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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce’s sudden elevation to deputy prime minister has put a significant obstacle in the way of Scott Morrison’s creep this year to a commitment to a net zero 2050 target. More generally, it has made internal Coalition relations more unpredictable.

In this podcast Joyce reiterates his opposition to embracing the target, while leaving some wriggle room. “With the information that I’ve got at the moment, it’s not on […] And that’s because there is no information.”

“What we know at the moment is that there is no list of ‘these are the costs to people in regional Australia’.” Still, he says, it’s not a binary choice. And he stresses that the final decision on the Nationals’ stance will be taken in its party room, although he wouldn’t expect a formal vote.

Pressed about his controversial dropping of the resources portfolio from cabinet to the outer ministry in his reshuffle, Joyce redefines “cabinet”, saying resources is “still in cabinet, even if it is in the outer cabinet”.

On the proposal for a coal-fired power station at Collinsville in Queensland – which most observers do not believe will get off the ground – Joyce says he would have “no objections” to the government underwriting the project, but he’d want to see the details before being more positive. “I’m very consistent in the approach I take, which is before you want me to underwrite what you’re doing, let me have a look at what it costs and then I’ll decide.”

Asked about his future if the Coalition wins the election, Joyce says he would intend to stay the full term as leader – but he is also “quite open” to transitioning the party. “I’m not going to hang around like Sir Earle Page [leader of the Country party 1921-39]”.

Meanwhile he wants to grow the number of Nationals seats at the election, not just hold onto current ones. He says his eyes are on Lingiari (NT), opportunities in NSW’s Hunter Valley and Senate positions.

Transcript (edited for clarity)

Michelle Grattan: With Barnaby Joyce back as Nationals leader, Scott Morrison now has a very unpredictable and feisty deputy prime minister. Opinion is divided over whether Joyce will be an electoral plus for the Coalition or a minus. But there’s a general agreement that it will be a bumpy ride with him in the sidecar. The deputy prime minister joins us today.

So, Barnaby Joyce, let’s start with climate. You’ve been strongly against signing up to a 2050 net zero target. Do you totally oppose the prime minister doing that, embracing that target firmly, or are you open to a deal about this in which farmers get some financial benefit?

Barnaby Joyce: Well, sometimes that question is posed in such a way as one side looks all rosy and the other side looks all nasty and I don’t think the question is really that binary. Really, what you have to say is if you’re talking about a deal, then what is the deal? Who pays the money? Who gets the money? What are the costs? There are so many discussions I’ve heard from people such as Professor Peter Wynn, who is one of the lead scientists for the CSIRO, to the IPCC meetings in South Korea, where they clearly state that some of the things that farmers believe that they will get paid for, such as carbon sequestration in their soils, they say, well no that’s in the baseline. You’re not, we’re not going to get paid for something that’s already there. You’ll have to look for what goes on top of that. And what goes on top of that would be, they believe, methane emission reduction. ANd of course, that’s in bovine ruminants, cattle. And regional Australia, that is a big issue. And so that’s just one example of many where you want to see all the details before you start saying whether you will or whether you won’t. And I… what I always worry about is people when you leave that option there, whether you will or whether you won’t, means you open it to negotiation, if you just hang around long enough, they’ll negotiate to a conclusion. No, it means whether you will or whether you won’t. And that should not be read as most likely yes.

MG: Well, you’re saying it’s not a binary choice…

BJ: It’s not.

MG: But I think I’ve heard you many times say it’s not on, that you are against that target being embraced before the Glasgow Conference.

BJ: With the information that I’ve got at the moment, it’s not on. So, you know, and that’s because there is no information.

MG: So to be just absolutely clear on this, you’re saying on what you know, it is not on, but you don’t have a completely closed mind if there was more information?

BJ: Well, what we know at the moment is that there is no list of ‘these are the costs to people in regional Australia’. Remember, regional Australia, we’re emission intensive. Whether it’s farming, whether it’s abattoirs, whether it’s electricity use, whether it’s manufacturing, which we still have, whether it’s coal mining, of course, or any other form of mining. These are completely different industries to the power in a white collar, multi-storey, urban, CBD type scenario, which is vastly less emission intensive. If we were to say that the way we will deal with emission intensity is not through carbon as emissions, but reducing, I don’t know, carriageways on major arterial chokepoints. And by so doing saying, well the way we’re going to reduce emissions is close down three lanes on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Everybody in Tamworth would think that was a splendid idea, but the people in Sydney would have a completely different view. And that is a simile. So you can understand that different areas have different views of a policy objective because of how it affects them.

MG: Obviously, the farming groups have views. Will you be consulting with them before any decisions are made?

BJ: Well, we consult with them all the time. I don’t have go too far to consult with them, I am one. I’m a farmer myself. So, and once more, I’d be saying to any person, well, have you got all the details of what the costs are here? Do you know exactly what this entails? Because if [I/A] signs up and they say, okay well now we’re going to move to a methane trading system which is going to impede further emissions from bovine ruminants, it’s going to obviously be an [I/A] in the cattle industry. I’ll be saying to them, don’t come back to me and say that you didn’t support it because you told me you did and the fact you supported it blind, well fool is you. Now, you have to explain that to your members. What I’m going to say is until I see the details, until, just saying do you want to buy a house is not good enough. You tell me the sort of house and you tell me the price is, tell me everything from the condition of the tiles to the state of the carpet before I start making decisions about whether I want to buy it.

MG: And would the final position be put to a vote in the Nationals party room?

BJ: The most important thing is that the decision of myself, is only one person in a room, and if the room decides not to make the decision and support, then that is the decision. I’m a reflection on the view of the room. I’m not some sort of omnipotent presence in there. I hope maybe I have a slightly better capacity to sway a debate. But I can assure you 100% that there will be people going over this forensically. And if they’re not happy with it, it won’t get through the room.

MG: And so there would be a vote, a formal vote.

BJ: You don’t, you don’t… Very rarely do you have a formal vote. You don’t need to. There are 21 people in the room, and everybody has got a rough idea to count.

MG: Well, some of them didn’t have a very good idea, but we’ll let that pass! The mining industry is a big part of the national constituency. And yet you’ve relegated Resources Minister Keith Pitt to the outer ministry. Why did you do this? Why did you put resources outside the cabinet?

BJ: Well, it’s not outside the cabinet. You got inner cabinet and outer cabinets and outer cabinets still in cabinet. It’s still in the blue carpet. It’s still gets asked questions at…

MG: Well, it’s still in the ministry, not the cabinet.

BJ: Well, the assistant ministry, as they are noted now, is now what we used to be parliamentary secretary. So…

MG: But he’s a minister, not an assistant minister…

BJ: Maybe the nomenclature has changed, but if you go into the ministerial wing, you will find resources and water infrastructure and Keith, who does an incredibly good job. Now, I would also like to say that Northern Australia is part of resources, agriculture is obviously part of resources and most certainly water. My own role as, in infrastructure and transport. I’m 100% in support of resources. I think there’s a whole team approach in how we deal with the resources for which the leader of that team, when it comes to resources and water is Keith. And this is, this is very interesting that we have other people who are now talking about the only thing, the only feather they can fly with is they can, is they talk about whereabouts in an office, in the ministerial wing, water and resources… water and resources was, and where it is now. I’ve never had a question, I’ve never, I cannot remember one question in question time for the last few years that has been asked by the Labor Party about resources, about their support of the coal industry, because they don’t have it, or mining or anything else because it’s not important to them. If they want to show authenticity in where their belief is, talk about the subject matter, not about, you know, in which office resides a portfolio that is still in cabinet, even if it is in the outer cabinet, or the inner cabinet.

MG: Talking about coal, have you seen the draft report for the coal fired power station at Collinsville, which I think is circulating around? And should the government underwrite this project?

BJ: Well, no, I haven’t. Yes, I should. And I believe that Australia has got a role.

MG: I think Angus Taylor’s got it, hasn’t he…

BJ: I think Australia has got a role in one of its major exports, which coal is. The best way for people to understand, people say ‘oh coal, thermal coal’s dead, thermal coal fired power stations are dying’. No, they’re not. And the proof to that is to be seen off the coast of Newcastle, off the coast of Hay’s Point, off Mackay, off Gladstone, off Port Kembla, where you will see very large ships collecting lots and lots of thermal coal for thermal coal power stations, which they are still building. They’re building vastly more each year in China than Australia has. And so I think Australia has one thing that really can do for emission reduction if it want, if we are serious and authentic about this, then we should be exporting the technology to use this major export of our nation that pays for your health, that pays for you, your social security payments, your NDIS all the other things you want, that we should be exporting the technology to use it in the most efficient way. So, yes, I would support, I would support the construction of a new high efficiency, low emission coal fired power station. In fact, I would try and [I/A] the Australian people and people in that industry to build the most effective one they possibly could, because the export of that technology would do vastly more for emission reduction than any other proclamations and sermons from Australia.

MG: So you would like to see the government underwrite the Collinsville project?

BJ: To say I would like – I have no objections to.

MG: Not more positive than that?

BJ: I’d have no objections to. I mean, cause you’re, once more you’re asking me to say, would I underwrite something? I said, well, show me what I’m underwriting first. I’m going to, I’m very consistent in the approach I take, which is before you want me to underwrite what you’re doing, let me have a look at what it costs and then I’ll decide whether underwrite it or not.

MG: Now, have you now concluded the partnership agreement with Scott Morrison, the Coalition partnership?

BJ: Well, the on a legalistic terms, it’s not actually… You need a Coalition agreement to go to the Governor-General for a person who intends to be the prime minister to prove that they have the numbers to be the prime minister.

MG: But the broad agreement, you know what I mean?

BJ: Yeah, I know. And I’m just saying that because the prime minister’s already the prime minister, they don’t technically need an agreement. But obviously, as we go through, we work out and I try to make sure I bargain for the best deal for the Nationals, not because the Nationals themselves, but to try and get the best deal for regional Australia, which the Nationals represent.

MG: Have you done that?

BJ: I’m doing it all the time.

MG: Will you release that…

BJ: No I won’t.

MG: Why not?

BJ: Well, because if anything, I do, if I wanted to negotiate anything in the public sphere, then I would do it online and everybody could have a comment about it. No I won’t. Just like I imagined when the Labor Party talks to the Greens, they don’t release every discussion they have and every iteration of every discussion they have. Nor when anybody talks to the crossbenchers, is it publicised for everybody to read and disseminate. There is you know, if I have an agreement with a person to try and get a better outcome for regional Australia, then I don’t start those negotiations by saying everything we will say will now become public.

MG: No, but that letter that came out some years ago when Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister…

BJ: That’s different, Michelle, because Malcolm Turnbull wanted to be the prime minister. In fact, I think Malcolm Turnbull would have eaten cut glass to become the prime minister. So he did need a piece of paper. And otherwise he had nothing to go to the Governor-General with and Mr Turnbull, certainly as he wanted to be the prime minister, he certainly needs to prove to the Governor-General that he had the numbers to be the prime minister.

MG: But that agreement did show what the Nationals were standing for, you recall.

BJ: That’s a different, yeah, it’s a different circumstances and a completely different requirement because Mr Turnbull needed a letter from the Nationals.

MG: Now, on issues affecting women, you said you’re a better person than you were a few years ago. But are you going to personally reach out to some of your critics among rural women to hear directly some of their concerns? Are you open to meeting those rural women?

BJ: Absolutely. I’ve got I mean, look, I think that this is an area where. I have four daughters, and so I have an obligation even to my own family to be, to do the very best job I can for, for people to have an equality of opportunity, no matter what their creed, what their colour, what their gender and where they live. And that’s you know that’s, I have people, Michelle, who are women who dislike me, I have women who like me. I have men who passionately dislike me, and I have men who like me. And that is politics, that is not stepping away from, I understand the hurt and concern, but that’s most profoundly felt by those in my family. And that’s my primary, my primary position of basically being humble and asking and presenting myself to be a better person out of the women who are closest in my life, which were my own family.

MG: But those rural women who’ve spoken out, your door is open to them.

BJ: Any person…my door was never closed. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever rejected a call from any person who’s come to this office wanting to say hello.

MG: How do you want to sharpen the profile of the Nationals, within the Coalition, to your constituency?

BJ: I think you’ve always, you’ve got to be resonating the issues that they bring up to you rather than representing the issues you want to bring up to them. So if in central Queensland they’re talking about coal fired power, then you’re brave enough down here to talk about coal fired power. If people on the Murray-Darling are concerned about access to water, then you talk about access to water. If people in other areas want to have access to whatever the benefits of renewable energy, you emphasise that, in other areas they say they don’t want to be next to renewable energy. Then you’ve got to emphasise that. You’ve got to reflect the concerns of your constituency. And you’ve also got to explain to an urban constituency, and remember Australia’s is one of the most urbanised nations on earth, why issues are different in regional areas in some instances, and they are in urban areas. And, you know, and that’s and that’s important to understand why someone, why a community at Nundle or at Kentucky might be split down the middle because of their different views over things such as renewable energy. When if you looked at the DNA of those people, they would have the same, they would be some Greens, some Labor, some and at all, but they would differentiate on a single issue. And that’s one of the…country areas are different because people are very, very aware of the constituency, the the seat they’re in, more so possibily, than in many, not all but many urban seats. People in the New England know they’re in the New England, people in the Riverina know they’re in the Riverina, people in Flynn know they’re in Flynn and in Parkes, know that they’re in Parkes. But if you said to someone in Jagajaga, where does it start? Where does it finish? Many would not know the answer.

MG: Now, it’s been suggested that there’s some implicit succession plan, that you will go through the next election and if the Coalition is re-elected, you’d serve some time, but not go through the full term, hand over to someone. Do you intend, if the Coalition wins the next election, to stay as leader throughout that term?

BJ: Yes, I do. But in the same breath, I also say that I’ve been here in the Nationals and now I’m the longest serving member of the Nationals currently in Canberra. And it is a statement of the obvious to say that I’ll probably be the most likely to be the next person to be moving on. And I believe absolutely in renewal. I see that in accountancy practices, as I see the biggest things on farms is that intergenerational shift and it’s also in politics. And so I don’t jealously say I’ll be here forever. And I do say it’s not so much a transition to me, it’s a transition to a whole suite of people who I believe will have great competencies to take the party forward. And that’s one of my roles.

MG: That seemed a bit of a yes/no answer.

BJ: Well it is a yes/no answer because it’s a yes/no answer. The reason it’s a yes/no answer is yes, I intend to stay for the full term…

MG: As leader…

BJ: And also, yes, I do intend to transition the party as well. And I’m quite open to that, to them and to you and to everybody, I’m not going to hang around like Sir Earle Page [Leader of the Country Party 1921-39, prime minister for 19 days].

MG: Just finally, do you think the Nationals can actually win more seats…

BJ: Yes.

MG: At the election or is it a case of holding what you’ve got?

BJ: No, absolutely.

MG: And could you give some examples?

BJ: Sure, well, when, since myself and Warren Truss when we were he was leader and I was deputy, and when I was leader myself, we did nothing more than win seats and grow the party. We grew the party from a, from a point where before they were actually talking about closing the party down and you… and I believe absolutely there are opportunities, in fact, I’m now in planning with others where those opportunities lie. And I’ll be making sure that we have the tactics, have the resources, and put forward the campaign to make the Nationals an even bigger party. And if we can do that, then I will feel that my job to my party, which I joined in 1997 in Charleville, has been well and truly fulfilled.

MG: Can you give a couple of examples?

BJ: I can give a number. I think that Lingiari is, has can be in play with the retirement of Warren Snowdon. I think in the Hunter Valley there are opportunities and there will be other areas and Senate, Senate positions that come up. It’s, it’s a, there’s, it’s a long road that has no turn. And I’ll be making sure that any opportunity we get, we capitalise on.

MG: Barnaby Joyce, thank you very much.

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Additional audio

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Politics with Michelle Grattan: Barnaby Joyce on net zero 2050, a coal-fired power station – and how resources is (sort of) in cabinet –