Barnaby Joyce (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Did Scott Morrison want the last sitting period before the winter recess — some speculate the last sitting period before an early election — to be dominated by topics from when Julia Gillard was prime minister, topics most of us — whether Liberal, Labor, Green, conservative, News Corp, whoever — thought were settled?

How about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which was legislated in 2012? Sure there’s been debate and changes over how to achieve water savings — with the Coalition preferring to waste money in irrigation infrastructure ahead of water buybacks, and NSW allowing irrigators to rort with impunity — but the broad principle that the system needed to be managed to provide environmental flows along its length and into South Australia has been settled for nearly a decade.

Or maybe not so much: the Nationals in the Senate, led by Bridget McKenzie and Matt Canavan, tried to use a bill finally toughening up enforcement provisions in the plan to crack down on water theft to gut the plan and prevent Commonwealth water buybacks. Indeed, their amendments went further and would have freed up the funding for water buybacks to be pork-barrrelled into other uses.

The instinct to rort, you see, runs deep within the Nationals. Deeper than the Murray-Darling — and certainly after irrigators have finished with it.

This led to Liberal senators having to vote down their own colleagues’ amendments to government legislation, and South Australian senators venting their fury.

And women in the workforce?

It’s been an article of faith among policymakers since the Howard years that increasing female participation in the workforce is crucial in an economy facing the challenge of an ageing population. That means a dramatically greater need for childcare, and childcare subsidies have been steadily growing since then. Again the debate is around the detail of such a policy, not its broad direction. And after the Gillard government introduced a paid parental leave scheme, it was Tony Abbott, whose views on women date from the 12th century, who wanted to top it with a “Rolls-Royce” model.

And female participation has been one of the few triumphs of the Coalition’s time in government, going from below 59% in 2013 to 61.7% in May — more than recovering from last year’s dip.

But the government’s most recent expansion of childcare subsidies — intended to counter Anthony Albanese’s major reforms proposed after last year’s women-unfriendly budget — are opposed by Nationals.

Canavan again, and fellow far-right Queenslanders like MP George Christensen and the bizarre Senator Gerard Rennick, want handouts for women who stay home to look after children, which would actively negate measures to increase female participation.

Along the way, Christensen suggested working mothers were outsourcing parenting, a comment that went down about as well as a morals crusader in a Manila topless bar. It elicited a rebuke not merely from female Liberal colleagues but his own party’s Perin Davey.

Ah, those celebrated “retail political skills” in action.

Overturning the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and sending women back to the kitchen were unlikely to be top of the list of topics that Morrison, confined to The Lodge after his G7 trip, would have liked to dominate the headlines. Particularly given his struggles this year on gender issues. Particularly given Barnaby Joyce remains the subject of unresolved and serious sexual harassment complaints.

The back to the future pattern persists even on climate policy. Morrison is a modern denialist. Not outright denial of climate change as per Abbott: Morrison’s denialism is of gaseous form, with his commitment to a “gas-led recovery” and funding for LNG expansion and the new tech panacea of hydrogen, with a bet on carbon capture as well. His commitment to fossil fuels has little room for coal-fired power. It’s never to be dismissed outright, but it’s no longer on his agenda given the rotten economics of making electricity from burning the stuff, even if you can capture the carbon. Which you can’t.

But the Nats under Joyce have that old-time denialism, the pure kind you now only get in the rural tent with the thundering preacher. Gas is all very well, but they’re for the hard stuff. There’s nothing vaporous about Nationals’ denialism. They want more coal dug up and a lot more of it burnt, even if taxpayers have to subsidise it and electricity users have to pay more for it.

The criticism of Morrison was always that he was not moving on climate action even as the planet cooked, Australia burned, and the rest of the world committed to greater and more urgent action. But the Nationals actively want to drag Australia back. The growing realisation is that Joyce and his supporters have a much more encompassing vision for travelling backwards than just on climate.