February 13th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Democratic Progressive Party ousts Kuomintang

CANBERRA OBSERVED Barnaby Joyce: enigma, loose cannon, deputy PM?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Temporary protection visa holders left exposed

ENVIRONMENT Bob Carter, RIP: mythbuster and fact finder extraordinaire

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Farewell, religious liberty, farewell, conscience

EDITORIAL Syria: U.S. backdown opens door to peace talks

ECONOMICS Bubble has burst on globalisation project

EUTHANASIA Media drives sales in the death market

CULTURE What does a good music review sound like?

CULTURE Can we put a rocket under religious Sci-fi?

CINEMA A melancholy heroism: Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

BOOK REVIEW Partial but thorough

BOOK REVIEW Brutality of battle


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Barnaby Joyce: enigma, loose cannon, deputy PM?

News Weekly, February 13, 2016

Since the Nationals (originally the Country Party) formed at a federal level in 1920 the party has had just 12 parliamentary leaders. Half of these (including the incumbent, Warren Truss) led their party for a minimum of eight years.


Barnaby Joyce, left, may be able to restore some of the spirit of “Black” Jack McEwan.

Therefore it should come as little surprise that the members of the Government’s junior Coalition partner, the Nationals, have been taking their time in the transition of their parliamentary leadership to a new team.

No overnight leadership coups, no faceless men, no hidden backroom deals; instead, a rather quaint but opaque custom where potential candidates declare their ongoing loyalty to the current leader while steadfastly refusing to mount a challenge.

Mr Truss, aged 67, has been leader since December 2007, when he took over from Mark Vaile after the election in which Kevin Rudd beat the Coalition. Mr Truss had been deputy leader until then. Mostly the Nationals leadership transition involves the direct elevation from deputy leader to leader, making the contest for the deputy the real contest.

Given this history, Parliament’s most conservative party is therefore nothing if not deliberate when it comes to choosing who will next be given the reins of the party. And this is especially so given that the most likely choice is the current deputy, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

The ascension of the former maverick senator from Queensland, who crossed the floor at least 19 times and who was a constant thorn in the side of the Liberal Party while in the Senate, would spell a big change of tone and direction from the steady and predictable Mr Truss. For many it would constitute a big risk.

Mr Joyce has been a minister for a short time – just over two years.

On the other hand, Mr Joyce has shown that he is prepared to take on the Liberals on matters of principle, whether it be the sale of Telstra, Qantas or Graincorp, or in his attempts to overhaul competition laws so as to give small business a running chance against big business behemoths.

Mr Joyce’s main rival is the Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, but Mr McCormack is likely to be promoting himself for a shot at the deputy’s role against other possible contenders such as Luke Hartsuyker and Senator Fiona Nash. Mr McCormack is at present an assistant minister to Mr Truss, but it would still be a big jump for a junior minister to become deputy prime minister in one go.

Three former leaders – John Anderson, Tim Fischer and Mark Vaile – have given their tacit approval for Mr Joyce to be given his chance to take over as leader; a strong sign that the seniors of the party accept that Mr Joyce is worth the risk.

As a politician Mr Joyce has been something of an enigma. Labor frontbenchers dismiss him as a joke.

He is the only person since Federation to have moved from one state to another and one house of Parliament to another in one election.

He is as much a Queenslander as a New South Welshman. His folksy style makes him a favourite of talkback hosts simply because he doesn’t speak the normal language of a politician, while the ABC also likes him because he seems a reasonable conservative.

But his political enemies (especially inside the Coalition) fear him because of his unpredictability.

The test for Mr Joyce will be whether he can manage the tension within the Coalition whereby he maintains Coalition unity and loyalty to his Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, but also keep the Nationals front-and-centre on key issues.

The Nationals’ fundamental dilemma is that of maintaining its separate identity to the Liberals and its relevance as a party without alienating its Coalition partner. The tension is ever present, occasionally breaking out in three-cornered seat contests, but also in debates over a swath of issues from competition and foreign ownership to tax and family policy.

For decades the Country Party had a virtual stranglehold on the Treasury in Coalition governments, but those days are long gone.

It has been a long time since the Nationals had a real say on economic issues. “Black” Jack McEwan was the last leader to have a powerful economic voice in a Coalition cabinet.

Should Mr Joyce succeed Mr Truss, which seems likely, many people in regional Australia will be hoping that he will seek a greater say in the economic debates that affect the lives of the one-third of Australians who live outside the capital cities. Mr Joyce may not be able to capture the halcyon days of the Country Party, but he may at least be able to channel the ghost of Black Jack.

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