A group of 20 Coalition backbench MPs have put their name to a manifesto warning against the “demonisation” of coal, the Liberal MP Craig Kelly has revealed.
Kelly – the chairman of the government’s backbench committee on the environment and energy – confirmed the existence of the Monash Forum, which supports the use of coal-fired power.
Kelly told Guardian Australia the group’s manifesto was not inconsistent with the Turnbull government’s National Energy Guarantee, which he said was a “good policy”. But the group’s position will add to pressure for government support for a new coal-fired power station.
He confirmed a list of the group’s members published in the Australian that includes Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews. The former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was reportedly “linked to” the group.
George Christensen has reportedly written to fellow Nationals MPs inviting them to join the group “encouraging the government in the promotion of and facilitation of and/or construction of coal-fired power stations”.
The group is named after the first world war general John Monash, owing to his role in opening up Victoria’s Latrobe Valley for coal production.
“It’s not like it’s a secret society,” Kelly said, before referring Guardian Australia to Christensen for a full list of members and the text of its manifesto. “One of the aims of the group is to emphasise the importance of coal-fired generation.
“Coal is demonised by a large section of the community – that demonisation is incorrect, because coal is absolutely vital to the national economy both for export and the generation of cheap, reliable electricity.”
Kelly said if AGL’s Liddell power station were closed, the “optimum outcome for the grid” would be to construct a new coal-fired power station.
He said private-sector investment in coal might not be forthcoming due to possible technological change and changes to climate policy by a future government so “the government may need to step in and assist the build” of a new power station.
Kelly said the Monash Forum’s manifesto stopped short of calling for a specific form of government support for coal, describing it as a statement of principles stressing the need for coal as a “low-cost electricity for consumers and industry”.
Asked why the government should support coal if the private sector refused and renewables continued to become cheaper, Kelly said: “No matter how much solar and wind you have, you’re going to need some baseload power.”
AGL plans to replace its ageing Liddell power station with renewables, batteries, gas power, upgraded coal power and demand response, and has resisted government calls to sell the power station to prevent its closure.
The Turnbull government’s energy guarantee is still being designed by the Energy Security Board and requires sign-off by the states before proposed reliability and emissions reduction requirements are imposed.
The energy and environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, said “the Turnbull government has a technology-neutral approach to delivering a more affordable and reliable energy system”.
“The National Energy Guarantee, as recommended by the experts from the Energy Security Board (ESB), will deliver more affordable and reliable energy without subsidies, taxes or trading schemes, levelling the playing field for all types of generation,” he said.
“Independent modelling undertaken by the ESB suggests coal will continue to remain part of the energy mix making up more than half of supply in 2030.”
The deputy Nationals leader, Bridget McKenzie, told Radio National on Tuesday coal “needs to be an ongoing part of the energy mix” and that, like hydro and gas, coal would have “an opportunity” under the government’s Neg.
“I don’t want to be ideological about how we get affordable, reliable power,” she said.
McKenzie said the government should ensure that “those that want to or need to invest” in energy production have “a clear signal that they can do so”.