News Paul Bongiorno: The Joyce restoration spells big trouble for the Morrison government

Paul Bongiorno: The Joyce restoration spells big trouble for the Morrison government

Barnaby Joyce Scott Morrison trouble
The return of Barnaby Joyce could damage Scott Morrison’s climate plans, Paul Bongiorno writes. Photo: TND
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There are real fears in the Morrison government that junior Coalition party – the Nationals – will derail its carefully laid re-election plans.

It is not as if the Nationals, especially prompted by the party’s biggest branch in Queensland, haven’t done it before.

Some with long memories shudder at the ‘Joh for Canberra’ campaign 34 years ago that smashed John Howard’s chances of defeating what then looked like a vulnerable Hawke Labor government.

The Queensland Nationals premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen hijacked the federal party and forced them into going to the election with a different tax policy to the Liberals.

Sure the Liberals and Nationals were in opposition, but voters baulked at voting for an alternative Coalition government that was hopelessly divided on such a key area of policy.

There is no credible way the Morrison Coalition government can go to the next election with two climate policies.

Make no mistake the 21 members of the federal Nationals’ party room in voting to replace Michael McCormack as leader with Barnaby Joyce were passing their judgment on the Prime Minister’s aim of signing up to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

There are strong indications that Mr Morrison assured British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that this commitment was already in the bag, so much so that Mr Johnson blurted it out at their joint news conference last week.

Mr Johnson, along with US President Joe Biden, is bringing enormous pressure on Australia and other nations to have strong and firm commitments to get to net zero even before 2050.

Crunch time for Australia will come at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow in November, which is looking out beyond the weak 2030 targets Australia (under Tony Abbott) had signed up to.

Mr Morrison has certainly changed his rhetoric. He is no longer a coal champion but talks of using gas to transition to a new world order of renewable and clean energy.

Scott Morrison has changed his rhetoric from being a coal champion. Photo: AAP 

In this the Prime Minister has correctly picked the mood of the nation as the extensive and scientifically weighted Vox Populi poll of 60,000 Australians has found.

Its results went to air on the ABC on Monday night, finding climate change was near the top of voters’ concerns.

After the party room coup on Monday, Mr Joyce said the new, secret Coalition agreement he will make with Mr Morrison will come only after he has consulted his party room.

This is unconvincing circular argument spin.

It is no coincidence that former resources minister Matt Canavan from Queensland moved the spill motion. Like Mr Joyce he is a coal zealot and at the very least a climate sceptic who gives no weight to arguments Australia should be doing more.

Mr Joyce continues to run tired old arguments that doing anything meaningful on climate can only cost jobs and push up electricity prices in the face of the New South Wales Coalition government rejecting them as flawed.

Indeed the Berejiklian government this week is committing to ambitious targets with incentives to drive the uptake of electric vehicles among other bold initiatives.

Furthermore it is understood the federal government has preliminary modelling on the net-zero target that shows benefits on jobs and prices.

The question is will Scott Morrison be game enough to reveal this work and provoke a messy brawl?

There’s no doubt the LNP in Queensland was concerned that Michael McCormack lacked cut through and recognition in the state that could make it harder to hold some of its coal seats.

Warringah MP Zali Steggall has said she wants action on climate change without misinformation or fear-mongering. Photo: AAP

While some Liberals in metropolitan seats have worries the trade-off could see it harder for them to hold their seats, especially if green independents like Zali Steggall run against them.

Although some Liberal hard heads believe these concerns are overrated because candidates like Ms Steggall are hard to find and they point to the fact that Dr Kerryn Phelps was not able to hold Wentworth at the general election after winning it in the byelection triggered by the demise of Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Joyce comes back to the leadership with considerable baggage, but he says he’s learned and done his penance on the backbench, however Nationals colleagues like Anne Webster and Michelle Landry worry he could be a turn off for women voters.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese is determined not to allow Mr Morrison to paper over the cracks.

He twice attempted to bring on debates in Parliament over the Coalition’s failure to deliver its promised stable government.

Before leader of the house Peter Dutton shut him down, Mr Albanese called for Parliament to condemn the “Morrison-Joyce government for fighting itself instead of fighting for all Australians”.

The Opposition Leader called on the new government leadership team to “concentrate on rolling out the vaccine instead of rolling each other”.

Barnaby Joyce promised his colleagues he would be no pushover for the Liberal PM and he would be banging the table to assure the Nationals’ place in the sun.

Scott Morrison’s life just got harder.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics

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