Barnaby Joyce returning himself to power presents problems for Scott Morrison, and an opportunity for another to topple him.

 

 

The leadership challenge was laid down in the Nationals party room on Monday morning, the votes were cast and the numbers counted, and the winner was announced: Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.

OK, technically it was Barnaby Joyce, who is now once again Nationals leader and thus shall be reinstated as deputy PM – but really, can anyone in the Coalition honestly see that as an unambiguous win?

The idea that Joyce would seek to take back the leadership of the National Party had been in the public consciousness from the second that Joyce surrendered the leadership of the National Party, not least because his ghostlike replacement Malcolm McCordell was so indelibly forgettable that you very possibly didn’t twig that his name is actually Michael McCormack.

And the leadership of Muggle McCondrite has not exactly been littered with triumphs. 

So prone to embarrassments is he that the Twitterverse responded to the news that he’d be acting PM during Scott Morrison’s trip to watch real leaders at the G7 by speculating what idiotic statement he’d make in public – and he didn’t disappoint when he declared on the floor of our federal parliament his desire to punish people in cities by sending mice to scratch their children in their sleep. Yes, that’s a real thing that happened.

So the deposing of McGurgle isn’t perhaps a loss in the traditional sense, but it’s hard to see Joyce as much of an upgrade – since, as Greens senator Larissa Waters pointed out, it now means that two members of the federal cabinet have unresolved allegations of sexual violence against them. That’ll be an exciting proposition to take to the female voting public! 

Nor will Joyce’s return settle the roiling discontent in the Nationals – a party whose history of internal score-settling has a certain Game of Thronesian quality to it. 

It’s likely to have some immediate blowback as certain Nationals MPs look at their future under Joyce and figure that an enthusiastic defection might be in order – either to the crossbench or, more likely, to the Liberals. McGlongle himself hasn’t ruled out not standing at the next election and Michelle Landry was one MP who implied she would have a problem remaining with Joyce returning as leader.

But Morrison shouldn’t take much comfort from such a possible reshuffle of the Coalition’s internal percentages. 

For one thing, it probably presages the return of shit-stirring Joyce backers like Matt Canavan and George Christensen to high-profile roles within the government. And even if Morrison picks up some fleeing National MPs, that might not count for much if Joyce seduces former Liberal MP, current crossbencher and full-time online peddler of crank conspiracy theories and dangerously inaccurate anti-vax medical advice, Craig Kelly, into the Nationals fold

 

With Joyce in the cabinet again Morrison had better hope it’s a mild, fire-free summer that doesn’t draw any uncomfortable questions about extreme weather events or the staggering cost of inaction. 

 

And given that Kelly’s down a chief of staff right now with Frank Zumbo being investigated by the police over allegations of indecent assault of young women, he could do with having a confidant like Joyce who knows a thing or two about sexual harassment allegations

But the biggest problem for the PM is that Joyce banging the pro-coal drum will drown out any of Morrison’s feeble pretences at climate action. 

Joyce is an out-and-proud denier of climate change and a vocal advocate for using public money to build coal-fired power plants while sidelining wind and solar power generation. The entire leadership spill was supposedly due to concerns that the Nationals would capitulate to the Morrison government’s pathetic and non-binding climate targets, which barely exist and are nonetheless too ambitious for Joyce to tolerate. 

And, ominously, Joyce flagged a new Coalition agreement with the Liberal Party as a priority during his first press conference – something which normally only follows an election, and which Morrison is unlikely to relish considering. 

It’s also impossible to rule out possible strife ahead for Morrison when more moderate, non-science-denying Liberal MPs in metropolitan electorates look at their margins and consider whether “using taxpayer money to actively increase Australia’s carbon emissions” is the sort of bold policy position that will keep their jobs, or if a cheeky on-principle crossbench move might be in order. 

Labor, on the other hand, have just been handed an incredible gift: their milquetoast, no-sudden-moves, gentle transition to renewables small-target policy now seems like bold and inspired leadership by comparison. What’s even better for Albo is that this new rejigging of climate politics will also help temper the more pro-resource voices in the Labor Party – or, to put it another way, make Joel Fitzgibbon shut the hell up.

With Joyce in the cabinet again Morrison had better hope it’s a mild, fire-free summer that doesn’t draw any uncomfortable questions about extreme weather events or the staggering cost of inaction. 

After all, it’s not like he’ll hold a hose, mate.

 

 

 

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