So Tony Abbott expects new Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce to put a sock in it when he gets to Canberra? Good luck, minister.

Joyce certainly has come under the pump in the last week, with John Howard’s spin svengali Grahame Morris and now Abbott sending out serious signals that the hyperactive bush accountant should pull his head in. “Most politicians learn to engage their mouth and their brain at the same time,” was Morris’s dry observation in his Australian column last Thursday. “Barnaby Joyce is still an apprentice parliamentarian.”

It’s hard not so see this strategic softening up, coming from two political intimates of the PM, as a directive from the top. And Steve Lewis throws his tuppence worth in The Australian today, pointing out that managing Joyce will be an early test for new Nats leader Mark Vaile.

But the latest cult figure from Queensland shows no signs of buckling under just yet. Joyce is no fool. He’s playing the media and the Liberal party like a violin, even before stepping into Parliament. This is his third tilt at a seat, and he’s thoroughly enjoying his new role as the political power of one.

Wise political minders, however, understand there are preventive measures available to take the heat out of problems like newby politicians with an ego the size of their electorate. One thing we can suggest to those worried Liberals is to keep the Senator-elect away from the bar while he’s in Canberra.

You see, Barnaby likes a drink. And fair enough; out in the Queensland sun, a man’s not a camel. Age political correspondent Jason Koutsoukis discovered this when he visited Joyce at home two months ago in remote St George, 500km west of Brisbane. And the result was this rip-roarer of a yarn that split wide open the differences between the Queensland Nationals and the Liberals, with Telstra as the flashpoint:

Joyce went for the jugular, accusing Communications Minister Helen Coonan of breathtaking arrogance, and throwing this bomb: “Helen is so typical of that Liberal elite from Sydney’s eastern suburbs whose main view of the world is the harbour. Just completely out of touch with working rural Australia.”

And: “To tell you the truth, I have never really liked Liberals much. They all think they have something special happening in their lunchbox.”

So how did The Age secure this magnificent barrage of abuse that put Coalition relations back years? It apparently took its intrepid reporter all day – and well into the night. We hear Joyce was the perfect host, showing his visitor around the local pubs, and partaking more than a few beverages along the way.

Late in the evening, the pair adjourned to the Senator-elect’s office, where the reporter rolled the tape – and the well-lubricated pollie let fly, with bon mots like: “They want to kick me out of the Coalition. They say I’m unsophisticated, irrelevant and they are going to wipe me out. If your wife told you that, you’d be asking for a divorce.”

When we put this conjecture to Koutsoukis, he gave us the polite brush-off, mumbling something about “confidentiality of sources and methods.” All we can say is cheers!

Peter Fray

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