Seven big questions for the bush in leadership crisis

Seven big questions for the bush in leadership crisis


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Liberal spill: Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton in Parliament today. Photo Lukas Coch

Liberal spill: Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton in Parliament today. Photo Lukas Coch

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The Liberal party leadership spill could create significant change for critical regional policies.

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UPDATED 1.30pm

Australia is in the midst of a political crisis, as the Prime Minister on the brink of being replaced tomrrow.

The ructions could have significant ramifications in regional Australia. Below is be a list of key policies at stake in the bush.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appears to have lost support of his colleagues to lead the Federal Liberal Party. 

Peter Dutton challenged Mr Turnbull on Monday and narrowly lost.

Mr Turnbull said today he would convene party room meeting on Friday and if a majority voted for a spill motion he would stand down as PM and leave Parliament. 

Treasurer Scott Morrison  and Home Affairs Minister are expected to contest the leadership.

One thing is certain. The ministry will be reshuffled at some point in the near future. The junior partner in the Nationals may even seek to renegotiate the terms of the Coalition agreement.

The new Prime Minister will have to announce themselves to the electorate. They’ll do that by making their stamp on the Coalition and its policies.

Energy policy

Drought grips the country, bushfires sweep the east coast in winter, climate change alarm is intensifying, power prices are soaring and the Liberal Party is eating itself alive.

In an attempt to quell internal party ructions Mr Turnbull announced sweeping changes to National Energy Guarantee.

In all but name down went the NEG and along with it went the hopes of agriculture for stable policy.

“I'm incredibly disappointed. We are back to square one,” National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said.

A coalition of industry representatives has been pleading with government for relief - as farmers, regional processors and manufacturers battle power bills that have as much as tripled in recent years.

The ag sector which will struggle most to lower emissions and agriculture wants two outcomes – lower power prices and for the energy sector to do the heavy lifting required to deliver on Australia’s international emissions reductions commitments.

The Nats have been arguing for coal to remain in the mix, while energy experts have questioned its role in a renewables-dominated future.

At the time of writing it is unclear who will lead the federal government and what their policies will be. Mr Dutton has mooted even more changes, including removing GST from electricity bills and a Royal Commission into the energy market.

Meanwhile, the the message from Commonwealth Bank AgQuip field days at Gunnedah NSW is for politicians to get back to work on issues such as power prices and drought assistance.

Drought

Drought relief has been front and centre of federal politics in recent weeks. The government has made three successive policy announcements, all of which focus on social welfare funding and financial incentives to farmers to invest in drought preparedness.

Industry has welcomed the initiatives, but as the drought drags some groups are beginning to argue that cash payments are needed to keep farmers afloat.

The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have been heavily involved in the policy roll out. Last weekend he personally called farmers to discuss the issue.

A change in leadership could open the door for new drought initiatives as a  new PM makes their mark on this topical issue.

Water allocations have dried up in the crucial fodder growing Southern Murray Darling Basin and irrigators  are urging the federal and state governments to explore every option to free up supply.

This week Mr Dutton outlined his policy agenda as he made his case for the Prime Ministerial suite. He  pledged to do more to get water to drought hit farmers and said more dams could be on the agenda.

Regional politicians

Regional MPs are playing a crucial role in the unfolding drama in Canberra.

Lower House independent members are wary of a government led by Peter Dutton.

The Coalition holds power with a one seat majority, and any defections from its ranks would mean Mr Dutton has to govern in minority, relying on votes from the crossbench.

Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie said he would not guarantee confidence and supply to the government if Mr Dutton were PM.

That means he could withhold his vote for Budget bills, blocking essential financial supply to the Commonwealth.

Victorian Cathy McGowan and South Australian Rebekah Sharkie said they may do the same.

Nationals MP Kevin Hogan said he would move to the crossbench if Mr Dutton took over, arguing he would drive voters from away from the Coalition in Victoria.

Two other Nationals, Darren Chester and Damian Drum and Kevin Hogan, are believed to be open to doing the same.

It is possible the crossbench could join with the Opposition and pass a no confidence motion, which could trigger an election if the Government cannot control the House.

Migration

Australia’s immigration levels have been making headlines, with some conservative politicians calling for a significant reduction.

However, many in the agriculture sector such as the Regional Australia Institute have been arguing for reforms to place migrants in job-hungry regional communities.

The RAI held an event in Parliament House to launch its push for a new visa category for regional migrant workers in May, which was praised at the time by Deputy PM and Nationals Leader Michael McCormack.

Government could help communities “join the dots” between demand for workers and new migrants, Mr McCormack said.

Labor agriculture spokesman Fitzgibbon offered bipartisan support for the policy, highlighting its emphasis on community-lead migration intake.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the Government could do more to support the policy, “but it no doubt fears it will send mixed messages on its tough on migration rhetoric”.

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge said migrants who are sponsored for permanent residence on the basis of an intent to live and work in regional Australia don’t always stay long in the region once they have their permanent visa.

“This has been a key issue for discussion during my recent visits to regional areas over recent weeks. I am actively working with my parliamentary colleagues on positive solutions to help regional areas to meet labour demands,” Mr Tudge said.

Peter Dutton said this week he thinks Australia should reduce its immigration intake. How this plays out for the bush is a big unknown.

Telecommunications

Poor connectivity is the bane of regional residents.

The Mobile Blackspot program has co-funded hundreds of new 4G network towers and still the problem persists.

Meanwhile, the government is planning for the coming 5G network technology, auctioning off a monopoly licence to access spectrum across regional Australia in one huge block.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced today, amid the leadership crisis, that Chinese telco Huwaei has been barred from participating in the auction.

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, Regional Communications Minister announced the Regional Telecommunications Review in April.

It’s a routine review established by the previous Labor Government, but this time around it will be a hop topic in the bush and all eyes will be on the new administration to come up with policy solutions.

Climate change

Climate change was the issue that dared not speak its name when former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce held the portfolio

His replacement Minister David Littleproud took office in December last year and by May he had introduced climate change to the lexicon.

In May Mr Littleproud led a meeting of state and federal agriculture ministers has resolved to develop a national strategy to tackle climate change.

Victoria’s Labor-lead cross-border Agriculture Departments in development of a on initial paper on adaptation policies.

The paper will include:

  • Potential climate change scenarios and impacts over time
  • Analysis of risks and opportunities presented by climate change to agricultural industries
  • A review current  adaptation policies across the country and a census of emissions reductions in the agriculture sector
  • Strategy to develop a national approach to adaptation

The right wind the Liberal party have deserted Malcolm Turnbull and among their ranks are a number of noted climate sceptics. How this policy area plays out could be hotly contested within the party.

Sheep live exports

To date, the government has resisted calls to shut down the export industry, which is run out Western Australia and South Australia.

Debate over its future was ignited in April after footage onboard the Emanuel Export’s vessel Awassi Express in August 2017 was shown on 60 Minutes.

The images from Awassi showed sheep dying from severe heat stress and in filthy conditions, while the vessel was on its way to the Middle East.

This week Emanuel had its export licence cancelled by the Agriculture Department, following a review.

The Opposition says it will ban the industry if it wins government.

A handful of Liberal MPs support the call, notably Sarah Henderson and Sussan Ley. The Liberals, from NSW and Victorai, respectively, last night released a joint statement calling on the Agriculture Minister to remove the industry regulator from the Department, so it functions as an independent body.

“The regulator is riddled with conflicts of interest including that it be required to simultaneously police the live export trade as well as promote live exports,” the statement said.

Still on the export front, the Trade Minister has resigned his portfolio pending a leadership vote, leaving one of agriculture’s key policy fronts unmanned.

The story Seven big questions for the bush in leadership crisis first appeared on Farm Online.

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