Barnaby Joyce returns as deputy PM as Nationals implode over net-zero targets

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Barnaby Joyce has been returned as leader of the Nationals, and to the position of deputy prime minister, after an eruption of conflict over the Morrison government’s stance on climate change.

Now former Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, has become the latest major party leader ousted from their position over climate change policy.

Former resources minister Matt Canavan instigated the leadership challenge, moving a spill motion during a party meeting on Monday.

It is understood that Joyce was reappointed to the party leadership with the support of resources minister Keith Pitt and backbenchers Bridget McKenzie, Susan McDonald, Matt Canavan and Perrin Davey.

The group had expressed dissatisfaction with ousted Nationals leader Michael McCormack for not pushing back against the Morrison government’s apparent shift to embrace stronger action on climate change.

Michael McCormack originally replaced Barnaby Joyce as leader of the Nationals in February 2018, after Joyce resigned from the leadership position following revelations that he was having an affair and expecting a child with his former communications adviser, and allegations that Joyce had sexually harassed a Western Australian woman.

It is understood that Joyce had been working on building support for a leadership challenge for some time and had won the backing of a number within the Nationals party room who wanted a leader who would advocate for more support for fossil fuel industries.

Several prominent members within the Nationals party room have openly advocated for support for more funding for coal-fired power stations – including for a new coal plant in Collinsville in Queensland – and have called for more government support for new coal and gas developments.

As reported by Giles Parkinson on Friday, many within the federal Nationals – including Michael McCormack – have ramped up their opposition to stronger climate change action, and in particular, any potential commitment by the Morrison government to a net-zero emissions target for 2050.

Nationals members, including current resources minister Keith Pitt and former ministers Bridget McKenzie, Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan all spoke out against a net zero emissions target following the mere suggestion from British prime minister Boris Johnson that the Morrison government had adopted such a target following a meeting of the G7 in Cornwall.

Morrison has been forced to balance the concerns of the Nationals, as the junior partner in the Coalition government, against growing international pressure on Australia to make a formal commitment to a net-zero emissions target.

As a result of today’s events, it now appears even more unlikely that the Morrison government will join international peers in setting stronger emissions target, and raises the prospect that a Joyce-led Nationals party will use their position within the Coalition government to stronger pro-coal and gas policies.

The reinstatement of Joyce as Nationals leader is likely to force a renegotiation of the Coalition agreement between the Liberal and National parties. While the Coalition agreement is a secret document, it is understood to detail matters of policy agreement and the allocation of ministries between the two parties.

Joyce said on Monday, during a press conference following the spill, that he had already spoken with Morrison about the future agreements between the Liberal and Nationals parties.

It could also see former ministers Matt Canavan and Bridget McKenzie returned to the federal cabinet. David Littleproud remains as deputy leader of the Nationals.

Bridget McKenzie was forced to resign from a ministerial position in the fall-out of the ‘sports rorts affair’, which occurred during her time as sports minister due to an undisclosed conflict of interest when funding was provided to a gun club to which she held membership.

Matt Canavan resigned as resources minister last year following an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to reinstall Barnaby Joyce as Nationals leader.

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