AGRICULTURE and Water are set to be merged into one ministerial portfolio under a new groundbreaking Coalition agreement.
The Nationals are expected to front the media at about 4pm after Question Time.
Fairfax Media understands that the new agreement signed today will see responsibility for water policy outcomes for the Department of Environment and the Murray Darling Basin Authority transferred into the Agriculture portfolio.
The agreement will also see the existing Coalition policies in relation to climate change maintained, including on any emission trading schemes or carbon reduction targets.
Other major outcomes include stronger moves to have cabinet consider amendments that were proposed by the Harper competition review, handed down earlier this year, to Section 46 of the Australian Competition Consumer Act, to prevent market power abuses in areas like agricultural supply chains.
Policy initiates launched by the release of the Northern Australia Development White Paper and $4 billion Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper – released mid-year – will also be maintained along with moves to implement policy initiatives that will build more dams.
Other outcomes are understood to include funding for communications technology like boosting the mobile phone and television black spot programs.
Greater commitment to the Inland Rail Project, from Melbourne to Brisbane and other infrastructure programs are also understood to have been negotiated in the groundbreaking deal.
The Nationals called for Water to be included in Barnaby Joyce’s Agriculture portfolio, as occurs in the NSW government, rather than the Environment portfolio, under new Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull.
Mr Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister today after winning a leadership vote in the Liberal party room last night 54 votes to 44.
Today, he sat down with National Party leader Warren Truss to discuss details of the new Coalition agreement which outlines how the two parties will work together to govern the nation.
In Question Time Mr Turnbull confirmed the Nationals had backed his leadership and supported the new arrangements for government.
The previous Coalition agreement was between Mr Truss and Mr Abbott but the new one had to be submitted to the Governor-General to commission the government under Mr Turnbull.
Speaking to media after the leadership vote last night, Mr Turnbull said there would inevitably be changes in ministerial arrangements.
He is expected to meet with the cabinet at the weekend or Monday with changes expected to be made and announced, following those talks.
“We'll make ministerial changes after the parliamentary sitting week is over,” he said last night.
For the Nationals, Mr Truss is currently Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Barnaby Joyce Agriculture Minister and NT Senator Nigel Scullion Indigenous Affairs Minister.
Luke Hartsuyker is the Assistant Minister for Employment; Darren Chester Parliamentary Secretary to the Defence Minister; Michael McCormack Parliamentary Secretary to the Finance Minister; and Senator Fiona Nash is Assistant Health Minister.
Speculation also persists that up and coming regional Liberals with strong agricultural ties, like Victorian MP Dan Tehan and NSW MP Angus Taylor may also be promoted following the dramatic leadership change.
Mr Joyce’s quest to build more dams and lift agricultural production will be boosted by having the Water portfolio transferred from the federal Environment Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry.
He held the Water portfolio in opposition and was particularly outspoken and a critical force in negotiating the Murray Darling Basin Plan into law while reducing the impact of water losses felt by irrigation communities.
NFF backs ministers
National Farmers Federation president Brent Finlay said he supported Mr Joyce continuing as the Agriculture Minister, in the new Turnbull cabinet.
Mr Finlay also backed Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture Senator Richard Colbeck maintaining his current role, which he also held in opposition.
He said Senator Colbeck was doing an “outstanding job” and Mr Joyce had been an effective, passionate and high profile minister which has benefitted agriculture.
Mr Finlay also said Mr Abbott had been an infrastructure Prime Minister who had backed big, national building projects like the Inland Rail and building dams, which had to continue in the new regime.
“Rural and regional Australia wants to see Malcolm Turnbull out there as soon as possible and as often as possible,” he said.
“The prime ministership is a very busy role but to see the Prime Minister in the paddock with farmers in those communities is absolutely critical.”
Mr Finlay said Mr Abbott had also contributed to the development of the Agriculture White Paper and Northern White Paper which he wanted to continue, under any new cabinet arrangement or Coalition agreement.
“The white papers can’t just sit there after being released,” he said.
“The new Prime Minister needs to pick up where Mr Abbott left off - not just on the Agriculture White Paper but also on the Northern White Paper.
“One way to lose peoples’ confidence is to stop the hard work that’s already been done on the Ag White Paper that’s been supported by so many people with about 1000 submissions to the development phase.
“We now want its policy initiatives to be implemented as soon as possible.
“Mr Turnbull has the opportunity to redesign the government front bench into what he wants to do and part of that is having a new Coalition agreement.
“But whatever happens with the ministry, we’ve got to continue driving Australian agriculture forward.”