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Byron Shire
April 15, 2021

Thus Spake Mungo: Nats at play

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In the broad stream of politics, it seldom matters which Nationals are in the coalition ministry and which aren’t.

Few if any punters will have heard of Darren Chester, let alone Keith Pitt, and most wouldn’t have recognised Bridget McKenzie and Matt Canavan until they had left the front bench – McKenzie for a minor offence (there were plenty of more serious ones to lay against her) and Canavan for resigning in an attempt to knock off his leader.

McKenzie, of course, had become the scapegoat for sports rorts, and Canavan a climate denier and a fanatical lobbyist for fossil fuels, so neither will be missed, although, incredibly, both have retained their positions in the Nationals senate leadership team and there are already suggestions that they should be rehabilitated to the ministry.

However, within the cabinet, other nonentities can seamlessly replace them – as long as the Nats retain their quota within the coalition agreement. And it could be argued that much the same would apply if Michael McCormack himself retired to the backbench, or indeed, if he disappeared from parliament altogether – he has failed to make any impression, even within the political media which sometimes find themselves unable to pick him out of an identification parade.

With one exception, since the resignation of Tim Fischer, the Nats have been unable to find a leader with even a hint of charisma, and the party’s glory days of the real heavies – Black Jack McEwen and his successors, Doug Anthony and Ian Sinclair, are long gone. But the exception, of course, is the great Beetrooter, Barnaby Joyce, who, in the current party room, stands out like a prize stud bull in a paddock full of steers and heifers.

Joyce could hardly be called a major achiever, but he has certainly been noticed, both in and out of his party’s leadership – and it is worth mentioning that he can justly boast that he has had more experience of leadership than either McCormack, or even Scott Morrison. No one is calling him Dial Tone, the derisive nickname recently attached to the forgettable McCormack.

Barnaby Joyce during an interview with Echo editor Hans Lovejoy in April 2013. Photo Tree Faerie.

If nothing else, Joyce is an indefatigable self-publicist, and he intends to keep it that way, which is bad news for both McCormack and Morrison. Joyce’s initial attempt to replace McCormack failed, as everyone expected it to, and the margin is supposed to be a closely guarded secret. Joyce’s supporters say it was just one vote, which is probably an exaggeration. But even the McCormack loyalists admit that the challenger had six or seven on his side in the 21 strong party room; around a third, and more than enough for the basis of a second try.

Joyce says that it won’t happen – that the matter is done and dusted. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? But any observer of Australian politics not in a coma knows that once the leadership contest is launched, it is unlikely to subside until one or the other contestants leaves the stage altogether, and Joyce is not going to be the one to walk away.

Indeed, he has signalled that the battle has just begun; along with Llew O’Brien and George Christensen among his key support group on the backbench, he has asserted his right, if not his intention, to cross the floor to oppose government measures with which he disagrees. Whether this is a serious threat is yet to be seen; Christensen, for instance, has tried the bluff almost as many times as he has visited the Philippines. But in a parliament with a majority of just two, it cannot and will not be ignored.

Even if the threat is implemented, it would not necessarily mean defeat for Morrison in the House of Representatives; Labor is unlikely to embrace Joyce’s agenda. And if Anthony Albanese did succumb to opportunism, there would probably be enough crossbenchers to save the government from embarrassment. But it could certainly get pretty ugly, and at the very least will be a major distraction for Morrison as he tries to restore his singed authority.

And this will be particularly irritating over the vexed issue of climate change, where Morrison is desperately attempting to restore unity within his own Liberal Party ranks. The Joyce rump has made it clear that they are not for turning; they are denialists and proud of it, they want more coal-fried power stations, they are not interested in renewables, and ‘transition’ – Morrison’s current mantra – is a dirty word.

Barnaby Joyce making agenda clear. Photo Tree Faerie.

And probably most of their fellow Nats, including some McCormack supporters, agree with them. This will be non-negotiable, so just how Morrison deals with it will be fascinating; either he backs down, leaving the Liberal moderates in despair and worrying for the next couple of years over their seats, or he breaks the habit of a lifetime and takes them on.

His immediate response was to plead for mercy – surely Joyce would not do anything to embarrass the government, would he? Well, yes, he would – this is the whole point of the insurrection. Joyce’s core complaint is that the Nats have become no more than an appendage to the Liberal majority, that McCormack has become subservient to Morrison. The solution is differentiation: to provide the party with a clear, separate identity – what better way to make the point than disrupting the Morrison-McCormack legislative agenda? And if he has to blow the joint up to do it, them’s the breaks.

Of course he would not go so far as to break the coalition agreement and lose all the lurks, perks, rorts and scams of office – as with loyalty, disloyalty also has its limits. But short of that, nothing is on or off the table. And that latter category includes not only McCormack, but also Morrison.

The bellicose and bumptious Barnaby can be something of a buffoon – impulsive, erratic, and often irrational. But when his own ambitions are involved, he should not be underestimated. He is focussed and determined to the point of egomania, and utterly ruthless in the process.

That is what makes him dangerous.

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  1. Thanks Mungo, love this piece on Barnaby, “the great Beetrooter,” i am still smiling as i type these words . He certainly stands out for many reasons and i can almost conjure up his lovable side in my imagination. At least one of these Coalition twits has made me smile. The rest of these pollies just make me sad for my country.

  2. Do be so hard on Barnaby and his cohorts, these are the Nationals after all, and these people can trace their ancestry ( well, ‘cest’ is an appropriate appellation in many cases ) back beyond the golden years of that inveterate crook, Joe Bjelke ( the Afrikaans previous criminal leader ) These people can’t help the generations of inbreeding and indocrination ( Always probvided at the tax-payers’s expense ) that as left them incapable of any higher thought and convinced that if you want to be insanely rich ,you must desecrate the countries natural resources to benefit your over-seas, tax-haven protected benefactors.

  3. Like Abbott The Bonking Beetroot is in it for the $$$$. 1st thing both of them said when they went to the back bench was that they could not live on $250k plus perks. The smell of leather, rorts, Com Cars are what the Un Nationals are all about!! For the votes they get they weild far too much power. The Greens, with a touch over 10 per cent of the vote, got less than 1 per cent of the total seats at the 2019 election and only ONE seat in the Lower House. Contrast this with the Un Nationals who turned a primary vote of just 4.5 per cent of the votes into ten times as many seats as the Greens as well as getting the Deputy PM’ship! They call this ‘democracy’…well sort of! We have a non-proportional electoral system producing non-proportional results. With proportional representation the parliament would more realistically reflect the voting wishes
    of our country. Under the present system many are disenfranchised. The Un Nationals are unique in Australian politics in being the only party that is sectional in its very nature. Only for Looting Liberal preferences, there would be no Un Nationals Party. The label “Nationals” is wholly ironic, because the one thing the Nationals are not, that every other party — Liberal, Labor, Greens, One Nation, whatever — is national in their political philosophy. The raison d’être of the Nationals is to support one section of Australia and they do a hopeless job of that. Vaile, Anderson, McCormack all tea ladies to The Looters, Nothing but a rabble with noses embedded in the trough. And dumb bushies keep voting for them…MADNESS!!

  4. An amusing article & spot on anlysis Mungo. I like the idea of Morrison’s “singed authority”. He will never recover from his inadequate responses to the fires.

  5. I see most of you are reverting to petty name calling. It may be fun but don’t be fooled, Barnaby Joyce and his ‘Monash Forum 2.0’ are about nothing else but protecting and propping up the fossil fuel industry. Barnaby is a long time ‘friend’ of Gina Rhinehart and was recently photographed at an event with her. She has been donating to him for years. Matt Canavan is nothing but a coal lobbyist. His brother brother John Canavan is Managing Director of Winfield Energy, a private coal company with a significant interest in Australia’s second largest coal mine. Matt Canavan was also Barnaby’s protege and understudy. Why do they always come from Qld? I guess it’s a combination of heat, low IQ’s and a limited, closely related gene pool.

    This is nothing but a push by an anti-climate change element of the government partly controlled and funded by the MCA (Mineral Council of Australia ). These politicians are the biggest threat to our country meeting our Paris targets, reaching a net zero target in 2050 and advancing our economy and technology. I just hope Zali Steggell’s new climate change bill is taken seriously. So does the planet.

  6. Zali Steggall’s post election speech
    Iam going to be your climate change leader !
    What ever that means , could understand if
    Ms Steggall said iam going to reduce global warming well that would make more sense.
    Its hardly a issue in any case, maybe iam missing
    Something? Since 1880 the earths temperature
    Has risen no more than 0.76 degrees hardly
    A emergency? Its not unprecedented earth
    Temperatures have fluctuated for millions of years.
    So Zali your intentions certainly have merit !
    However would it not be a good idea to start
    The lead and may we all follow in your footsteps!
    Practice what you preach ! As a individual
    Could recommend to at least install solar ?
    And invest in a electric vehicle ?

  7. BR, you got it right, Right. And Eve’s onto it too.
    You can’t beat the lusty beetroot. He needs
    loot & coal power & to Hell with the country
    that’s given him so much. Mungo’s called it;
    dangerous it is. Stuff the coal-elit-lion & bring
    back ‘first past the post’ voting.


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