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Anthony Albanese has given his strongest statement to date about the future of coal in Australia.

Repeatedly asked if a future Labor government would allow new coal projects to proceed, the federal opposition leader said: “You may as well ask me if I support unicorns.”

“I don’t think there’s a place for coal-fired power plants in Australia, full stop,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

His emphatic rejection of new coal stations stands is stark contrast to Labor deputy Richard Marles, who failed to articulate a clear position when asked over the weekend.

It comes as a fresh round of infighting has broken out within the coalition over climate and energy policy, after the federal government promised $4 million for a feasibility study into a coal-fired power station in north Queensland.

“The truth is no private sector operation will touch a new coal-fired power plant with a barge pole,” Mr Albanese said.

“This is hush money for the climate change deniers in the coalition.”

Former resources minister Matt Canavan is the loudest backer of the Collinsville project.

Ahead of a coalition partyroom meeting in Canberra, Senator Canavan was squaring up for a fight.

“I welcome people have different views – some of my colleagues or others – want to have a different opinion to mine, that’s their right,” he told reporters.

“I just hope that they’d consider at the next election coming up to Collinsville with a convoy, perhaps of cars and vehicles, and holding a rally there to protest against a coal-fired power station.

“Particularly if they live in Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania. Please come up to north Queensland and tell us how we’re all morally corrupt, it’d help us a lot.”

Business and industry groups are urging the government to commit to zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Mr Albanese refused to give a clear answer when pressed on whether Labor supported their calls, saying his party would cement their climate policies closer to the next federal election in 2022.