The Liberals and the Nationals – Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce

Feb 22, 2018

Only weak and compromised Liberal Party leadership would put up with the behaviour of Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals who have influence way out of proportion to their numbers and on policy issues, are a blank page or even worse. As Ian McAuley said yesterday Barnaby Joyce is an albatross around Malcolm Turnbull’s neck. It is getting worse every day.

Just look at the electoral arithmetic. At the last House of Representatives election in NSW and Victoria, where the Nationals are in Coalition with the Liberals as a separate party, a mere 8% of first preference votes for the Nationals delivered them 10 seats. On the other hand, while the Greens secured 11% of the votes in NSW and Victoria, they won only one seat. How different it would be if the Liberals ran strongly against the Nationals in some seats, or more likely if strong local Independents ran against the Nationals. The Nationals benefit hugely from an agreement that the Liberals will not compete against them in
most states.

With declining relative country populations in inland Australia, it is certain that more National Party seats will be abolished. Furthermore, five of the 16 National Party federal seats are coastal and will soon fall to either the ALP or the Greens. That process is underway.

In the Senate, the Nationals rely on the Liberals for four out of their five Senate positions. The Nationals obtained these positions because the Liberals gave them a convenient spot on a joint ticket. If the Nationals were forced to run a separate ticket, they would probably only win one Senate position – in Queensland.

In the recent Queensland state election, the Nationals as part of the Liberal- National Party performed very badly. The Conservative vote across the state was pulled down because of the poor vote in rural areas.

The National leadership is also very much out of touch with its own constituents. Fifteen out of 16 National federal seats voted ‘Yes’ in the same sex postal survey. This was despite Barnaby Joyce espousing ‘family values’!

When it comes to important policy issues, the National Party is very much a dud.

Its energy policies suggest that the National Party is very anxious to look after the mining industry and Barnaby Joyce’s good friend and soul mate, Gina Rinehart. When it comes to coal seam gas, farmers are pushed aside by the National leadership and their vested interests. The National Party President, Larry Anthony, is Executive Director of SAS Consulting Group which lobbies for Santos and Delta Electricity. Former National Party leader, John Anderson became Chairman of Eastern Star Gas about two years after leaving politics. Eastern Star Gas bought by Santos in 2011 is the company behind the Narrabri gas project.

Another former National Party leader, Mark Vaile, became Director and then Chairman of Whitehaven Coal, the company behind one of NSW’s most controversial mines at Maules Creek.

This focus of senior Nationals on minerals, gas and coal-seam gas suggests that they see the future with people like Gina Rinehart rather than farmers who have been their traditional electoral base.

After the last election, Barnaby Joyce put pressure on Malcolm Turnbull to secure responsibility for water policy The Nationals had long coveted the water portfolio which had been held by Liberal members. Under the new arrangements, water policy and implementation were included within the agriculture portfolio. As a result, Barnaby Joyce became the Minister for Water Resources.

Later the ABC 4-Corners exposed water theft in the Barwon-Darling valley through tampering with water meters. This forced the NSW government to establish a review which found amongst other things that NSW compliance with the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement had been poor. The Australian National Audit Office also expressed surprise at the way the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources had approved NSW compliance.

The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement was designed to overcome two centuries of dispute between the states on water allocation. The central proposition was that the Murray Darling river flows must be healthy or it will prejudice economic and social activities along its banks. So what did the National’s Minister, Barnaby Joyce, do when confronted with serious problems in the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basis Agreement, and in particular, water theft? He told us in July last year that the Commonwealth would not step in to investigate the water theft or indeed demonstrate any national leadership on the health of the Murray- Darling basin. As Paul Bongiorno in a recent edition of the Saturday Paper put it ‘The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is at the point of collapse. Joyce has been missing in action and silent on massive water theft while his irrigation mates game the system’. Malcolm Turnbull has also been missing in action.

Barnaby Joyce told us a lot of porkies about Labor’s debt, but is now pushing for a giant inland rail project with no proper cost-benefit analysis. There may be even more bad news for Australia and Barnaby Joyce on this rail project

Barnaby Joyce has tagged along with Malcolm Turnbull on the disastrous rollout of the NBN. As Paul Budde put it in Pearls & Irritations ,‘It was rather sad to see that once the Coalition came into power in 2013, the National Party, initially the champion in the regions (for NBN) ceased advocating for better broadband in rural Australia and began wholeheartedly to support the second-rate broadband technology that is now being rolled out in regional Australia.’

The National Party has also failed in addressing climate change which must surely have more serious consequences for farmers than any group in Australia. It is already apparent in south-western Western Australia as CSIRO has warned us.

Barnaby Joyce remains a determined climate change sceptic. When the Rudd Government introduced the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2008 it was strongly opposed by the Nationals. This National opposition contributed to the downfall of Malcolm Turnbull shortly afterwards. Then the Nationals joined in the shrill and ill-considered campaign against the Carbon Tax. It was all politics with little regard for the overwhelming science on climate change and the risk to farmers.

To add to the policy blank pages, Barnaby Joyce is now opposed to the introduction of a federal ICAC. He says there are adequate means to address corruption in Australia.

As Mile Carlton put it on Twitter ‘One of the big lies of politics is that the National Party represents country folk.. No it doesn’t .. It’s there for Big Coal,Big Iron Ore, Big Gas, Big Sugar, Big Water, Big Beef and Big Gina’

The National Party and Barnaby Joyce are conning  country voters, the Liberal Party and Australia. It’s time we woke up.

Tomorrow, I will be discussing the issues of rural poverty and poor rural health. On both these serious issues, the National Party scarcely says a word.

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