Both the Liberal and National parties are taking a drubbing from country voters. A while back it was New England and Lyne. More recently it has been Indi and Wagga Wagga. Strong Independents are thriving in country electorates.
Outside the metropolitan area both Coalition partners have become heavily dependent on the miners rather than farmers for money and ideas.. The Liberal and National parties are also ignoring issues of concern to country voters – climate change, NBN, rural poverty and inferior health services.
Putting miners ahead of farmers
The results of the Wagga Wagga by-election with a swing of 29% against the Liberal Party confirms the trend in many electorates that country people and farmers particularly are abandoning both the Liberal Party and the National Party.
The ALP should perhaps look more closely at what Premier McKell did for the ALP in the 1940s and 1950s in NSW – selecting ALP candidates with strong rural backgrounds. It was a great success. An example was Eddie Graham, a pig-stud farmer who won the seat of Wagga Wagga for the ALP in six elections from 1941 to 1958. More than a branding change to ‘Country Labor’ is required.
But it is the Nationals who have so obviously betrayed their traditional country voters.
Increasingly the leaders of the National Party see their future with miners. With declining membership and with expensive elections to fund, the National Party is increasingly developing close ties with the mining industry at the expense of farmers.
The Federal President of the National Party, Larry Anthony, is a lobbyist for controversial coal mining company Shenhua Watermark that sought to build a $1.7b open cut mine on the Liverpool Plains. Santos and Delta Electricity are also clients of his lobbying firm SAS Consulting Group.
Former Deputy Premier and National leader, John Anderson, was a Chairman of the coal seam gas front-runner, Eastern Star, which was bought out by Santos in 2011. Former National MP and Energy Minister, Garry West, is Chair of the BHP Coroona project, adjacent to Shenhua. Former Deputy Premier, Mark Vaille, and National Leader is Chairman of Whitehaven Coal. Former NSW Deputy Premier, Ian Armstrong, is the Chair of the Shenhua Community Consultation Committee.
And the pattern continues. Barnaby Joyce called on the NSW government to expedite a coal-seam gas project to be built at Narrabri in the National Party heartland. In September last year Barnaby Joyce and Larry Anthony urged the National’s federal conference to put a freeze on renewable energy and phase out renewable energy subsidies while keeping fuel subsidies for miners.
More recently, Barnaby Joyce took a $40,000 gift from Gina Rinehart but returned it when it didn’t pass the pub test.
The Nationals have become avid supporters of coal as an energy saviour. The National Party Minister for Resources Matt Canavan despatched George Christenson to Japan recently to visit new coal generators and try to drum up finance for new coal-powered electricity generation in Australia.
In courting the mining sector, the Nationals are catching up fast, but the Liberals are still well ahead.
Only two weeks ago, Alex Turnbull, told us about ‘an undue level of influence on Liberal Party policies by a very small group of miners’. He particularly referred to coal miners in the Galilee Basin who have obviously made some very bad decisions on possible new mines. He alluded to one particular mining baroness!
The Liberal Party devotion to the multi-national mining sector goes back a long way. The most nasty collaboration was the mining industry’s $22 million funding in cooperation with the Liberal Party against the super-profits mining tax proposed by the Rudd government. The mining industry/Liberals saved the largely foreign owned industry about $60 billion over ten years. That really sealed the Liberal Party and mining industry love-in. Then came the crazy and wilful attack on the carbon tax by both the Liberals and Nationals
In the last ten years, 81% of political donations from the mining industry have been to the Coalition and 71% to the Liberal Party.
The new Liberal Party energy minister, Angus Taylor is an anti wind campaigner. The environment minister, Melissa Price is a former mining industry lawyer. It never rains, it always pours with mining industry apparatchiks. Only last week Scott Morrison announced that his new Chief of Staff would be John Kunkel, former Deputy CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia.
The Coalition and climate change
With their close connections to the polluting mining industry, it is not so surprising that both Coalition partners have been climate change sceptics. With the drought in Eastern Australia it is now notable that at last many farmers are expressing concern about the contribution of climate change in changing weather patterns with their contribution to the present drought. But leaders of both the Liberal and National parties are just not listening.
Depending on whether Malcolm Turnbull’s political trajectory was up or down, the Liberal Party has been expressing contradictory views on climate change.
But not the National Party. It has always ben solid in the ranks of the climate sceptics. In November 2009, the National Party told the Liberal Party that if they supported carbon pricing that would split the Coalition. That helped precipitate the first fall of Malcolm Turnbull .
Barnaby Joyce gave us all sorts of nonsense about carbon pricing and how the Sunday roast could cost $150 and slaughtering each cow would cost $575,000.
But nothing improved with Barnaby Joyce’s demise. The new National Party Leader, Michael McCormack shows no interest in the risk to farmers and others of climate change. In his maiden speech in 2010 he told us ‘not to listen to government grant-seeking academics sprouting doom and gloom about climate change’. (Mark Hudson – The Nationals have changed their leader). And there is no sign that Michael McCormack has changed his mind in any way.
In this blog on 8 August 2018 (JOHN MENADUE. The National Party is dudding farmers), I quoted Professor Lesley Hughes In ‘Cognitive Dissonance in the Big Dry’ . Lesley Hughes who is the Distinguished Professor of Biology at Macquarie University and a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia said
Climate change is worsening the drought now affecting huge swathes of the continent, bringing gut-wrenching misery for farmers and the communities they support. … But the science is clear – warming has contributed to a southward shift in weather fronts from the Southern Ocean, which typically bring rain to Southern Australian during winter and spring. As these weather fronts have shifted, rainfall in Southern Australia has declined, increasing the risk of drought conditions, including in agricultural heartlands such as the Murray-Darling Basin and the Western Australian wheat belt.
But despite all the evidence the National Party remains solidly in the column of climate sceptics.
Malcolm Turnbull made a secret coalition deal with Barnaby Joyce in 2016. It must have ruled out any serious action on climate change. We can safely assume that Scott Morrison has made a similar and secret deal with Michael McCormack that sells out farmers.
The Coalition has had over a dozen contradictory policies on climate change since 2009, more than the Kama Sutra. What is new is that for the first time the Coalition has now no policy on climate change at all , not even a fig leaf to pretend it has a policy.
The Coalition and NBN
Turning their backs on farmers in favour of miners and disregarding the risk of climate change, the National Party has also abandoned country people on the NBN. As Paul Budde (National Party has failed regional Australia on broadband) said
Around 2005, regional Australia – supported by the National Party, the Farmers’ Federation, the regional ABC radio stations and many others – started the campaign for better broadband. It was that push that led to the birth of what we now know as the NBN. …
Following the Great Financial Crisis in 2009 the regional plan was expanded to a national plan, with 96% of all premises to be connected to an FttH infrastructure.(fibre to the home)
However since the Coalition came into power in 2013 this high quality network was replaced with second-rate infrastructure. In relation to the fixed connections this infrastructure is based on re-using the old copper network, and this in particular will have a negative effect on regional connections, where the quality of that network is uncertain. Furthermore the distances between premises and the exchanges in the bush is greater and this also has a negative effect on broadband quality.
It was rather sad to see that once the Coalition came into power the National Party – initially the champion in the region – ceased advocating for better broadband in rural Australia and began to wholeheartedly support the second-rate broadband technology that is now being rolled out in regional Australia…..
It will be very difficult for regional Australia to now receive a similar quality of broadband-based services as their metropolitan counterparts. This will make it difficult to deliver ubiquitous healthcare, educational and government services across the country.
Having initially led the campaign for NBN the National Party is now content with Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate system.
The Coalition– rural poverty and poor health services.
I have written several blogs on this subject. (‘The failure of the National Party on rural poverty and rural health’)
In that article and others I have pointed out that on the mainland the poorest electorates are rural and invariably represented by National Party members. But I have yet to hear a National Party member speaking about the needs of the poor and disadvantaged in their electorates.
I have also pointed out that the National Rural Health Alliance which has 37 affiliated bodies, has consistently expressed concern about how country people suffer badly from inferior health services compared with other Australians.
But as with rural poverty, we hear practically nothing from National Party members about poor rural health services.
On the big issues facing country people – climate change, NBN, and health services – the National Party has gone missing. It is deserting its traditional base in favour of close relations with the mining sector. The National Party sees miners as offering a better future than farmers. No wonder Independents are making huge inroads into traditional National Party constituencies.
Parliamentary leaders of the National Party are throwing their lot in with the mining sector and remain content with a few ministerial crumbs dropped from the Liberal Party cabinet table.
See TV campaign on drought-stricken farmers’ challenge to Coalition’s climate change stance.