Asia St: New Australia Deputy Prime Minister Spotlights Mounting Climate Tensions

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New Australia Deputy Prime Minister Spotlights Mounting Climate Tensions

June 21, 2021

A photo of Barnaby Joyce from 2014 (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

BGA’s Australia team, led by Managing Director Fergus Hanson, wrote an update to clients on the election of the outspoken Barnaby Joyce as the leader of the National Party of Australia, Australia’s junior coalition government partner under current Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The update addressed the context around the shift as well as its significance for Australia and for clients with an interest in the country. 

Context

Joyce is an outspoken figure who is no stranger to controversy and led the party from 2016 to 2018. His election comes following discontent over the performance of outgoing leader Michael McCormack, particularly on climate change, with McCormack serving as acting prime minister in Parliament as Morrison was overseas last week at the Group of Seven (G-7) summit.

This week is the last parliamentary sitting until August, so this was the only practical opportunity to call a leadership change before then. Australia is about to enter election season, with Morrison able to hold an election as early as August 7, 2021.

Significance

The change reinforces the role of energy and climate change as a political issue in Australia. The coal industry and climate change are very much entwined with the “culture wars” in Australia, and support for the coal industry is an article of faith for the Nationals.

Joyce’s election will raise eyebrows among some of Australia’s allies and partners. Morrison was widely viewed to have performed strongly at last week’s G-7 and in his meetings with leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, particularly in his mission to protect Australia from carbon tariffs.

Implications

Joyce’s election will embolden the coalition’s conservative base, including in Morrison’s Liberal Party. Climate change and energy policy will be elevated as political issues.

The election will pose a challenge to coalition government unity as Prime Minister Scott Morrison seeks to finalize a position on net-zero emissions before the November 2021 U.N. Climate Conference. The Morrison government’s current position is to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible and “preferably by 2050.”

BGA’s Australia team will continue to keep you updated on developments at home and abroad as they occur and assess the implications for companies and other stakeholders.