Having snapped at Nationals leader Michael McCormack’s heels for the best part of two years, forcibly deposed leader Barnaby Joyce got his old job back today.
As Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Joyce will be entitled to a senior cabinet portfolio, and, despite appearances, he is rather good at policy and administration. His rejoining the cabinet will give it added heft given it is so laden with extinct volcanoes and mediocrities, mostly there for party, state, factional and female representation rather than merit.
Indeed, if you compare the current cabinet to the first Howard cabinet of 1996, the number of ministers who compare favourably could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and none of those would displace their predecessors from their portfolios. Indeed, the Nats’ best ministerial performers, Mr Joyce and Matt Canavan, were banished to the sidelines under Mr McCormack, but My Joyce will bring Senator Canavan back.
Beyond that, however, the leadership of the Nationals matters nought. Mr McCormack has been as crisp in his political acuity as a drowned lettuce. The party is as useful as a tit on a bull. Mr Joyce, unfortunately, has let his bitterness of his treatment by Malcolm Turnbull when his extra-marital peccadilloes came to light, and the fact he was replaced by someone he clearly sees as inferior, override his concern for the greater good of his party.
Let’s just hope he seeks to vindicate himself by being a contributor to the Coalition’s re-election, and not as a wrecker.
Mr Joyce is no Earle Page, John McEwen, Doug Anthony, Tim Fischer or, for that matter, John Anderson – the latter of whom was somehow passed over for senate preselection just last Friday, in favour of a faceless party apparatchik. Neither was Mr McCormack, a decent bloke who was forced to always look over his shoulder.
Indeed, what is the point of the National Party at all?
It holds regional seats. but so does the Liberal party as the senior coalition partner. A party which, when the chance of a three-cornered contest arises, often snatches seats from the Nats because they stand a better candidate and are seen as more relevant.
If they continue to resist a merger with the Liberals nationally, the misleadingly-named Nationals need to think about why they bother, especially if they bleed voter support to the Liberals and to parties of protest like One Nation.
A Spectator Australia rural reader sums up the Nationals’ identity crisis perfectly. ‘Once we regional inhabitants were disadvantaged by the tyranny of distance, but that’s very largely not the case now, with major improvements to communications in Australia’ she wrote in an email yesterday.
‘I’ve begun to feel that if a conservative of any kind succeeds in a regional or rural seat, does it really matter if it’s not a Nat?’
Michael McCormack utterly failed to address existential concerns like these. But Barnaby Joyce is unlikely to address them either. The Nats will bat on, but excellent regional candidates who once would naturally have joined the Nationals will stand as Liberals if they have higher ambitions, and voters will follow them.
Today, Mr Joyce once again became the leadership choice of National MPs, but while his party remains such a poor choice for many regional voters, he might as well have gone back to his accountancy practice.
Terry Barnes edits our daily newsletter, the Morning Double Shot. You can sign up for your Morning Double Shot of news and comment here.
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