(Image: Tom Red/Private Media)

While Australia is already an international laggard on climate action, the return of climate denialist and alleged sexual harasser Barnaby Joyce to the deputy prime ministership threatens to elevate us to pariah status. And the extent to which the government can be trusted in relation to any commitments it makes internationally is now under serious question.

Joyce and the claque of far-right, mainly Queensland Nationals he leads aren’t merely opponents of a 2050 net zero target — which, for all the press gallery obsession with it, is too little too late to prevent highly damaging climate change — but will push for more coal-fired power, aiming to increase Australia’s emissions, rather than abate them.

And the mechanism by which they will pursue that goal is a completely secret agreement between two men that will give a handful of MPs a veto over key policies. Australians, let alone the rest of the world, won’t be allowed to see the agreement. Without that transparency, anything the government says in relation to climate cannot be relied upon.

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It means that Australia is now governed by a combination of a soft climate denialist and a hard climate denialist who both want more fossil fuel production. The former, Scott Morrison, wants to support gas production and consumption, reflecting the large donations his party receives from the likes of Woodside, Santos and Origin Energy. The latter, Joyce, regards gas as an inferior product to the real thing, coal, and wants the federal government funding coal-fired power plants and more coalmining.

The only option for other countries aghast at Australia’s bludging on their own efforts to reduce global emissions will be carbon tariffs. Those tariffs will be all the greater when we start investing in new coal-fired power.

Joyce’s elevation also illustrates just how delusional the press gallery fiction of Morrison moving slowly to a more ambitious target always was. While Morrison constantly received credit for minor variations of wording around a nebulous and inadequate target, in fact he never even secured agreement for such a shift. The great Morrison march to 2050 turns out to have been a non-existent commitment to not move to a non-target.

And the dismay that Joyce’s return has provoked among agriculture groups isn’t surprising. The National Farmers’ Federation backed a net zero 2050 target, including agriculture, nearly a year ago. Meat and Livestock Australia is pursuing net zero by 2030 in a sector that is one of our biggest sources of emissions. The dairy sector, also a major contributor, long ago committed to 30% reduction by 2030, which is more ambitious than the Morrison government’s Paris commitment. The federal Nationals are fundamentally at odds with mainstream agricultural interests.

This should be of significant concern to a party that claims to represent agriculture. But the Queensland LNP is a party of fossil fuel companies, not agriculture. A look at political donations points towards another reason why, in NSW, the coal-loving Nationals are on board with a 2050 net zero target and a massive investment in renewables, but the Queensland Nationals are trying to drive more fossil fuels. The NSW Nationals receive barely any donations from fossil fuel interests, with money from Ampol and Santos dwarfed by donations from the hospitality sector, agricultural interests and Manildra, among others.

The LNP, however, has earned more than $700,000 over the past decade from fossil fuel companies, even before counting the hundreds of thousands of dollars contributed by Clive Palmer and his companies. The federal Nationals have also enjoyed hundreds of thousands in donations from Woodside, Santos and other fossil fuel companies.

The obsession of Joyce and his coterie of supporters with fossil fuels will have an impact beyond merely being out of touch with the sector they once purported to represent. Australian agricultural exporters understand that not only does Australia’s climate inaction deprive them of potential opportunities in areas like carbon farming, it places their exports under serious threat of carbon tariffs. That’s where a Morrison-Joyce government, and their secret deal, are taking our industries.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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