Resources Minister Keith Pitt is set to be elevated to cabinet under a deal between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce that sees the Nationals sign up to the 2050 net-zero target.
Pitt, who was demoted to the outer ministry by Joyce, has been one of the toughest critics of a rush to embrace the 2050 target, and a very strong advocate of the coal industry’s future.
Under the deal, the Nationals cabinet numbers would go from four to five although their overall frontbench numbers stay the same. Asked whether he’d put up the proposal of an extra cabinet minister, Joyce said “any decision like that is a decision for the prime minister”.
Joyce announced the agreement after the party met again on Sunday afternoon, but he refused to provide any detail until its terms go into the submission cabinet will consider.
The agreement comes as Labor has widened its two-party lead over the Coalition to 54-46% in the latest Newspoll, compared to 53-47% three weeks ago. The Coalition’s primary vote fell 2 points to 35%, its lowest level this term. (See below for details.)
The poll, published in Monday’s Australian, also found 47% of voters thought the government should prioritise meeting emissions reduction targets compared to 40% who thought lower energy bills should be the priority.
Joyce told a news conference after the Nationals party meeting: “We understand fully so many supporters who have concerns” about the net zero target.
But “heroics that leave nothing but a rhetorical flourish but leave the person who’s hurting in the same position that they were in is not an outcome that the Nationals party room supported”.
Morrison and Joyce negotiated on a slate of demands put forward by the Nationals late last week. The prime minister did not accede to all the Nationals’ demands, but agreed to enough to satisfy the majority of the 21-member party room. There was no vote.
According to sources, at Sunday’s meeting, Joyce expressed his own scepticism about net-zero.
The Nationals were focused on obtaining safeguards for regional Australia in the plan to proceed to net-zero.
Joyce said regional people were now in a vastly better position that they were “before we started those negotiations”.
While some Nationals such as senator Matt Canavan will continue to oppose net-zero, others are publicly enthusiastic about the decision. Victorian Nationals Darren Chester posted on Facebook that Sunday “has been a good day for the future of regional Australia”.
A relieved Morrison – who leaves on Thursday for the G20 followed by the Glasgow climate conference – said on Sunday night he welcomed the Nationals’ in-principle support for the commitment to reach net-zero by 2050, and looked forward to the matter finally being determined by cabinet.
Morrison has emphasised the decision is one for cabinet. He had made it clear he would take the target to Glasgow with or without the Nationals’ approval, but failure to reach a deal would have been politically disastrous within the Coalition.
“We recognise this has been a challenging issue for the Nationals. I thank the [deputy prime minister] for his leadership and his colleagues for their considered support,” Morrison said.
“I greatly respect the process they have undertaken in reaching this decision.
"Only the Coalition can be trusted to deliver a plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 that will protect and promote rural and regional Australia,” Morrison said.
Earlier, NSW Treasurer and Environment Minister Matt Kean criticised Morrison’s intention to take a projection for 2030 to Glasgow, rather than an enhanced target.
Kean told the ABC he would like to see Morrison take “an ambitious interim commitment”.
“I think at the very least the prime minister should take the average targets of all the states and territories […] which would be around a 35% target.”
“A projection without a target for 2030 basically says we don’t take climate change seriously.”
The projection will be well above Australia’s existing target of 26-28% reduction of emissions on 2005 levels, but Australia will face criticism for not raising the target.
GOVERNMENT TAKES NEWSPOLL HIT
The Coalition’s primary vote has fallen in Newspoll and Labor has widened its two-party lead, amid the extensive publicity about the government struggling to bed down its revised climate policy.
The Coalition now trails Labor on a two-party basis 46-54%. Three weeks ago the gap was 47-53%.
The Coalitions’s primary vote dropped 2 points to 35%, its lowest this term. Labor’s vote increased a point to 38%. The Greens were stable on 11%.
The Australian reported that the Newspoll result “marks the worst result for the Coalition since December 2018”.
Scott Morrison’s satisfaction rating fell 2 points and dissatisfaction with him rose a point, giving him a net satisfaction level of minus 4. Anthony Albanese had a point fall in dissatisfaction: he has a net rating of minus 9.
On the better PM measure, Morrison rose a point and Albanese was unchanged. Morrison leads 48-34%.
Labor was seen as the better party to lead Australia’s response to climate change – 35-28%.
Morrison announced Pitt’s elevation to cabinet. He said Pitt would work closely with emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor “to ensure we reach our emissions reduction targets through technology that will empower our industries and regional communities”.