Saturday 31st of July 2021

welcome back, squishy...




















Barnaby Joyce says he is "humbled" to be elected by his National Party colleagues back into the top spot at a vote this morning.

He was elected as the party's leader and deputy prime minister this morning after defeating former leader Michael McCormack.



Mr Joyce thanked Mr McCormack for his work and said he had already had a meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

When asked what he had learned since his last time as leader, Mr Joyce said he had acknowledged his faults.

"I've spent three years on the backbench and you know, I hope I come back a better person," he said.

"I don't want to dwell on the personal, except to say, hopefully one learns from their mistakes and makes a better person of themselves."

Mr Joyce resigned as leader and deputy prime minister in 2018 after facing sustained pressure.

He was accused of sexual harassment — a claim he strenuously denied.

It had also emerged that he had an affair with a former staffer. That affair led to then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull introducing the so-called "bonk ban", which made it against the ministerial code of conduct to have sex with staff.

National Party investigation into the sexual harassment allegation was unable to make a finding into the matter.

One of the issues that led to the leadership spill was ongoing disquiet in the Nationals about the Prime Minister's increasing support of a net zero by 2050 emissions target.

Mr Joyce said he would be guided by his party room when it comes to pushing against the government's plan to reach net zero emissions "preferably" by 2050, despite being a vocal agitator against the policy.

"It is not Barnaby policy, it's Nationals' policy and Nationals' policy is what I will be an advocate for."

Mr Morrison said he welcomed Mr Joyce as the new leader of the Nationals and deputy prime minister and looked forward to working with him.

"Barnaby and I have a shared passion for ensuring our regions and rural communities thrive," he said.

The Prime Minister thanked Mr McCormack for his service.

Mr Joyce will be sworn in to his new roles tomorrow.


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the gnats' barn...


The nation has just welcomed back Barnaby Joyce as Deputy PM, MP for New England, former and now current leader of the National Party and key figure in a wide variety of scandals both personal and political, which should have completely derailed his career, as Deputy Prime Minister.

And in a perfect world, there would be absolutely no way that we could have a Deputy PM who can boast an inconclusive internal investigation of sexual harassment, has been connected with a suspicious Armidale fire, and who would appear to have signed off on the deal where a company with ties to fellow Coalition MP Angus Taylor made millions by selling imaginary water back to the Commonwealth.

But this, friends, is not a perfect world.

The issue over which the Nats got their bespoke RM Williams knickers in a particularly scrotum-clenching twist this time around is their opposition to Australia aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050. And that's extraordinarily stupid — not because climate denial is idiotic and wrong, which it is, but because no one in their right mind would seriously think that Scott Morrison's Government was at any risk of achieving such a goal. What with the whole buying-land-from-a-Liberal-donor-to-build-an-unnecessary-coal-fired-plant thing and all.

The fear was that former Nationals Leader, Riverina MP and human File-Not-Found error message, Mimbles McMooncake* would capitulate to political pressure to engage in climate action, despite having shown no evidence during his leadership that he ever did anything at all — except maybe declaring a desire to punish city dwellers by getting mice to scratch their children.


But the mere fact that the Nats looked at the talent in their parliamentary team and went "Hey, that guy who's failed multiple times and is a massive future ICAC risk, he's our ticket to victory!" speaks volumes about the state of the party.

But on the other hand, it's no shock that Joyce has enjoyed a renaissance in the Morrison Government since the culture there is now a lot more… shall we say, scandal-friendly?

You'll recall that Joyce was forced to step down as Leader after being engulfed in scandal over sexual harassment allegations. Those came to light during the furore over revelations (first reported in IA) that the married religious pro-family pollie – who campaigned against marriage equality out of concern for children who so desperately needed a mother and a father and once argued against making a vaccine for cervical cancer available lest it give young women “a license to be promiscuous” – had been having an extramarital affair with his media advisor (and, significantly, former Daily Telegraph journalist) Vikki Campion, with whom he now has two children.

The big issue was that Barn seemed to be doing a hell of a lot of travel to Canberra (where Campion lived) during non-sitting periods for an MP supposedly working in his electorate, which raised questions about whether the taxpayers were unwittingly subsidising his trysts (which was later found to be "within the rules"). But also, MPs banging their staff was a bit on the nose for the public and this led then-PM, Malcolm Turnbull, to issue his notorious "bonk ban" which forbade MPs and staffers from sleeping together.

And it's worth remembering that Turnbull seemed genuine in his belief that ministers had to be seen to be above criticism. Within weeks of taking the leadership in 2015, he demoted three senior members of his Government over scandals, which would today be angrily denied and then roundly ignored.

Those scandals included:

And there was a brief period where it seemed like maybe that attitude would stick – in December 2018, some months after Turnbull was deposed, Victorian Nationals MP Andrew Broad agreed not to contest the next election after his "sugar daddy" relationships were revealed by a particularly disgusted date during a trip to Hong Kong – but it didn't take long for MPs to realise that Morrison wasn't going to do a damn thing about their behaviour.

And sure, Morrison would hardly stand on principle when he holds such a slim parliamentary majority. It's also notable that Turnbull was way more willing to hold his MPs to account on matters of principle before the 2016 Election, when he had a 35-seat majority than after it, when it had shrunk to two. 


That's why we currently have the former Attorney General now Minister for Industry Christian Porter in Parliament despite still-unresolved allegations of historical rape. That's why we still have Alan Tudge as Minister for Education despite his having an affair with his staffer Rachelle Miller, whose career he then allegedly white-anted after she dumped him. That's why MP Andrew Laming is merrily threatening people on Twitter for defamation, as well as here at Independent Australia, despite apologising for his online harassment of women.


They all know that there will be zero consequences from this leader. In fact, by comparison with Porter, Laming and Tudge, the grubby circumstances of Joyce's publicly subsidised affair seem like a love story for the ages and the height of genteel romance.

So it's perfectly fitting that Joyce is now our Deputy PM again. He sinks perfectly into the ethical cesspool that is the Morrison Government's leadership.

*Sorry, that should be Morgles McMinky. Sorry, Michael McCormack. He’s just so hard to remember.



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the elephant in the room...

In a surreal turn of events, Barnaby’s back and the grotesquery of Australian politics is laid bare



Joyce has always been a solo act, a minor cult of personality, but could he have an epiphany and realise he’s not the only person in the room?

On days like this, I always get a text from one of my most treasured journalistic mentors. The text reads: “Find the words.”

Finding the words is not generally onerous; it is the job.


But how do you find the words to document the constantly refreshing permanent presenteeism of the Abbott/Truss, Turnbull/Truss, Turnbull/Joyce, Turnbull/McCormack, Morrison/McCormack and now Morrison/Joyce governments?

How do you tell readers, yes, sure, our region has saddled up to reaching net zero emissions within a few decades, science and economics being what they are – but in Canberra, climate change has been weaponised again, entirely opportunistically – a bit of transient cover for deposing another Australian political leader?


How do you begin to describe the surreal set of circumstances in Monday’s question time, when Michael McCormack, having just been comprehensively Barnstormed – having been blasted out of a job by a chaos merchant – wasn’t permitted to vacate the field to lament his fate in private.

McCormack had to persist with answering questions as deputy prime minister for the entire session because the governor general wasn’t in Canberra to swear in Barnaby Joyce. For the record, the vanquished Nationals leader tap danced loyally at the dispatch box with a quality you might fear is extinct in the 2600 postcode; a quality we might call grace.

Persisting with my struggle to find the words, how do you tell the Australian people, slogging through a pandemic, that the Nationals have reverted to default derangement at their expense, plotting and stampeding like a herd of bulls? All while Scott Morrison was sequestered in the Lodge for a question time quarantine dumb-show, reduced to spectating via a flat screen in the House of Representatives chamber, like a transient bystander, or a person ringing in the Eurovision votes.


How on earth do you convey the grotesquery of Australian politics?

I suppose you start writing, and hope for the best. So let’s do that.

In case you missed it, Barnaby (who, like Beyonce, is iconic enough to only need one name) is back, after a three-year, entirely obvious guerrilla campaign to snatch his old job back.

Barnaby is back because McCormack, who tried to survive as Nationals leader by being a poor man’s Barnaby (railing incoherently about goats cheese and Adam Bandt being a traitor) was entirely unconvincing in that role, because he’s nothing at all like Barnaby.

McCormack’s a bloke from Wagga Wagga who used to edit a regional newspaper who ended up leading the Nationals almost accidentally in the aftermath of Barnaby exploding in full public view.

Because of those suboptimal circumstances, and because accepting personal responsibility is an oppressive burden many contemporary politicians struggle with, McCormack inherited a political party where the members loathed one another to a point of paralysis.

It’s hard to rise to the occasion in those brutal circumstances, and the consensus was McCormack fell up and failed to rise.

So, on Monday, the real Barnaby replaced the man from Wagga Wagga pretending to be Barnaby and his acolytes and allies clapped heartily and declared King Barnaby would save all the central Queensland seats (that probably weren’t really at risk). The people who think Barnaby is, at best unpredictable, and at worst, destructive, rocked quietly in a corner and wondered how it had come to this.

Monday’s eventual landing point – Barnaby in a parliamentary courtyard declaring victory and pronouncing himself a changed man – was spun by various protagonists working the parliamentary press gallery. (Short version(s): this is triumph/demise/who knows, fingers crossed eh?)


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  No flowery path to glory leads. 
This truth no better voucher needs 
Than Hercules, of mighty deeds. 
Few demigods, the tomes of fable 
Reveal to us as being able 
Such weight of task-work to endure: 
In history, I find still fewer. 
One such, however, here behold - 
A knight by talisman made bold, 
Within the regions of romance
To seek adventures with the lance. 
There rode a comrade at his ride, 
And as they rode they both espied 
This writing on a post: - 
"Wouldst see, sir valiant knight, 
A thing whereof the sight 
No errant yet can boast? 
Thou hast this torrent but to ford, 
And, lifting up, alone, 
The elephant of stone 
Upon its margin shored, 
Upbear it to the mountain's brow, 
Round which, aloft before thee now, 
The misty chaplets wreathe - 
Not stopping once to breathe." 
One knight, whose nostrils bled, 
Betokening courage fled, 
Cried out, 'What if that current's sweep 
Not only rapid be, but deep
And grant it cross'd, - pray, why encumber 
One's arms with that unwieldy lumber, 
An elephant of stone? 
Perhaps the artist may have done 
His work in such a way, that one 
Might lug it twice its length; 
But then to reach yon mountain top, 
And that without a breathing stop, 
Were surely past a mortal's strength - 
Unless, indeed, it be no bigger 
Than some wee, pigmy, dwarfish figure, 
Which one would head a cane withal; - 
And if to this the case should fall, 
The adventurer's honour would be small
This posting seems to me a trap, 
Or riddle for some greenish chap; 
I therefore leave the whole to you.' 
The doubtful reasoner onward hies. 
With heart resolved, in spite of eyes, 
The other boldly dashes through; 
Nor depth of flood nor force 
Can stop his onward course. 
He finds the elephant of stone; 
He lifts it all alone; 
Without a breathing stop, 
He bears it to the top 
Of that steep mount, and seeth there 
A high-wall'd city, great and fair. 
Out-cried the elephant - and hush'd; 
But forth in arms the people rush'd. 
A knight less bold had surely fled; 
But he, so far from turning back, 
His course right onward sped, 
Resolved himself to make attack, 
And die but with the bravest dead. 
Amazed was he to hear that band 
Proclaim him monarch of their land, 
And welcome him, in place of one 
Whose death had left a vacant throne! 
In sooth, he lent a gracious ear, 
Meanwhile expressing modest fear
Lest such a load of royal care 
Should be too great for him to bear. 
And so, exactly, Sixtus[2] said, 
When first the pope's tiara press'd his head; 
(Though, is it such a grievous thing 
To be a pope, or be a king?) 
But days were few before they read it, 
That with but little truth he said it. 

Blind Fortune follows daring blind. 
Oft executes the wisest man, 
Ere yet the wisdom of his mind 
Is task'd his means or end to scan.





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nat king coal...

There are real fears in the Morrison government that junior Coalition party – the Nationals – will derail its carefully laid re-election plans.

It is not as if the Nationals, especially prompted by the party’s biggest branch in Queensland, haven’t done it before.

Some with long memories shudder at the ‘Joh for Canberra’ campaign 34 years ago that smashed John Howard’s chances of defeating what then looked like a vulnerable Hawke Labor government.


The Queensland Nationals premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen hijacked the federal party and forced them into going to the election with a different tax policy to the Liberals.

Sure the Liberals and Nationals were in opposition, but voters baulked at voting for an alternative Coalition government that was hopelessly divided on such a key area of policy.

There is no credible way the Morrison Coalition government can go to the next election with two climate policies.

Make no mistake the 21 members of the federal Nationals’ party room in voting to replace Michael McCormack as leader with Barnaby Joycewere passing their judgment on the Prime Minister’s aim of signing up to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

There are strong indications that Mr Morrison assured British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that this commitment was already in the bag, so much so that Mr Johnson blurted it out at their joint news conference last week.

Mr Johnson, along with US President Joe Biden, is bringing enormous pressure on Australia and other nations to have strong and firm commitments to get to net zero even before 2050.

Crunch time for Australia will come at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow in November, which is looking out beyond the weak 2030 targets Australia (under Tony Abbott) had signed up to.

Mr Morrison has certainly changed his rhetoric. He is no longer a coal champion but talks of using gas to transition to a new world order of renewable and clean energy.


In this the Prime Minister has correctly picked the mood of the nation as the extensive and scientifically weighted Vox Populi poll of 60,000 Australians has found.

Its results went to air on the ABC on Monday night, finding climate change was near the top of voters’ concerns.

After the party room coup on Monday, Mr Joyce said the new, secret Coalition agreement he will make with Mr Morrison will come only after he has consulted his party room.

This is unconvincing circular argument spin.

It is no coincidence that former resources minister Matt Canavan from Queensland moved the spill motion. Like Mr Joyce he is a coal zealot and at the very least a climate sceptic who gives no weight to arguments Australia should be doing more.

Mr Joyce continues to run tired old arguments that doing anything meaningful on climate can only cost jobs and push up electricity prices in the face of the New South Wales Coalition government rejecting them as flawed.

Indeed the Berejiklian government this week is committing to ambitious targets with incentives to drive the uptake of electric vehicles among other bold initiatives.

Furthermore it is understood the federal government has preliminary modelling on the net-zero target that shows benefits on jobs and prices.

The question is will Scott Morrison be game enough to reveal this work and provoke a messy brawl?

There’s no doubt the LNP in Queensland was concerned that Michael McCormack lacked cut through and recognition in the state that could make it harder to hold some of its coal seats.


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he loves women...


Barnaby Joyce's return to Nationals leadership angers regional women fearing 'backward step'


Regional women angered by Barnaby Joyce's return to the nation's second-highest political office are speaking out at what they dub "a backwards" step by the National Party.

Key points:
  • Barnaby Joyce's re-election has been described as a backward step by some women
  • Nationals senator Perin Davey says Mr Joyce is keen to get more women in the party
  • Mr Joyce will be sworn in as party leader later today

Mr Joyce was sworn in as the Deputy Prime Minister on Tuesday morning, a day after toppling Michael McCormack as the Nationals leader.

Pauline McAllister, a NSW trustee of the party and member of more than two decades, said the party's decision to vote out now-former leader Michael McCormack was a backwards step.

"I think there are a lot of women who feel a bit disenfranchised. I think there will be a lot of women who will be totally disappointed," Ms McAllister said.

Ms McAllister said Mr Joyce's strengths as an "excellent negotiator" and "a great member for his electorate" were not enough to rebuild trust among female voters.

"I believe that a lot of women won't forget the events of some years ago, and I think it'll affect the female vote. I'm quite sure of that," Ms McAllister said.

"It's a very difficult situation that can't be fixed overnight."


Before yesterday's leadership spill, National Party MPs Anne Webster and Michelle Landry both warned against the reinstatement of the former leader, saying many women would be unimpressed.

Indeed, Mr Joyce's return as Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader has some fuming.

Former chair of the party's Women's Council and ex-Nationals member, Jess Price-Purnell was one of those shocked by the decision.

"It's actually pretty devastating," she said.

"My first reaction was a word I can't say on a recording. I think it's a backward step. I think we've now just taken a 10-year step backwards."


Ms Price-Purnell, who was a member of the Nationals for more than a decade and left last year, said women in regional Australia had grown frustrated by the party.

"I think women are getting frustrated that no-one really seems to be listening," she said.

"Everything gets turned into a women's issue. You know, childcare shouldn't be a women's issue, it should be a societal issue.

"My husband is just as affected by expensive childcare as I am, yet I'm the one who's meant to stay at home and give up my career that I've studied for.


'Women are being ignored'

Alana Johnson, a farmer from Benalla in Victoria and founding member of Women in Agriculture, said she was also surprised.

"I thought surely they would have learned by now that re-establishing Barnaby Joyce as the leader of the National Party would be a demonstration that they certainly haven't been listening to women," she said.

Mr Joyce resigned from the role in 2018 amid accusations of sexual harassment – allegations he strenuously denies – as well as revelations about his extramarital affair with a staffer.

The Member for New England yesterday said he was coming back into the leadership a better person.

"I acknowledge my faults and I resigned as I should and did; I spent three years on the backbench and I hope I come back a better person,” Mr Joyce told reporters on Monday.

“Hopefully one learns from mistakes and makes themselves a better person.”

But Ms Johnson wasn't convinced.

"They can be seen as very hollow words," she said.

"What we're hearing is that people like Barnaby Joyce will not deliver what women are looking for."

'What has happened in the past, I want to put in the past'

However, Nationals senator for NSW, Perin Davey, downplayed concerns about how women would react to Mr Joyce's return to the leadership.

"What has happened in the past, I want to put in the past, we want to focus on the future," Ms Davey said.

"I've had conversations with Barnaby about how we work together to get more women in the party and he's all for it."


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no re-joycing...


After being sworn in as deputy PM this morning, newly reinstated Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce spent today’s Question Time sitting in the prime minister’s chair, proving that it was possible for Question Time to get worse after yesterday’s excruciating session – much worse. The majority of questions were aimed at Joyce, ranging from why he was focused on his own job instead of the needs of Australians, to his infamous “I am sick of the government being in my life” video and his record on women (to which the women of Australia received yet another platitude beginning with “As father…”). When asked a second time about comments from within his party regarding women being unhappy about his return, Joyce repeated yesterday’s lines about becoming a better person, saying it was “a little bit demeaning” to be asked to “litigate” his past behaviour at the dispatch box – behaviour about which an internal party investigation was unable to reach a conclusion, but which a well-respected rural businesswoman said had left her traumatised. Forget litigation: Joyce was (mostly) given free rein to rant and rave, turning every question from Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese into an attack upon the Labor man’s leadership. But there were several issues the government did not want Joyce speaking on (it’s not clear how much he was involved in these calls). Leader of the House Peter Dutton was quick on his feet when it came to a question on whether Joyce stood by his earlier comments in support of the Biloela family, arguing that the “purpose” of Question Time was “to hold ministers for account for their portfolio responsibilities” (you wouldn’t know it from all the dixers). Speaker Tony Smith agreed. The government also didn’t want Joyce speaking on the UNESCO recommendation that the Great Barrier Reef be listed as “in danger”, with Dutton again leaping to his feet to rule that a question from Bob Katter was actually meant for Environment Minister Sussan Ley, who took the question instead.

It was fitting that the federal government found itself in a fight with a UNESCO over its reef recommendation on the same morning that Joyce reascended to the deputy prime ministership, with the ruling believed to be a warning over Australia’s lagging climate change efforts, as the UN called for Australia to take “accelerated action at all possible levels”. Ley has vowed to challenge the recommendation, saying it was based on a “desktop review” that did not have the latest information on measures being taken, and that it singled out Australia unfairly. She added that the committee was “not the forum” to make a point about climate action. The Australian, meanwhile, has backed subtle suggestions from the government that the recommendation is a politically motivated “ambush” by China, which chairs the World Heritage Committee, declaring that the move comes “amid a surge in both Chinese influence and climate activism within the UNESCO system”. Experts and the Opposition are not so outraged, saying the decision was an important warning and “100 per cent an environmental decision”, as calls grow for the government to stop arguing and start acting.


It was unsurprising, then, that the government didn’t want its new coal-loving, ham-fisted deputy speaking in parliament on the contentious and diplomatically sensitive UNESCO ruling ­– even though Katter made it clear he wanted to hear from him. As the government’s environmental spokeswoman, Ley has avoided openly blaming China for the decision, while letting The Australian and Katter run the line. (As Guardian Australia notes, China doesn’t chair UNESCO, only the World Heritage Committee, which will decide on the recommendation next month.) Joyce, however, would have likely been less restrained than Ley, having this morning used his first joint partyroom meeting as leader to fire aggressive warnings about China, talking of a new superpower with different ways of seeing the world, and telling colleagues that “our liberties and freedoms that we took as a birthright … might be challenged like they never have before”. Joyce also used the meeting to tell MPs that he would be a “servant to the party and the nation”, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, neither of whom are said to be thrilled with Joyce’s return, urged the Coalition to remain “united”, and reminded those present of their common values. 


This was before a fight broke out over the government’s childcare changes, with LNP men arguing that the government needed to support stay-at-home mums too (female Liberal MPs pushed back by arguing the changes were about “equality of opportunity”, and reminded the men to be cognisant of offending working women). But it was after the Nationals split with the Liberals in the Senate, as they did last night, to vote against the delivery of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan. It’s clear there will be much more of this to come, with the Nationals seeking more control over climate policies in this week’s renegotiation of the Coalition agreement, with the junior partner demanding clearer language on net-zero carbon emissions and coal-fired power. The reef is in danger, according to UNESCO. So, it seems, are we all.


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