So Barnaby Joyce has gone; resigned from the position of Leader of the National Party and deputy prime minister of Australia, taking with him his climate scepticism, general dislike of renewables, and love of all things coal.
But is his replacement – Michael McCormack – any different? Quite possibly not. Here’s what we know, so far:
The Coalition’s minister for veterans affairs, and the newly installed minister for infrastructure and transport, McCormack joined parliament as a Nationals MP in 2010, after being elected to the House of Representatives for Riverina, in New South Wales.
He is the first Nationals leader since 1990 not to have worked as a farmer, although he is the son of a farmer.
McCormack started his working life in the media, rising from cadet journalist at the local Wagga paper the Daily Advertiser, to the position of editor.
He has some shady opinions on climate change.
In his first speech to parliament in 2010, McCormack he referred to climate science as “the nonsense we hear so often spoken by so many who base their views on mere assumptions of what might or might not happen.”
And he said: “When it does not rain for years on end, it does not mean it will not rain again. It does not mean we all need to listen to a government grant-seeking academic sprouting doom and gloom about climate changing irreversibly.”
He also referred repeatedly to that old Dorothea Mackellar poem – “I love a sunburnt country” – that some people seem to believe is a legitimate counter argument to decades of scientific research.
“Australia fear for their livelihoods as the carbon tax starts to force prices up and up across the board – price increases they will be forced to wear unless they pass them on to customers.
“…This is a tax that the government sees as a magical cure to so-called climate change and exemplifies this government’s commitment to the environment over the citizens of Australia.”
On energy, and in particular the current debate on electricity market reform, McCormack has been pretty quiet lately, although it is doubtful he will deviate from the company line on renewables (too much, too soon, states bad).
But he does have form on anti-wind energy campaigning. In 2012, in a speech delivered to Parliament, he claimed:
“Wind power is an extraordinarily expensive and inefficient way of reducing carbon emissions compared with the option of investing in efficient and flexible combined cycle gas plants.
And “electricity from wind is four times as expensive as coal” (quoting a member of the notorious anti-wind lobby group Australian Landscape Guardians).
And “There are also serious concerns from people about the adverse health effects of wind turbine operation and these cases are starting to attract attention from medical professionals.”
On solar he appears to have fewer opinions, but his website does list a number of media releases announcing PV installations on Riverina sports grounds, airport terminals, and pools.
Perhaps that’s because in the Riverina region, solar is being embraced as a way to cut energy costs and deliver cheaper more reliable energy for struggling farmers.
It is host to one of the largest solar farms in the development pipeline for New South Wales – Maoneng’s battery storage ready 250MW Sunraysia solar farm, south of Balranald.And French renewables developer Neoen has also just started building a solar farm in the district, a 150MW project in Coleambally.
In Deniliquin, RES Group has announced plans for the 195MW Currawarra Solar Farm, with a possible lithium-ion battery system of around 88MW/44MWh.
RES is also proposing a possible 90MW solar farm at Tarleigh Park, with a possible 32MW/16MWh battery system.
Local governments have embraced it, too. The Shire of Corowa powers a majority of its local government buildings and facilities with more than 700,000kWh a year of solar power, after installing 416kW of PV across 14 council sites in 2015.
Meanwhile, his own electorate of Wagga Wagga, was named as the centre for a potential renewable energy zone in a major report put together by NSW network operator Trasngrid and the Australian Energy Market Operator. (See map above.)
Fun Fact: It was McCormack who in 2015 signed the official letter rejecting the offer from group of Christian church leaders of free solar panels for then PM Tony Abbott’s Sydney residence, Kirribilli House.
McCormack, in his former role as the parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, said the solar gift could not be accepted for reasons including Kirribilli’s heritage listing, ongoing costs of cleaning and maintenance, and security concerns.
At the time, McCormack reaffirmed the government’s commitment to renewable energy, but said the RET “as it stood, was going further than was planned. It was unsustainable.”
So, is McCormack still a climate denier and wind farm hater? The answer is… we don’t know yet if he has evolved any.
Greens MP Adam Bandt tried to ask the new Deputy Prime Minister about his position on climate change during Parliament’s Question Time, but got shut down by the House Speaker:
“The member for Melbourne has been in the House long enough to know that he needs to ask ministers about issues for which they are responsible, not about first speeches, not about any other speeches. The member for Melbourne can resume his seat. The Deputy Prime Minister, as far as I am aware with the tabling of the new ministerial responsibilities, is still the Minister for Veterans Affairs and he is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, and that question in no way goes to his responsibilities. We will go to the next question.”
That’s a stunning statement – to suggest that ministries of infrastructure and transport “in no way” are linked to climate change.
RE has emailed and phoned McCormack’s office to ask if he still holds any or all of the above views. Or if he had changed them like he did on his strident attack on homosexuality that he later apologised for. We will keep you posted.