• John McDonnell

Nationals jostle for ministries, policy shifts



The demands that Barnaby Joyce is likely to make on the Liberals as part of the new Coalition agreement are likely to be a thorn in the side of Scott Morrison. Contrary to popular opinion, demands related to climate change are not likely to be a difficulty but other more trivial matters could lead to bad blood.


When energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor appeared on Sky News on Wednesday afternoon, he indicated that it was appropriate for the Nationals to demand that agreement to a target of zero emissions should not damage their constituents and that it was incumbent on the government to demonstrate that this was the case.


As forecast by FlowNews 24, Taylor said he expected the Nats to demand that the technology roadmap include carbon capture and storage and that this would be agreed to. He noted, in passing, that Labor, the Greens and the cross-bench in the senate had voted down a proposed enlargement of funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to finance investment in CCS, an action which Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon described as “inexplicable madness”.


The Nationals are also expected to be modest in their demands for ministerial changes. Barnaby Joyce will ask for the portfolios of transport and infrastructure and Senator Bridget McKenzie is expected to replace Darren Chester as minister for veterans’ affairs. For the moment Dr David Gillespie and Senator Matt Canavan will remain outside the ministry, which will leave them free to criticise the government, something that Liberals in inner city seats are unhappy about.


One of the demands the Nats are likely to make, which will grate with the conservative Liberals in the Dutton camp, is that the high profile, aboriginal candidate, Jacinta Price, should withdraw her candidacy for the senate seat in the Northern Territory. Ms Price intends to stand as a Liberal candidate and is likely to win the second NT senate seat at the expense of the Nationals aligned Senator Sam McMahon. Ms Price would be an outspoken indigenous voice in the senate, opposed to the aboriginal ‘voice’ in the constitution. Senator McMahon is generally viewed as a politician who has risen without a trace.


Another sleeping issue, which may cause grief, is nuclear power. Resources minister Keith Pitt is a supporter of nuclear power and David Gillespie is co-chair of an informal bipartisan backbench committee examining the options for nuclear power. This reflects growing momentum in support of nuclear energy.


Recently, we are told, cabinet considered whether it was appropriate to consider lifting the moratorium on the use of nuclear energy outside Lucas Heights in Sydney. Cabinet resolved that it would be politically futile to propose lifting the moratorium without bipartisan support.


At the moment, nuclear energy is peripherally part of the technology roadmap but there is pressure for a closer analysis of the prospects for small modular reactors as a substitute for fossil fuel generators.


The uranium currently exported from Australia would provide 100 per cent of the energy currently required for domestic demand.


This obviously constitutes a threat to the renewables industry and is therefore likely to be opposed by Labor and the Greens.


This is an incentive for the Nationals to press the government to confront the green left and to stare down the argument that renewables are the future of the bush.