The Regurgitation of Barnaby Joyce
Usually, news items have no intellectual or emotional impact, either because we have become so conditioned to a situation, however appalling, that its further announcement has become unremarkable, or because the matter simply does not seem relevant.
I was therefore surprised at my reaction to the news that Barnaby Joyce had returned as Deputy Prime Minister. I found the news quite shocking and symptomatic of everything that is wrong with contemporary Australian politics.
Joyce is a flawed human being. Now, I know all human beings are flawed, none more so than myself. However, there is something about Barnaby’s flawed nature that presents him as one entirely unsuitable for a position of responsibility, least of all as Deputy Prime Minister. He seems to be totally consumed with himself. For someone who claims a strong Christian faith within the catholic tradition he appears utterly hypocritical. How can he possibly claim to hold to ‘family values’ and do what he has done to his first family. Given all the unresolved issues about parliamentary culture, he would appear to be the least suited person to take a lead as a standard maker. He appears a pugnacious grenade thrower, not a reasoned, trustworthy, leader.
When I think of the National Party, I think of a political movement that emerged to represent farming and agriculture throughout regional Australia. One of the politicians I admire most in the Federal Parliament is a farmer who holds a National Party seat in NSW. Yet, Barnaby Joyce and his key supporters live lives that are far removed from agriculture, (despite owning some land), representing most loudly the interests of miners, particularly in central Queensland. His statements in the last few days all reflect this reality.
It is apparently the case that Barnaby Joyce has returned as leader of the National Party because significant power brokers want to prevent further action on emissions reduction, lest the businesses model undergirding fossil fuel extraction be threatened. This is not the position of the farming community which numerically far exceeds the fossil fuel industry, and which is often adversely affected by it. With two caveats, the NFF (National Farmers Federation) has signed up to the goal of zero emissions by 2050. A primary reason for this is that such a goal could, and should, provide economic advantage through carbon sequestration, hosting renewable energy generation projects etc. Such projects potentially increase productivity and provide a cash buffer in times of drought. How relevant are the ambitions of Barnaby Joyce, George Christiansen, or Senator Canavan to Australia’s farming community? Apparently not at all. So, Mr Joyce, it appears your party is not the advocate of regional, agricultural, Australia as you claim. You are the champion of the mining industry and particularly its wealthy and powerful ownership. Ironically, you are not doing miners any favours.
My contacts in the Hunter Valley tell me that many in the mining industry are all too aware and accepting of the reality that coal has a much-diminished future. They do not seek open warfare in a fight to the death for an industry that is already being phased down, but they seek fearless advocacy for a place in the technologically attractive post carbon world for which most are uniquely qualified for pioneering employment. It is ironic that miners would be better represented by a party that strongly believes in a new technological future, rather than a party that demonstrates an extraordinary capacity to outdo king Canute.
The regurgitation of Barnaby Joyce was heralded by the National Party’s outgoing leader, Michael McCormack, as evidence of the party’s democratic DNA. That may or may not be a reasonable interpretation. However, the sought for outcome by those who initiated the spill is most undemocratic. Consistent polls show that approximately 70% of Australians want further action on climate change and emissions reduction. The National Party represents less than 5% of the electorate and given support for change by farmers and the NFF, those who hold the position for which National Party leadership now appears committed, are quite minimal. And yet. And yet … representing this small section of the electorate, Joyce along with his supporters, seek to hold the country to ransom by threatening the unity of the coalition unless it toes the line with them. Nothing could be less democratic.
Added to this has been yesterday’s announcement from UNESC0 that they intend to declare the Great Barrier Reef to be endangered. Scientific observation makes this tragic declaration virtually inevitable. It is a fact that the Great Barrier Reef employs vastly more people in the tourist industry than will ever be employed in an increasingly mechanised central Queensland mining industry. Why is Mr Joyce more interested in the much smaller coterie of jobs in coal mining than he is in the vast numbers dependent upon the tourist industry?
Michael McCormack is an affable but bumbling politician. It is not unreasonable to think that in Australia’s second most senior politician we might have seen a greater level of competence. Those who know him tell me he is essentially a decent human being. But can the same be said of Mr Joyce? His first wife and daughters clearly do not think so, nor do many women struggling for a changed culture in a still largely male dominated world.
What is beyond dispute is that Australia must step up and take its place in the international family of nations with unequivocal support for action to safeguard ecological and environmental sustainability. Not to do so is unthinkable. That a minor political party believes it has the right to scuttle such an aim is quite grotesque. It is even more grotesque to think that an Australian Prime Minister, having made an undisclosed pact with them for the sake of power retention, should consider this pact more important than the future of the planet.