30/09/2020

The key mining and resources ministry has gone to Queenslander Keith Pitt amid internal Coalition disputes on coal and climate change.

But the water portfolio will be transferred from Mr Littleproud to Mr Pitt, keeping it in the hands of a Queenslander at a time of intense political dispute over the needs of irrigators during a drought, while environmentalists insist water needs to be returned to the river.
Nationals MP Keith Pitt enters cabinet with responsibility for resources.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack will retain the infrastructure and transport portfolio and has elevated some of the allies who helped him fend off a challenge from former leader Barnaby Joyce on Tuesday.
The next test of Mr McCormack’s support is likely to be a decision among the Nationals on new rules that could raise the threshold required within their party room to challenge the leader.
While Mr McCormack supports a rule change but says it is up to others to put forward a proposal, Mr Joyce opposes the change and could use any vote on the matter to test the leader’s authority.
A proposal to lift the threshold for a leadership spill was brought to the Nationals party room following the May election and was referred to the party’s federal management committee.
Party sources said little work was done to progress the plan, however Victorian MP Anne Webster attempted to again put it on the agenda on Tuesday.
One Nationals MP told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Dr Webster had received “serious pushback” on the proposal by colleagues who remain loyal to Mr Joyce. The proposal is not expected to be put to a vote internally in the near future.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester will keep the portfolio but return to cabinet, reversing his demotion in December 2017 in a reshuffle forced by Mr Joyce before he, in turn, resigned as leader two months later.
Mr Chester keeps responsibility for veterans’ affairs at a time when he is overseeing a royal commission into veterans’ suicide, which was announced on Wednesday.
NSW Nationals MP Mark Coulton remains Minister for Regional Services with responsibility for health, regional communications and local government.
In a promotion from the ranks of the assistant ministers, NSW Nationals MP Andrew Gee rises to a full ministry with responsibility for regional education and decentralisation as well as being assistant minister for trade and investment.
Assistant minister Michelle Landry has retained her portfolio of children and families and adds responsibility for northern Australia, supporting Mr Pitt.
Kevin Hogan, a Nationals MP from the north coast of NSW, joins the executive as assistant minister to Mr McCormack.
While Mr Pitt has argued for the use of nuclear energy as a way to boost electricity supply without increasing greenhouse gas emissions, Mr Morrison said his promotion did not mean a change in government policy.
“The arrangements around nuclear are well known and the government’s policy has been clear there about the need for there to be bipartisanship to be able to move forward,” Mr Morrison said.
Asked whether Mr Pitt would be conflicted on key mining decisions when mines required water access to proceed, Mr Morrison defended the arrangement on the grounds separate departments would run each side of the portfolio.
“The authorities the minister has when it comes to water resources will be advised by a separate department,” Mr Morrison said.
“That remains where it sits and that will continue and the minister will acquit himself across those responsibilities.
“We all have difficult matters that we must arbitrate on and I have no doubt that Keith will be able to ensure that he can manage those interests.”
Decisions on groundwater management at the Adani coal-mine have been handled by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.  Decisions on investment, such as any federal support for the railway line to the Adani mine, have been handled by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra