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Biloela, coal and climate change: How Barnaby Joyce could drastically shake-up the Coalition

Barnaby Joyce’s spectacular resurrection as Nationals leader spells an entirely different dynamic within the government.

Both in terms of policy and publicity.

Michael McCormack has long had internal detractors. On Monday, those critics managed to convince enough of their 21 colleagues to take the plunge.

Mr Joyce claims he was not expecting to be elevated again to the second most senior political job in the country, citing the fact that he didn’t bring his trademark broad-brimmed hat as evidence for how unprepared he was for the decision.

But over the weekend there was growing confidence amongst his closest crew.

The agitators have repeatedly argued that Mr McCormack was an ineffective, gaffe-prone, and most importantly has not claimed enough political territory for the Nationals within the Coalition government.

The Prime Minister could only watch on from quarantine at the Lodge as events unfolded at Parliament House. 

Newly-elected Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce alongside deputy leader David Littleproud and Leader of the Nationals in the Senate Bridget McKenzie.

Newly-elected Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce alongside deputy leader David Littleproud and Leader of the Nationals in the Senate Bridget McKenzie.

AAP

Mr Joyce has now confirmed, as expected, he plans to negotiate a new Coalition agreement with Scott Morrison.

In redrawing the boundaries of this secret agreement, climate policy is expected to be a feature.

Nationals colleagues Keith Pitt and Bridget McKenzie have clearly stated in the past week that they do not endorse a policy of going carbon neutral by the middle of the century. 

The Prime Minister has described the net zero ambition as “preferable” and will be under pressure from other nations to endorse it at international climate talks in Glasgow later this year.

But that’s not the only policy upheaval that could stem from this change. 

There will also be questions about how far Mr Joyce is prepared to go on other issues, like nuclear energy, public investment in coal power, the future of the Murray Darling Basin plan, and even refugee policy.

From the backbench, Mr Joyce was also a backer of the Murugappan family being allowed to return to Biloela, for example.

“Send them to Sri Lanka, why not send them to South Sudan, send them to Rwanda, send them to Belarus, because they are also countries they were never born in,” he said last week. 

“These people should be staying here. I know that is going to leave me offside with other people in my party but I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again and that is one of those instances where I will do precisely that.”

Mr Joyce said his three years on the backbench have been instructive and he’s come back a “better person”.

His departure from the Nationals leadership three years ago followed an allegation of sexual harassment, which he has always strongly denied.

One of Mr Joyce’s Nationals colleagues – Anne Webster – has raised questions about whether his return will alienate female voters.

Despite losing his party’s support, Michael McCormack still had to run Question Time on Monday.

The Prime Minister watched over proceedings from a television screen in the corner, texting furiously at times.

Newly-elected Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce walks past a screen showing Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Newly-elected Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce walks past a screen showing Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

AAP

Barnaby Joyce is an unpredictable politician who isn’t afraid to disagree with his Coalition colleagues.

He was keen on Monday to point out that he would respect the views of his colleagues on key issues.

“I will be guided by my party room,” he told reporters.

“It is not Barnaby policy – it’s Nationals policy.”

Scott Morrison cannot expect the same smooth working relationship he has had with Michael McCormack to continue.

But that appears to be precisely why Mr Joyce is back.

Anna Henderson is the chief political correspondent for SBS News.

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