It’s back to Barnaby as the rural right-wing rump dumps Michael McCormack as Nats’ leader and restores the climate denialist and accused sexual harasser.
Barnaby Joyce has signalled a new period of instability within the Morrison government and further undermining of climate action by taking back the leadership of the parliamentary National Party from Michael McCormack in a partyroom ballot this morning.
McCormack left the meeting saying that the result was democracy in action.
The former — and now reelected — leader left the job, and the deputy prime ministership, in February 2018 after detailed allegations of sexual harassment emerged about the high-profile figure. Those allegations have never been resolved, despite a Nationals investigation of them. He denies them. The complainant, who wished the matter to remain confidential, was outed by party figures to News Corp at the time.
Joyce is an ardent climate denialist who has long attacked all forms of climate action, and his return signals that he will lead the Nationals against any efforts by moderate Liberals to move forward on climate — and may even seek to stymie action by state governments, such as that of his home state of NSW, which have embraced investment in renewable energy. Instead he and his supporters want federal subsidies for new coal-fired power plants.
Joyce’s victory — announced this morning by party whip Damian Drum as evidence the Nationals were the most democratic party in Australia — may lead to defections from the Nationals, with some long-term opponents flagging they will not tolerate his return to the party leadership.
There will certainly be a reshuffle. Veteran Affairs Minister Darren Chester, already forced out of the ministry once by Joyce, is likely to be the first target.
In his previous stint as leader, Joyce inflicted immense harm on the Turnbull government, first after being ousted from Parliament for failing to meet citizenship requirements (after mocking MPs and senators in other parties who had also been ousted), and then the circumstances of his departure.
An extramarital affair with a staffer showed up the hypocrisy of Joyce — an avowed Catholic who wore his social conservatism with pride — and caused deep embarrassment to Turnbull, whose political recovery from a difficult 2017 was derailed by the affair and the sexual harassment allegations.
It remains now to be seen if Joyce does to Morrison what he did to Turnbull: impede meaningful climate action and inflict serious political harm.