
In a key contribution, Liberal MP Andrew Laming spoke on the need to accept the science on climate change and warned colleagues that those who kept attacking the science were doing a great disservice to the party in the wider community.
Dr Laming made his remark to the Liberal meeting of MPs earlier on Tuesday, before the Nationals MPs joined the gathering for the full joint party meeting.
His remarks were viewed by some colleagues as a direct rebuke of NSW senator Jim Molan’s comments on the ABC’s Q&A program that he had an “open mind” about the science of climate change and was “not relying on evidence”.
Dr Laming did not single out any colleagues, however, and his remarks also appeared to counter the regular commentary on climate science by NSW Liberal Craig Kelly.
The argument did not resolve any specific policy questions, but Liberals said it was important for them to counter the narrative that climate change was irrelevant and only a concern to The Greens.
Liberal MP Tim Wilson also contributed to the debate, reminding the room many Liberal voters wanted strong action on climate change by cutting emissions and that was not mutually exclusive from supporting regional industries.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra