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Jan 12, 2016

Rundle: Barnaby and the Nats stuck between a mine and a hard place

As Barnaby Joyce follows his ambitions, the Nationals are going to have to start paying attention to rural voters, not mining interests -- or go the way of the dodo themselves.



It’s always a joy to see a man doing something he loves and is good at, and so it is watching Tony Windsor on Twitter chronicle the rise and rise of Barnaby Joyce — especially in the past few days, as the pug-nosed knight of St George gathers the endorsements of the oil and CSG men who were once National Party leaders themselves:


That’s pretty important, since these days the National Party more or less is the resources sector, with two former leaders, John Anderson and Mark Vaile, both involved in companies running coal-seam gas and open-cut mines (Santos and Whitehaven respectively — both of which are loathed by much of the community in which they’re found). Former Nats are studded through the mining corps and industry peak bodies.

Given Australia’s meticulously designed political system — matched public funding of parties removes the need to seek an active social base, while giving the appearance of democracy — the Nats haven’t needed to take the rising conflict between mining and farming into account. Public funding provides the base money, corporate donations from Big Mining, the extra funds — and a chance to make real money after politics. That was all ticking along very nicely for many a year.

Since 2005, that’s become more difficult, for the simple reason that mining has gotten utterly out of control and raised a rural movement against itself. This coincided with the victory of independents — Windsor, Oakeshott and Andren, and then McGowan in Indi — as once-compliant rural electorates began to turf the Nats and Libs out.

Barnaby saw the protests, the blockades and the marches, and decided — like any true leader — that he better get out in front of it, wherever it was going. In the years after 2005, as the “maverick” senator for Queensland, he could do exactly that, condemning heavy-handed CSG exploration and exploitation and coming out hard against the insane Shenhua mine proposed for the Liverpool Plains. He even adopted a greenish note on endangered species in the path of the mines. It was especially easy in opposition. He impressed many at the time with the strength of his campaign against the assault on farming, and his apparent willingness to work with the Greens, who were assisting the farmers in their campaigns.

But then “disaster” struck: the Coalition took power. Joyce became Water Minister, exactly the position from which to put a stop to the mad, self-defeating process of coal and CSG expansion in eastern Australia. He flubbed it magnificently, declaring that there was nothing he could do about the Shenhua Watermark mine, which would plunge a 300-metre open cut into the centre of “black soil” country and the Murray-Darling basin. In the southern part of New England, Joyce’s name is on a par with the scree and sludge they’ll be pumping out of that mine, if it ever happens.

That puts the Nats in a very interesting position. If Joyce takes the leadership and the Coalition wins a second term, he simply won’t be able to run from the demands to do something about the havoc that CSG and mining are creating in rural communities. That’s not merely from those who opposed open-slather exploration from the start, but from those who were initially welcoming of CSG money, and now have buyers’ remorse. Were the Nats to short-change their electorate again, I do not see how a dissident rural movement of real force could not emerge and quickly prove a real threat to them.

But that might even happen before the election — if they elevate Joyce to the leadership, they may have to select a new one after September (or March), because Joyce may well not be in Parliament. The greatest threat would come from a run by Tony Windsor for the seat he held for 12 years — a run he is still considering –but not just from that. There is such anger and resistance to CSG and mining in the region, such a feeling of betrayal that, after a few weeks spent in the region at the end of last year, I’m convinced any decent and compelling independent, with roots in the community and an agenda for balanced rural development could take the seat with a decent campaign.

Not just that seat. The Nationals, in tying themselves to an industry that digs holes, may have dug one for themselves. Joyce could be knocked off in New England, and Nick Xenophon’s NXT is running a candidate in Calare. In sparsely populated remote seats, the Nats are safe for now. But in more populous NSW seats, where different ways of life contend, they have long since ceased to represent the broad population, their varying values and aspirations.

The rationale for the wholesale commitment to CSG and coal mining has been that it pumps money into rural regions. But that was predicated on a never-ending boom. When the boom bust, there was talk of it being cyclical. Now, it seems all the more likely that China and India will be producing most of their own supply domestically. That, together with other factors, suggests the never-ending boom has not been all that it seems. Furthermore, a lot of the resource-first policy was simply a National Party elite being bamboozled by the very big money flying around.

They weren’t the only ones. Now that it’s not sticking around, and the magic pudding hasn’t eventuated, the Nats will have to start representing the people who voted for them — especially as their interests start to diverge from the base of their Liberal Coalition partners. Otherwise, concerns about endangered species might be closer to home.


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17 thoughts on “Rundle: Barnaby and the Nats stuck between a mine and a hard place

  1. Jaybuoy

    How would anyone know what Joyce stands for when most of what comes out of his mouth is indecipherable..when our previous dear leader said “he speaks bush” I think he meant George W..

  2. klewso

    “Voluntarily bamboozled”.
    As for “Two Headed Buffalo Calf” – he who speaks with two mouths – that’s just Cousin Jethro.

  3. AR

    Each Nats leader departs to spend more time with his wallet – and Barnaby Rudge is unlikely to be an exception when, rather than if.
    How much havoc can he wreak in the meantime, aye there’s the rub.

  4. Coaltopia

    Water water everywhere but not a drop to think.

  5. graybul

    A mantra that should never be forgotten . . .

    What goes around, comes around!

  6. zut alors

    Please, Tony Windsor, please…you made a difference & major contribution once & can do so again.

  7. CML

    Tony Windsor for New England!
    He will be the only honest politician in that big building in Canberra.
    So I join with Zut in imploring him to have another go this year…just wish I lived in his electorate!!

  8. Cara Clark

    Andrew Wilkie is also an honest pollie!

  9. old greybeard

    The Nats have never really represented the people of their electorate where I live. They have represented the big graziers, then broadacre agribusiness, then mining companies. The joke of Barnaby’s concern about water is that he represented a bunch of water stealing cotton farmers in Qld who constructed illegal dams, which the Qld Nats turned a blind eye to. This ruined both ecosystems and downstream farmers. Barnaby, so I hear, leaves the ground early when the rugby team is in strife. Worthless like all but one Nat I have ever met (he resigned).

  10. David Hand

    I was in Byron Bay last year and got into a conversation with a local.

    “We’ve stuck it to the Nats over gas. We don’t want it here! Har Har.

    “So you are against having gas supplied to your home then?”

    “Oh I use gas at home – I just don’t want it produced around here”

  11. ken svay

    Now the shit they dig up or frack is worth nothing then these pricks are fucked.

  12. David Hand

    Go for it Ken.
    Turn your lights off mate. Maybe invent a bicycle made of hemp. Oh and stop using that computer or tablet or smart phone. Don’t you realise how much shit digging was needed to get it to you?

    Have you NO concern for the planet???

  13. AR

    OneHand finally seems to have been given a new crib sheet xeroxed by neocon central but it is still the same old Kock bros B/S ‘freezing in the dark with a candle”, with (champagne) corks on its hat for local colour..

  14. David Hand

    Happy new year AR

  15. AR

    Steady on! No way he is young.

  16. Nathan Heberley

    @David Hand, There are better ways to get natural gas then a process which can potentially destroy your water supply.

    The same can be said of power…. not all of it comes from a coal power station.

  17. Dogs breakfast

    As above with Nathan at 16. The terrible malaise of NSW having no gas supplies was shown to be a complete fiction. Gas supplies are abundant in the south and will now be piped in, and it won’t be CSG.

    That’s the thing Mr Hand, the nuance you have failed to consider. The extraction by CSG is a problem, with substantial dangers to groundwater and carbon and methane emissions.

    We have better methodologies and better supplies. We don’t have to choose between gas or no gas, just between CSG and other gas supplies already in place.

    So, straw man knocked over.


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