Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes ‘a break’ from party room


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraA tough debate is expected when a highly volatile Nationals parliamentary party meets on Monday, ahead of climate change negotiations between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce to endorse a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Joyce is under dual pressure, with his party room sharply divided over the 2050 target, and former minister Darren Chester announcing, in a weekend statement which criticised Joyce without naming him, that he is taking “some time away” from the party room.

No details of the climate plan are yet on the table, but strong positioning is underway, with negotiations between Morrison and Joyce resuming once the PM, returning on Sunday night from his American trip, is back in the country.

The Nationals meet every fortnight, remotely when parliament is not sitting.

Joyce indicated on Friday he would accept the government adopting a firm target of net zero emissions by 2050 provided the regions were not worse off. He also wants some largesse for the Nationals.

At the same time he is expressing concerns and gives the impression of being dragged reluctantly towards an agreement.




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View from The Hill: Barnaby Joyce falls (sort of) into step for the ‘net zero’ march


Morrison was pressed again while in the US about increasing Australia’s ambition on climate policy and has signalled he proposes to do so. But he has to get the minor Coalition partner on side.

Both President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have pushed Australia hard as the November Glasgow climate conference draws near.

The government’s current position is net zero “preferably” by 2050.

Interviewed by the ABC on Sunday, Joyce provided little fresh clarity. But asked whether there should be no coal jobs lost, he said, “well, not by reason of domestic policy”.

Deputy Nationals leader and agriculture minister David Littleproud, who supports the 2050 firm target with safeguards and incentives for the regions, told Sky that members of the Nationals party room were “pragmatic”. They were “looking through the lens of protecting regional Australia but making sure there’s opportunity for regional Australia to also participate in this”.

But former resources minister Matt Canavan tweeted, “I am deadset against net zero emissions. Just look at the disaster the UK is living through. They’re switching off their industry to keep their lights on, and they are struggling to feed themselves. Net zero emissions would just make us weaker.”

Resources minister Keith Pitt said: “We are yet to see the strategy, the plan, the cost, and who’s paying.

“My priority will be the 1.2 million direct and indirect jobs associated with the resources sector”.




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Chester, who is a supporter of net zero, won’t be in the meeting to help advance the case. He said he had “decided to take a break from organised meetings, events and activities in The Nationals Federal Parliamentary party room.

“I will reassess my position when Federal Parliament resumes in October.

“To be clear, I continue to support the Coalition government but want some time away from the The Nationals Federal Parliamentary party room to reflect on a number of significant issues.

“My decision follows months of frustration with the repeated failure of the leadership to even attempt to moderate some of the more disrespectful and offensive views expressed by a minority of colleagues.”

Chester, who was dropped from the frontbench when Joyce became leader, has been highly critical of Queensland National George Christensen, whose string of provocative comments have included, most recently, accusing Victorian police of using excessive force against demonstrators, and suggesting they should be arrested.




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Joyce on Sunday again indicated he could not silence Christensen, who is retiring at the election, and said that anyway, there was a right of free speech.

Asked on SBS whether he thought he had the support of the majority of the Nationals to go forward on climate policy, Morrison said: “It’s not about my view. It’s about what I think Australians are clearly looking for”.

“My job is to bring my government together to focus on the plan that can achieve it.

“A plan [that] says to Australians, whether they’re up in the Hunter, or down in Bell Bay, or up in Gladstone or up in the Pilbara […] this is how we achieve net zero emissions in the future.

“Our view is that we can achieve that by keeping the costs low, keeping people in industries, ensuring we’re using transition fuels that take us from one place to the next, and we take people on the journey,” Morrison said.

The communique from the QUAD summit which Morrison attended at the end of his trip said: “We have joined forces to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the urgency it demands.

“Quad countries will work together to keep the Paris-aligned temperature limits within reach and will pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“To this end, Quad countries intend to update or communicate ambitious NDCs [nationally determined contributions] by COP26 and welcome those who have already done so.”

The QUAD includes the US, Australia, Japan and India.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Barnaby Joyce falls (sort of) into step for the ‘net zero’ march


Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Coalition brigade is assembling, readying for the final march to a place it once regarded as enemy territory and poisoned ground, too dangerous to approach.

Josh Frydenberg waved the flag on Friday. Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, a conscripted officer, is reluctantly falling (sort of) into step. Angus Taylor will be purchasing the requisite boots.

Scott Morrison, the general, will announce the arrival. But not until the details of a deal, heavy with technology and trade offs and pay offs, are landed with Joyce.

The Prime Minister wants – “needs” would be a better word – Australia to support a 2050 net zero emissions target at the November Glasgow climate conference.

No if or buts or qualifications. No having to say net zero “preferably” by 2050, as the government has been doing.

Morrison and Joyce have been talking at length about this imperative, because without the Nationals the journey – which seems so short to outsiders but so very arduous for the Coalition – cannot be completed.

Frydenberg on Friday delivered the blunt message that if Australia doesn’t step up to world expectations on climate policy, it will have trouble getting the capital it needs from overseas, in sufficient quantity and at the cheapest cost.




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The Treasurer’s speech was focused on finance, rather than the environment as such. He pitched his push for the firm target so as to appeal in hard-headed economic terms. It’s the markets (not the greenies) that are requiring us to do this, was the message.

Frydenberg is battle-hardened for the task. As energy minister, he was then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s lieutenant when they carried the standard for a National Energy Guarantee, the NEG.

That succumbed to an ambush from a group of rebel troops, leaving Turnbull mortally wounded. Morrison has better armour; anyway, the Liberal sceptics aren’t heard from nowadays. The noise comes from Nationals.




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On Friday morning Joyce did his bit on ABC radio. His doubts were evident, as he pointed to power price rises and collapsing energy companies in Britain.

But he came through with the vital central line. Asked, “do you support net zero by 2050?” he replied, “I’ve got no problems with any plan that does not leave regional areas hurt”.

Later in the day he said: “Now, when people say do you support it and they don’t tell you how they’re going to do it, they’re opening themselves […] to a crisis like they’re experiencing in Europe, like they’re experiencing in the UK”.

Joyce will have problems with some of his followers, especially his one-time staffer, now senator, Matt Canavan, who can remind his leader how he not so long ago trashed the target.

But he’ll get plenty of loot for the Nationals in the final package. Even Frydenberg seems to have stopped worrying about the appallingly high cost of political living these days.

In Washington, Morrison was asked whether the government had made a decision on net zero.

“No, if Australia had made such a decision, I would have announced it,” he said. “Australia has not made any final decision on that matter … we’ll be considering further when I return to Australia the plan that we believe can help us achieve our ambition in this area”.




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While the army’s destination seems clear, there’s still work to be done, and the Nationals say the actual map is yet to be laid out on the table.

But if anything were to derail the expedition now, it would be a shock to everyone – including Morrison, and no doubt to Joe Biden and Boris Johnson.

Morrison would be left in an intolerable position for Glasgow. Frydenberg made a point of noting 129 countries have committed to the 2050 target.

The PM would also be hobbled at the election, with climate an issue especially in the leafy city areas and independent candidates gearing up to run in various seats.

Embracing the 2050 target is a minimal requirement for a nation’s Glasgow policy, but the United States, Britain and other climate frontrunners are focused on countries being more ambitious in the medium term.

What Morrison and Joyce do about that will soon become the big question.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Nationals have changed their leader but kept the same climate story


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

After Barnaby Joyce’s demise as Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader, and his replacement by Michael McCormack, we might wonder what the junior Coalition partner’s leadership change means for Australia’s climate policy.

Perhaps the answer is “not a great deal”, given the apparent similarity between the two men’s outlooks. But then again, confident predictions about the future of Australian climate policy are a mug’s game.




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Joyce joined the Senate back in July 2005, as part of the tranche that gave the Liberal and National Coalition absolute control. At the time, another new senator, the Greens’ Christine Milne, was ready to talk with the likes of Joyce, arguing that both of their parties should share common concerns about climate change, drought, salinity, loss of native vegetation, and more.

Joyce evidently didn’t see it that way. When federal Liberals Brendan Nelson and Alexander Downer tried to get a debate going about the purported climate benefits of nuclear power, Joyce joined with Queensland’s Labor Premier Peter Beattie in arguing that nuclear power should not be on the agenda while Australia’s coal resources remained plentiful (although he opted against echoing Beattie’s “clean coal” push).

A year later, however, Joyce was more attuned to Milne’s concerns. In the context of the seemingly never-ending Millennium drought, and with Nationals leader Mark Vaile urging his cabinet colleagues to spend at least another A$750 million on drought relief, Joyce fearfully noted that:

The drought really has to be seen to be believed. It’s a case of creeks that haven’t run for months, sometimes years, (and) bores that are going dry. There is a real concern amongst a lot that maybe there is a final change in the climate. That’s really starting to worry people.

Six months later, with the “first climate change election” looming, Joyce used some leaping logic to describe proposed rail spending as a climate measure:

We can go up to every mother and father and ask them if they can drive their tree to work and see how they go… I think that rail is greenhouse friendly. It is going to be taking all prime-movers off the road.

Roast boast

Of course, this support for rural industry didn’t mean that Joyce supported any form of emissions trading put forward by either Liberal or Labor. He instead voiced fears that Australia “could soon resemble communism” unless farmers are paid properly for the carbon stored in their land.

In 2011 Joyce voted against Julia Gillard’s voluntary Carbon Farming Initiative, which in 2014 was absorbed into Tony Abbott’s Direct Action program. A 2017 report argues that it is now helping farmers, but not reducing emissions.

Perhaps his most (in)famous claim came in 2009, as Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme staggered towards its demise, bleeding credibility and support at every lobbyist-inspired softening. Joyce predicted that with the advent of carbon trading, the Sunday roast would cost A$150 (a figure that was later downgraded to a far more measured and believable 100 bucks).

The same year, Joyce told political journalist Laurie Oakes:

Everywhere there is a power point in your house, there is access to a new tax for the Labor Government – a new tax on ironing, a new tax on watching television, a new tax on vacuuming.

In November 2009, the Nationals told the Liberals that support for carbon pricing could lead to a split in the Coalition. The then Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull was challenged by Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott, the latter winning by a single vote. The rest is history.

Joyce joined in the ultimately fatal attack on Gillard’s carbon pricing scheme by upping the ante on his Sunday roast claims. Using some impressively creative reasoning, he argued that the A$23-a-tonne carbon price could lead abattoirs to end up being slugged A$575,000 for slaughtering a single cow.

A party of one mind

Of course, Joyce is far from alone among Nationals for baiting the greenies. Fellow backbencher George Christensen’s dangerous and lamentable Facebook post is just the latest in a long line of provocations.

Back in 1997 Tim Fischer, then Deputy Prime Minister, spoke at a conference in Canberra organised by climate denialists called Countdown to Kyoto. Years later, at about the same time that Joyce first entered the Senate, his party colleague Julian McGauran reportedly flipped the bird at Greens leader Bob Brown after the Coalition voted down a Senate motion criticising the government on climate change.

More recently still, the Nationals have joined in many Liberals’ hatred of renewable energy, despite the fact that it would make a lot of money for farmers.

Will anything change except the climate?

Joyce is gone, but the Nationals don’t exactly have hordes of tree-huggers waiting in the wings. The efforts of Farmers for Climate Action to influence the Nationals’ leadership succession seems to have amounted to nothing.

Michael McCormack (who was interviewed by Michelle Grattan for the Conversation) is already under Twitter scrutiny over his maiden speech in 2010, when he said:

When it does not rain for years on end, it does not mean it will not rain again. It does not mean we all need to listen to a government grant-seeking academic sprouting doom and gloom about climate changing irreversibly.

The journalist Paddy Manning has given an overview of his positions since then. It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same (unlike the climate).




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It is impossible to predict how and when the Nationals’ policies might change, especially in places where One Nation is waiting with open arms for any wavering voters.

The ConversationBut as ever, it is the voters who hold the key. If enough of Barnaby’s “weatherboard and iron” rural base decide that climate change is a serious, vote-deciding issue, that will be the day when the Nationals finally give up their cast-iron opposition to climate action.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.