Barnaby Joyce is a serious threat to the electoral prospects of the Coalition and must be removed forthwith from Opposition ranks.
There is, simply put, no further benefit, and considerable risk, in keeping the Queensland senator in the tent.
Under the Howard government, Joyce was at best nuisance value. His tendency to cross the floor did not wreck too many Bills. He almost derailed the government’s media law reforms after reneging on a party-room agreement to support the Bills, but Steve Fielding saved the day by supporting them.
But for most of the past two years, emboldened by the lack of authoritative leadership in either his own party or the Liberal Party, Joyce has stopped being a nuisance and has become, instead, highly damaging.
For what end is not entirely clear. He appears to believe the Nationals must carve out a more separate identity from the Liberals, but at the same time he wants the benefits of a coalition, including sharing power in the event they return to power.
Take last week, for instance. The Coalition managed, briefly, to keep the focus on the government, with most media attention focused on the Prime Minister’s relatively poor handling of the asylum-seeker issue.
Joyce apparently decided that wasn’t right, and made two valiant efforts to swing the focus back onto the Coalition’s internal problems. He launched a remarkable attack on Bill Heffernan over Cubbie Station, deliberately targeting his Liberal colleague despite Nick Xenophon saying exactly the same things about Cubbie’s viability as Heffernan did.
And then, on the weekend, Joyce went to Glenn Milne to issue a quite astonishing set of demands to the Liberals.
First was that Malcolm Turnbull “shut down” (Milne’s words) any of his MPs who criticise the Nationals. Coming two days after he had savaged Heffernan, that was rich indeed.
Second was that Turnbull break off negotiations with the government on its CPRS and adopt the Nationals’ line of complete opposition (and, presumably, pig-headed denial that climate change even exists).
The second demand is simply remarkable. It directly contradicts the position adopted by the Nationals and Liberals at the joint party-room meeting just over a fortnight ago, which was that negotiations with the government proceed.
Joyce appears to have no interest in what his own party room decided just 15 days ago.
It’s clearly no longer just about the Nationals and their quest for relevance as Australian politics leaves them behind. There is no apparent purpose behind Joyce’s destabilisation, because he must surely know — if only because Queensland state politics has demonstrated it for the past 20 years — that splitting the Coalition will condemn the conservative side of politics to permanent Opposition.
No, now it’s about the ego of Barnaby Joyce. Perhaps he started to believe all that publicity about being a maverick and the voice of regional Australia.
Joyce is not even his party’s leader. He’s the leader of a rump of senators who need a bloke from another party to sit with them in order to get party status. Yet he feels entitled to tell the Liberals how to run their party and ignores decisions made in his own party room.
So here we are, again, talking about the Opposition’s internal problems, watching the Coalition rip and tear at each other.
This is entirely the fault of Joyce. If he continues in the federal Coalition, he will continue to destabilise, to distract, to redirect attention from the government to the Opposition. All, apparently, because of his own ego. He has no alternative strategy. He is not even interested in the basic idea of trying to improve the government’s legislation, which must surely be the first responsibility of any Opposition.
But, you might observe, Joyce is a Nationals senator and surely the Nationals will not kick out their highest-profile member? Ah, but he’s not a Nationals senator. He’s a member of the Liberal National Party, which is affiliated with the Liberal Party. The federal Liberal Party should demand that the LNP remove Joyce.
There is no downside to having Joyce sit as an independent. His vote cannot be relied on now in the Senate, given his professed willingness to cross the floor on any issue. Indeed, as he showed over the media policy legislation in 2006, he cannot even be relied on to vote the way he says he will vote. Once he is removed from the Coalition, his incessant criticism of the Liberals will simply be one more voice of criticism from their political opponents. You can’t destabilise from without.
It would even be in Joyce’s own interests, enabling him to work on building his own political profile.
The alternative is more of the same, until he succeeds in breaking the Coalition apart or, worse, simply provides permanent disunity and destabilisation.
As we’ve said time and again, Australia needs an Opposition worthy of the name, not one obsessed with its own internal problems. It’s not merely for their own good that the Opposition needs to get rid of this bloke, and fast.