SYDNEY • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has inherited a hard-right climate change sceptic as his deputy after the retirement of his current No. 2 yesterday, an appointment that could block any revamp of an emissions trading scheme.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, an outspoken lobbyist for farmers and for tougher controls on foreign investment, was voted to lead the coalition government's minor partner, the Nationals, in Canberra late yesterday. The leader of the Nationals traditionally takes the job of deputy prime minister.
"We will likely see a more assertive Nationals under Barnaby," said University of Sydney political scientist Rod Tiffen. "He and Turnbull really have very opposing views on climate change and they will butt heads over this."
Australia is one of the world's largest exporters of coal and iron ore and one of the largest carbon emitters on a per capita basis due to its reliance on coal-fired power plants.
It pledged to cut emissions by 26-28 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030 ahead of the Paris climate talks late last year. But a planned carbon trading scheme, which would have been the world's third biggest, was axed by previous conservative prime minister Tony Abbott to fulfil an election pledge.
Mr Turnbull, who ousted Mr Abbott in a party coup last year, is a carbon trading advocate who supports progressive climate policies. He lost the Liberal Party leadership to Mr Abbott while in opposition in 2009 because of his support for the then Labor government's carbon trading scheme.
"While Turnbull has put an emissions trading scheme on the back burner, he would want to revisit it at some point," said Professor Tiffen. "That would be impossible with (Joyce)."
Mr Joyce was the sole candidate to replace Mr Warren Truss as deputy prime minister. He has often said he does not believe Australia's extreme weather is linked to man's impact on the climate.
Last year, he made international headlines when he threatened to put to death Hollywood actor Johnny Depp's dogs after biosecurity officials learnt that the animals had entered the country illegally - telling them to "bugger off back to America".