You know things are getting desperate when Barnaby Joyce resorts to wearing his ‘I’m a rural person’ hat on a cloudy day in Canberra, as a means of demonstrating his bona fides to farmers. Even more desperate is his blatant pork barrelling of his own electorate with the proposed move of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to Armidale.
Joyce has to shore up his declining share of the vote, not only in his own electorate, but the vote of the National Party generally, which is in serious decline around the country. It recently lost the New South Wales state electorate of Orange to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (yes, really!), admittedly by a mere 50 votes. On top of that was the decision by the Liberal Party in Western Australia, under the guidance of an increasing desperate Premier Colin Barnett to preference One Nation ahead of the National Party in some seats in the coming Western Australian election. This is not really surprising given that polls indicate that support for the National Party stands at about 5% while that for One Nation stands at about 13%.
In late 2017 or early 2018, Queensland will face an election and there has been a recent surge in support for One Nation, such that it is now running at about 23% in polling, having taken a few percent off both Labor and the LNP (Liberals and Nationals are a single party in Queensland, with the Nationals being the predominant group prior to the merger in 2008). In fact, several members of the LNP have ‘defected’ to One Nation, and it has been reported that discussions are under way with others, with a view to having them defect as well. The writing must be on the wall for the LNP, if the rats are leaving the ship which they think is not going anywhere but down. One thing you can be sure of and that is, for a politician, self-interest trumps everything else.
But Back to Barnaby Joyce; not only has he pork-barrelled his own electorate with the APVMA, but the move itself will cost well over $25 million, and the cost to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) will be over $150 million per annum and the loss of 189 direct jobs and 365 jobs in total. Armidale will benefit, initially with construction of a building to house the organisation, then to the tune of about $110 million a year. This does not take into account the (already) significant loss of staff of the organisation, some of whom have spouses with hard to get professional positions, children in school or university, and own a house. However, being a person from the 1950s, Joyce would probably not understand this. In fact, the management at the APVMA have been trying to bribe staff with pay rises of up to 15% with up to 12 flights a year back to their families if the latter choose not to move. In the last 6 months, 37 staff have left the organisation, including 16 of the regulatory scientists. However, these have been replaced, but it does make you wonder how the experience of the new chums stacks up.
The big drawback the ACT has, is that it does not elect National Party members to the House of Representatives. Nor does it elect Members from the Liberal Party (it used to, when the Liberal party was actually liberal, rather than regressive), and this has made the ACT the whipping boy of the Coalition when in government. It seems to greatly enjoy cutting off people’s careers in their thirties or forties, to somehow cripple the economy and make the ACT look bad economically. However, the ACT just keeps bouncing back, because it has a highly educated populace and it is education that is important in the 21st century. This is something else Barnaby Joyce doesn’t understand.
Now Barnaby Joyce wants country towns to put in their bids to have Canberra Public service departments forcibly relocated. This is the Nationals way of trying to shore up their crumbling fortunes against the tide of the 21st century, and One Nation. You can bet your bottom dollar, that if this happened, these relocations would only be to seats in need of a few large barrels of pork, to make sure they kept their National Party members in incumbency.
If Barnaby Joyce wants to find out why the National Party are rancid these days, he only has to look at his partner in the Coalition. The National Party are ostensibly the farmer’s party, many of whom now realise that climate change is upon them, yet the Liberal Party mostly seem to deny that it is happening (as does Joyce himself). Many farmers are rightly upset about coal leases being granted over their farms or adjoining lands, yet the Liberal Party think this is wonderful. Many farmers are rightly upset that numerous coal-seam gas wells are allowed to be drilled on their land, with a concomitant risk to their water supply, but the Liberals thinks it is just great. Many diary farmers are tired of being screwed by the big processors, but the race to the bottom is just fine as far as the Liberals are concerned.
If Barnaby Joyce wants to be still in the coalition in a couple of years, he needs to stop looking in the mirror at his tomato-coloured head and whispering to himself: “hello, mister deputy prime minister”. If the National Party are to survive beyond the next year or two, they need to start looking after their constituents, not tugging their forelock with a ‘yes sir’ every time the Liberals make a decision for their own constituency. If they don’t, One Nation will.