Throughout the campaign, Prime Minister Scott Morrison emphasised the potential cost to the economy of Labor’s «reckless» pledge to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent between 2005 and 2030, and insisted its plans for a 26 per cent cut in the same period, in line with the Pris target, were economically and environmentally responsible.
However voters in the blue-ribbon Sydney coastal seat of Warringah repudiated the climate-sceptic stance of former prime minister Tony Abbott, who was ousted by pro-climate action independent Zali Steggall.
Internal Coalition divisions over emissions reduction defined the government’s last term and despite the surprise victory, moderate Liberal figures said the party must revisit its climate change position.
Former deputy leader Julie Bishop pointed to the Warringah result and said the new government must address the lack of bipartisan consensus on climate action. She questioned the Coalition’s decision to dump the National Energy Guarantee which had wide political support.
North Sydney Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who was re-elected with a 4.7 per cent swing against him, said climate change was «a prime concern» of his constituents and the Morrison government must convince voters that it could meet the Paris targets.
But speaking on ABC’s Insiders program, Mr Frydenberg said the government would «faithfully implement and execute» the climate policies it had offered voters.
He pointed to the government’s $3.5 billion climate solutions package, including its expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme and energy efficiency programs.
«We’ve set out our policy to the Australian people before the election,» Mr Frydenberg said.
«Bill Shorten got into a lot of trouble during this campaign when he couldn’t explain how he would meet his targets, how much it would cost the economy. Our targets are costed, are funded and we’ve got the record of meeting and beating our previous targets.»
It was not clear on Sunday morning whether the Coalition would gain a lower house majority or be forced to negotiate a minority government with the six minor party and independent candidates likely to make up the crossbench.
Ms Steggall and Victorian independent Helen Haines, who appears set to win Indi, both campaigned on a climate action platform and insist they will hold the government to account on cutting emissions during the next Parliament.
Ms Steggall told supporters on Saturday night «I will push real actions for our children and generations to come. They can enjoy the environment and our beautiful beach and our beautiful country, the way that we enjoy it.»
Meanwhile Labor will be forced to assess the extent to which its broad, bold agenda, including its emisison reduction pledges, hurt its electoral chances.
Throughout the campaign both major parties were forced to walk the line between appealing to voters in marginal Queensland coal seats who backed the Adani proposal and city voters concerned about worsening global warming.
Labor was eviscerated in Queensland, failing to gain a single seat and losing Longman and Herbert. It gained just one seat in NSW and performed below expectations in western Sydney, where concern over cost-of-living pressures are high.
Labor was seen as fence-sitting on the Adani issue. It stopped short of pledging to halt the regional Queensland project but expressed deep scepticism about whether it would stack up financially and environmentally.
In his concession speech on Saturday night, Labor leader Bill Shorten said his party had declared «loud and clear that Australia needs and needed to take real action on climate change».
«Clearly on climate action, amongst others, parts of our nation remain deeply divided,» he said.
«[But] for the sake of the next generation, Australia must find a way forward on climate change».
Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt claimed the result meant the push for strong action on climate change had failed.
«This is culturally a huge moment … global warming, the activists, they lost,» he said.
However senior Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said despite Labor’s disappointing result, it should keep looking to the future and proposing big ideas.
«Globally we face a set of challenges … I want to the Labor Party to continue to be prepared to put forward an agenda that addresses them,» she said.
Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.