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UPDATED: Joyce out, Canavan in, Roberts out – What High Court ruling means for climate, renewables

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joyce insidersAustralia’s deputy prime minister and leader of the National Party, Barnaby Joyce, is headed for a by-election, after the High Court ruled him ineligible to hold his seat due to his dual Australia-New Zealand citizenship.

The ruling – which has also disqualified fellow “citizenship 7” members, Nationals Deputy Fiona Nash, Greens Senator Scottt Ludlam, Greens Deputy Larissa Waters, and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party senator, Malcolm Roberts – leaves the Turnbull government without its one seat majority in the House of Representatives. At least until the result of the December by-election.

But what does it mean for the clean energy and climate policy debate in Australia?

For starters, the Court’s decision removes Parliament’s chief flat-earther, in Malcolm Roberts – although he is not the only federal parliamentarian to deny climate change (see Fiona Nash, below).

On energy, Roberts – like Hanson’s One Nation – is broadly anti-renewables and pro-fossil fuels. He notably anointed the Turnbull government’s National Energy Guarantee as both “atrocious”, but also in line with the his party’s desire for the RET to be scrapped and its support of “clean coal.”

In terms of Joyce, the decision temporarily removes one of the fossil fuel lobby’s favourite sons. Last month, he issued a rousing call to arms to Australia’s mining and resources industry, warning that if they lost the fight for new coal-fired power generation to the “fatuous economics” of renewable energy and green groups.

In a speech to the Minerals Week Seminar, the deputy PM painted a picture of a nation under attack from a sort of economy destroying “green peril” that would shut down coal power plants, kill coal exports and – of course – turn the lights out.

“Around about January, ladies and gentlemen, families are going to come back from holiday, mum and dad are going to go back to work, mum’s going to turn on the air conditioner, get the kids ready for school, school’s going to turn on the power, and if we don’t watch out, the lights are going to go out,” Joyce said.

“And this will be a salutary lesson on how economics really work. A salutary lesson against the fatuous economics that’s being peddled.

(“In the) Galilee Basin, we are in the fight of our lives trying to open up a mechanism that will create wealth for this nation. Total insanity!” he said. “What’s one of our biggest exports, or our biggest export? Coal. And what are we making the argument against? That we should use coal. It’s absurd. …I just don’t get it.”

Joyce also doesn’t get climate science, and like his compatriot, Fiona Nash, is skeptical about the research credentials of global warming.

“Look….I just – I’m always skeptical of the idea that the way that anybody’s going to change the climate – and I’m driving in this morning and we’re driving through a frost – is with bureaucrats and taxes,” he told conservative commentator and noted climate denier Andrew Bolt in an interview in 2015.

“All that does is….it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I make you feel guilty so I can get your money and put it in my pocket and send reports backwards and forth to one another,” he said.

But Joyce may not be gone for long. The by-election is expected to be held very soon, probably December 2, and Joyce is expected to win, even if popular independent member – and friend of renewables and climate science – for New England, Tony Windsor, decides to run against him. UPDATE: Tony Windsor has announced he will not be running against Joyce.

And Joyce’s brief absence should be countered by the safe return of Matt Canavan, the Queensland Nationals Senator who, along with SA independent Nick Xenophon, was cleared by the High Court, despite having dual Italian citizenship. The Court ruled that Canavan did not know about his Italian citizenship, and so could not have taken all reasonable measures to renounce it.

Canavan, who has already been reinstated as the federal minister for resources and northern Australia, was recently dubbed the “minister for the mining sector”, after his heartfelt farewell to the sector when the citizenship scandal first reared its ugly head in July and he stepped aside.

“It has been such an honour to represent the Australian mining sector over the past year,” he wrote on Facebook. “From the small, gambling explorers and prospectors to the large, world-beating multi-nationals, the industry provides rich and diverse experiences that can take you to the smallest towns of outback Australia to the biggest cities in the world.”

The note sparked instant outrage from readers, who noted Canavan was “supposed to represent the people of Queensland, and not private mining companies.” We will see whether his priorities have changed any when he returns to work.

The disqualification of Nationals Senator number three – and deputy leader of that party – NSW Fiona Nash (minister for regional development) could be chalked up as a small win for climate policy. Nash, like Joyce, is skeptical about the science, telling Sky News last year “I don’t think it is certainly necessarily settled.”

To Malcolm Roberts, it is farewell, after just one year in Parliament. During this short period of time, Roberts has distinguished himself by repeatedly denying the human influence on climate change; by introducing a hoax “conceptual penis” research paper to Parliament in an effort to undermine the validity of peer reviewed science; and asked Chief Scientist Alan Finkel if it was important for scientists to have an open mind, to which Finkel responded: “yes, but not so much that your brain leaks out.”

In a statement on Friday afternoon, Roberts said he was sad to leave federal parliament, but accepted the High Court decision entirely. Probably because it’s not based on science. Roberts will now run for the seat of Ipswich – the “heart of One Nation” – in Queensland state politics.

One Nation, meanwhile, still holds four seats in federal parliament. Next in line for Roberts’ seat is Fraser Anning – a publican from the Queensland coal region of Gladstone, who attracted just 19 first preference votes last year. His stance on renewables and climate is not immediately clear – neither his Facebook page nor his One Nation profile were accessible at the time of publication – but he is a fan of a good conspiracy theory.

For the Turnbull government, it is a blow, and an embarrassment, whether the PM likes to admit it or not.

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In an upbeat address to reporters on Friday afternoon, Turnbull said the Coalition had remained focused on the business of government pending the Court’s decision, and pointed to his National Energy Guarantee as evidence of that. Never mind that the NEG has been widely derided as non-policy; at best an outline of one possible framework among many.

Turnbull even took the opportunity to do some energy politicking, telling reporters “we all know that Labor’s (energy policy) would see prices rising as far as the eye can see.”

Tony Windsor, who has confirmed he will not be contesting the by-election, said one of the main things that kept him interested in federal politics was the “discgraceful” short-term politics Coalition members like Abbott and Joyce, who supported climate and energy policies that “do nothing” to solve the problems of the future.

And he also noted that, despite Joyce’s position as the front runner for New England, the by-election would open up a key seat to other candidates, who could campaign on some of the key, long0-term political issues that he felt the Turnbull government had fudged.

“The government has a majority of one,” he told the ABC on Friday afternoon. “Now that ‘one’ is going to be out of town for a while. … so if people want to get up there and talk about the significant issues that affect New England, I’ll be right up there supporting them,” Windsor said.  

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  • Joe

    Thank you Sophie. Yes, I was watching The ABC as those High Court decisions were announced. With ‘Italiano Matteo’ now Aussie Matty the way is clear for the former ‘Rescuers Minister’ to resume his Ministry position and resume his number 1 priority of going full tilt for Adani to dig away. I guess it will give Peter Garrett and friends more fodder to stay the course in defending The GBR. Malcolm Roberts…there are no words for the dude.

    • David leitch

      Agreed

  • Rod

    Roberts is apparently going to run in the QLD election so we may not have seen the last of him.

    • Mike Westerman

      Let’s hope the voters of Ipswich have realised what an incompetent confused fraud he is.

      • trackdaze

        As were 77 voters at the federal election.

        Choose wisely ipswich voters, choose wisely.

        • solarguy

          I suppose it all depends on Ipswich’s collective IQ and education level…………….and the gullibility factor.

          • trackdaze

            Ipswich going great since coal mining has gone and coal fired swan bank power was turned off.

    • Joe

      A real test for QLDers then..could he…just might he…get elected…..thank god I live in NSW!

    • solarguy

      He is unlikely to win though.

  • Robert Comerford

    Are you certain Canavan was given a reprieve because he didn’t know?
    More likely the so-called Italian citizenship conferred no privileges just as in the case of the X factor.
    Hard to see the High Court allowing ignorance as an excuse otherwise that would set a precedent!

    • solarguy

      I think the courts judgement on Canavan rather suss don’t you?

      • Mike Westerman

        My reading (and I’m not a lawyer) was the court found you virtually couldn’t escape from the Italian law like NZ but it wasn’t actually a grant of citizenship but something you had to activate (unlike NZ).

    • Alastair Leith

      Yes that’s been misreported here i think,

  • The Duke

    I hear Johnny Depp is applying for Australian Citizenship just to run in New England. Not much chance though, Beetroot Barnaby would get him deported as an undesirable for breaking the rules.! Although Beetroot knew he was in fact a bogus Politician and fraud at least he’s no pirate….AH ME MATIES..!

  • The Duke

    Poor Lean Hanson said that Queenslanders would be only too understanding to forgo some GST revenue for the sake of the Sandgropers in WA. I wonder if she will mention this amazing thought bubble during the coming Election.