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Barnaby Joyce defends cabinet reshuffle, says his fine for not wearing a mask is a ‘message for everyone’

Newly-elected Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has defended his frontbench reshuffle, arguing he reinstalled Bridget McKenzie to cabinet because of her competence.

Mr Joyce also said it was important for The Nationals to embrace gender equality in ministerial appointments.

“You only have so many positions – we needed women back in the cabinet. Bridget’s there not because she’s a woman – but because she’s competent,” he said in an interview with Sky News.

“But it certainly does on the policy front help us tick that box.” 

Mr Joyce handed new positions to Senator McKenzie, David Gillespie and Andrew Gee, believed to be key backers in him reclaiming the leadership, in the reshuffle.

A smaller prize went to Susan McDonald, a Queensland senator who backed Mr Joyce.

She becomes envoy for northern Australia, a job without ministerial rank because there is no ministry available.

Nationals MP Darren Chester, dumped from cabinet, had on Monday described Mr Joyce’s phone call to sack him as “incoherent” and warned Australians to brace for similar conversations.

Responding to those remarks, Mr Joyce acknowledged the “tough” nature of politics.

“I acknowledge that toughness. I still think Darren’s a very competent politician,” Mr Joyce said.

Joyce fined for breach of COVID-19 rules

The newly sworn in deputy prime minister attracted further controversy on Tuesday after it was revealed he was fined $200 for not wearing a mask in regional New South Wales. 

Mr Joyce was dobbed in to Crime Stoppers by a member of the public in his hometown of Armidale on Monday morning

He said he was on his way to the airport when he noticed his car was low in fuel, quickly jumping out to refill when he was caught. 

“It’s a message for everyone. You take it on the chin. We’ve all got to do the right thing, including politicians, including me.” 

State Emergency Operations Controller, Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said it was just one of 54 breaches of NSW public health orders on Monday.

“Police were alerted to that. They took some action. That person was apologetic and co-operative with police and an infringement notice was issued,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Doubts over net zero

In the Sky News interview, Mr Joyce continued the Nationals’ resistance against a renewed push for Australia to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

He described the idea of transitioning to a green economy as “mythology”.

“We’ve had record sales of coal at record price, for thermal coal. Guess where they use that? In coal-fired power stations,” Mr Joyce said.

“We’ve got to be adults. You say you don’t want it. Right, take me by the hand and show me which hospital you don’t want, which schools you don’t want, how you don’t want pensions increases, how you don’t want money in the NDIS.”  

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he wants Australia to reach net zero “preferably” by 2050. But within the Nationals party there is strong resistance to supporting the emissions target.

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