Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has warned Tony Abbott's campaign over climate change policy has the "potential" to damage the Turnbull government's election chances, as the former prime minister leads a backbench charge against the Finkel energy recommendations.
The recently released review, which calls for a Clean Energy Target (CET), has re-ignited internal Coalition tensions over climate change policy, with Mr Abbott and others agitating against any framework that would allow coal-fired power to decline.
The Nationals leader - who led the campaign against the former Gillard government's carbon tax alongside Mr Abbott - has expressed support for the Finkel review. He said Mr Abbott had an "absolute right" to discussion in the party room, but urged caution in his public remarks.
"He held an incredible position of respect in our nation, he's been the prime minister," Mr Joyce told ABC's 7.30 program.
"And with that respect comes a responsibility that at times you have to temper your expressions. Other things that other backbenchers may say are understandable, but if you held the highest office you understand how the game works."
He said Mr Abbott "could be doing more to help" the government and, asked if the former leader was damaging the Coalition's prospects at the next election, said he hoped not, but: "people always have the potential to do that, yes".
The review, conducted by chief scientist Alan Finkel, has promised lower energy prices under a CET compared to other options, including the status quo. The CET would be used to meet the government's emissions reduction targets, which are cuts of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 levels.
Under a CET, 42 per cent of electricity would come from low-emissions energy sources by 2030, compared with 35 per cent under a business-as-usual scenario. The Finkel report said there should be "no penalty for high emissions" sources, just incentives to drive investment in renewables.
The government has signalled it could make significant concessions - possibly including accepting so-called "clean coal" as a low-emissions energy source - to make it palatable to the party room. However, such a change could be a deal breaker for Labor.
On Wednesday, Mr Abbott downplayed the importance of Australia's non-binding commitments under the Paris climate agreement, which were decided by his government.
"Now it's nice to reduce emissions, and we have an aspiration - I stress an aspiration - to reduce our emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030," he told Sydney radio station 2GB.
"But frankly we shouldn't be doing that if it's going to clobber power prices, hurt households and cost jobs. We shouldn't be doing that. And I think there's pretty well a general consensus in our party room along those lines."
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said "business-as-usual is not an option" and that "glib answers and one-liners have been of no assistance in keeping Australians' energy secure and affordable".
"Enough is enough. We need a clear national plan founded on economics and engineering and we're doing the work to deliver it," he said.
"This is a complex task, it's a hard task. Glibness is not going to keep the lights on. Glibness is not going to pay the electricity bills."
One senior conservative told Fairfax Media that Mr Abbott was campaigning against his own previous commitments on energy for purely political purposes.
"He is simply out to destroy Turnbull but he's damaging himself... it shows that his prime ministership was an absolute farce," the figure said.
Comment was sought from Tony Abbott's office.
The story Barnaby Joyce warns Tony Abbott could damage government first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.