Meet our new deputy PM
Michael McCormack is just another Nationals climate sceptic
Given he is our new deputy prime minister, it is not surprising that “who is Michael McCormack?” pieces are now popping up everywhere. And yet, they glide over his worst offence: he appears to be just another National Party climate change denier.
In some respects, McCormack is a departure from previous leaders of the Nationals like John McEwen, Doug Anthony or Tim Fischer, who were themselves farmers. McCormack, who today was appointed infrastructure and transport minister, is already being lined up in Question Time as a “fake farmer”. Political opponents like Labor’s Stephen Jones joked that the price tag was probably still on his Akubra, and that the only muster he’d ever done was to muster the numbers to knock off Barnaby Joyce.
McCormack grew up on farms at Marrar and Brucedale near Wagga Wagga in the NSW Riverina district, but is a former journalist. This excellent primer in The Guardian links to the homophobic editorial McCormack wrote as editor of Wagga’s Daily Advertiser in 1993 (which he subsequently apologised for). It also points out that he was the small business minister responsible for the online #CensusFail in 2016, and was last year beaten for the deputy leadership by Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie (who has kept her role today). It’s a decidedly lacklustre CV that has seen The Australian columnist and former Labor senator Graham Richardson brand him [$] an “unworthy winner [who] has achieved nothing as a minister and is a question time non-event”. Crikey has labelled him [$] Australia’s “most expensive seat warmer”, on the assumption that Barnaby Joyce will be back. Joyce, of course, was himself a country accountant, not a farmer.
There is a much bigger problem, and it applies equally to Joyce, McCormack and the rest of their party. ABC Radio’s PM program vox-popped a few constituents in Armidale after Joyce stepped down on Friday afternoon, and one man on the street nailed it: “He’s a climate change denier, Barnaby Joyce, and I just find such people disturbing, and we lost him because he had sex with someone, I just find that also disturbing, we should be losing him because he doesn’t think properly.”
Going by McCormack’s parliamentary contributions on climate change to date, our new deputy prime minister also doesn’t think properly.
In his speeches, Dorothea Mackellar’s well-flogged lines get a lot more flogging: “I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains.” Especially that last bit, which has been wheeled out in service of the denialist notion that because Australia has always had droughts and floods, there is nothing new or remarkable in science that suggests climate change will make the droughts and floods more frequent or worse. As McCormack said in his first speech: “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. My father was a big believer in weather cycles – drought followed by flood – just like we have at present. It is just as Dorothea Mackellar described: weather doing what it has always done in this unforgiving land.”
So McCormack was quite certain that the devastating Brisbane floods in 2011 were “not climate change”, ditto the floods in his own electorate in 2012. McCormack calls the use of the words “dangerous climate change” hysterical, he cites Bjorn Lomborg and attacks Tim Flannery, he opposed the carbon tax, supported the abolition of ARENA, and complained that schools were teaching climate “doomsday scenarios” to our kids. Speaking on the Clean Energy Future package, McCormack said: “If ... the seas are rising due to the catastrophic climate change, why is it that so many of the doomsayers are still happy to live on the ocean’s edge? For every alarmist scientist after their next funding grant who will tell you we are facing ‘dangerous climate change’, I can show you a salt-of-the-earth generational farmer who will be just as convincing with his assurances that the only thing which changes is the weather.”
It is daft. Adam Bandt put the question directly to McCormack this afternoon – “are you still a climate change denier?” – but was ruled out of order by Speaker Tony Smith, on the bizarre grounds that climate change has nothing to do with McCormack’s direct portfolio responsibilities. We’ll have to wait for a direct answer to that question. He’ll fudge, he’ll wriggle out of it, but we know the answer.
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Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and the Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.
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