A PROMINENT British Tory MP has launched a stinging attack on Prime Minister Tony Abbott's climate change policies, calling them "incomprehensible", "illogical" and a distortion of "what it means to be a Conservative".
Richard Benyon, a former environment minister under British leader David Cameron, says Mr Abbott's decision to become the first world leader to abolish a carbon price is "mystifying" and his attack on renewable energy targets "bewildering", especially for a "supposedly pro-business government".
In an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Benyon argues that "those who, like Mr Abbott, persist in regarding climate change as a left-wing conspiracy based on speculative science are in a rapidly dwindling minority".
He says "true Conservative values include distaste for over-regulation and enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism. But they also include a respect for sound science and economics, a belief in protecting the natural world and a responsibility to do the best for the biggest possible number of one's citizens".
He adds that "Mr Abbott's dismissal of climate science and his belief that Australia must choose between economic growth and tackling climate change speak to a distorted vision of what it means to be a Conservative".
It is one of the most direct attacks yet on the Coalition government's carbon policies from the right of the political spectrum, and reflects mounting frustration with Canberra in a number of Western capitals.
Speaking from London, Mr Benyon told Fairfax Media he did not wish to be seen as "some Pom meddling in Australian affairs".
"This is more about a global issue where many of us want to see sensible politicians on the centre-right recognising that climate change is a clear and present danger to our world," he said.
"Mr Abbott is a forceful leader and, as a fellow centre-right pollie, I want him to be up there, speaking for common sense in this vital debate."
Conservatives should not be ceding the "high moral ground" to left-of-centre parties, he said. "Conservatives traditionally really understand economics and business is [already] way ahead of politics on this."
Mr Benyon, a former member of the British armed forces, said Australia's decision to hang back to see what others did first was "like a group of soldiers lining up to attack a position and one of them saying, 'Well, I'm going to sit this one out – you chaps carry on and good luck.' "
Mr Benyon is one of Britain's wealthiest MPs and resides at Englefield House, an Elizabethan-era estate.
He lost the environment portfolio in a reshuffle in late 2013 but remains active in the Conservative Environment Network and is a director of the Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit.
Waiting for targets
Pressure is mounting on Canberra to reveal its post-2020 carbon reduction targets in the lead-up to a global summit on climate change in Paris at the end of the year. Australia will not reveal its target until August – the last developed nation to do so.
But Mr Benyon said "all of us want Australia to be leading at that event, providing the sound common sense that it has done down the ages".
Last year, Mr Abbott dismayed UN officials when he declared that climate change was "not the only or even the most important problem that the world faces", a position in stark contrast to that of UN climate change spokesman Dan Thomas, who called it the " defining issue of our time".