THE federal National party will be forced to renegotiate the Coalition agreement with new Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, opening the potential for Water to be shifted out of the Environment ministry and into Agriculture.
Mr Turnbull defeated Tony Abbott 54-44 in a controversial leadership vote at an emergency Liberal party meeting held in Canberra last night.
He is now set to become the nation’s fifth Prime Minister since Labor’s Kevin Rudd was deposed by Julia Gillard in 2010 in a similar party leadership dispute.
Ahead of the dramatic vote, federal National party leader Warren Truss indicated support for Mr Abbott but reiterated the Coalition agreement would require renegotiating under any new leader.
The Coalition agreement is currently signed between Mr Truss and Mr Abbott but the new one must be submitted to the Governor-General to commission the government in coming days.
Speaking to media after the leadership vote, Mr Turnbull said there would inevitably be changes in ministerial arrangements and he’d be meeting with the ministry this morning.
He said he expected ministers would continue in their current positions unless they choose not to, for the balance of the week.
“We'll make ministerial changes after the parliamentary sitting week is over,” he said.
For the Nationals, Mr Truss is currently Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Barnaby Joyce Agriculture Minister and NT Senator Nigel Scullion Indigenous Affairs Minister.
Luke Hartsuyker is the Assistant Minister for Employment; Darren Chester Parliamentary Secretary to the Defence Minister; Michael McCormack Parliamentary Secretary to the Finance Minister; and Senator Fiona Nash is Assistant Health Minister.
Mr Joyce’s quest to build more dams and boost agricultural production could be boosted by the leadership change and a timely motion passed at the federal party’s national conference at the weekend.
The federal conference called for the Water portfolio to be transferred from the federal Environment Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry.
Mr Joyce held the water portfolio in opposition and was particularly outspoken and a critical force in negotiating the Murray Darling Basin Plan into law while reducing the impact of water losses felt by irrigation communities.
NSW Nationals Senator John Williams supported the motion raised at the weekend’s federal conference and Mr Joyce’s capacity to manage Water and Agriculture.
Senator Williams said the Basin Plan promised to deliver a triple bottom line result but in removing water from irrigation communities for environmental purposes, t had lacked focus on the social and economic impacts.
He said the federal portfolio should be managed like it is in the NSW Parliament where the National’s Niall Blair holds both water and agriculture, as does Victorian National Party leader Peter Walsh, in his opposition portfolios.
“At a federal level water is in the environment portfolio and I want to see it back in the agricultural portfolio,” Senator Williams said.
“We need to sustain our environment but we also need to sustain our food production and local economies as well.”
Senator Williams also pointed out that the government had a significant funding allocation to water infrastructure, while Mr Joyce leads the government’s ministerial taskforce on dams.
“There must be fairness in this allocation of water,” he said.
Asked yesterday whether the water ministry should be handed over to Agriculture, as was argued at the weekend’s National Party conference, current Environment Minister Greg Hunt said, “I have enormous respect for the views of different players”.
But Mr Hunt said the passing of legislation to cap government water buybacks at 1500 gigalitres in the Basin Plan – driven by Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Bob Baldwin - was “evidence that we have a perfect balance”.
“I've got to say that Barnaby Joyce and I work incredibly well together,” he said.
“We have a really cooperative relationship.
“I like him, I respect him, I enjoy working with him and we have a very comfortable arrangement where we cooperate.
“But what we see is that we have a total environment portfolio built on four policies – clean air, clean land, clean water and heritage – and I think that's the right balance.”
Political analyst Peter van Onselen said he expected the National federally would become more “pushy” under a Coalition led by Mr Turnbull and may operate similar to the independent political stance adopted by the WA National party.
Don't take Nats for granted: Joyce
Fronting the media late last night, Mr Joyce indicated he would not allow the Liberals to take their junior Coalition partners for granted, saying, “Without the National party you don’t have a government”.
“There is no Liberal party government – there is only a Coalition government,” he said.
“Don’t ever, ever doubt what my belief structures are and what I’m prepared to do.”
Mr Joyce said the Liberal party had made its decision on Mr Turnbull as leader but warned the Coalition agreement was an agreement between the two party leaders.
“We must make sure we have a leader that can lead a Coalition,” he said.
“We need to make sure that the views that are well held by the National Party, who obviously didn’t get a chance to vote tonight, are understood and incorporated in any government going forward.
“We want to make sure that the key values that the National Party holds are properly reflected.
“We want to make sure that the key things that we desire for regional people – the essence of why we are in parliament – are properly represented.”
During his previous leadership stint, Mr Turnbull faced stiff opposition from National party members, due to his willingness to push an Emissions Trading Scheme without proper consideration for its potentially negative impacts on farmers and rural communities.
Liberal MP’s and Senators also shared similar views about Mr Turnbull’s attitude towards an ETS and inability to consult properly with party members; which ultimately cost him the leadership to Mr Abbott in 2009.
But last night Mr Turnbull indicated he was now squarely focussed on consultation in pushing a new culture of government.
“There are few things more important in any organisation than its culture,” he said.
“The culture of our leadership is going to be one that is thoroughly consultative, a traditional thoroughly traditional Cabinet government that ensures that we make decisions in a collaborative manner.
“The Prime Minister of Australia is not a president - the Prime Minister is the first among equals.
“Of course policies change, they change all the time, but people should have the confidence that we will be making decisions in a thoughtful and considered manner, recognising the significance of the work we have to do as the government of Australia.”