It was Tony Abbott who bestowed the appellation "best retail politician in the country" on Barnaby Joyce. Even now, some continue to preface their comments about him by claiming he is possessed of some form of political genius. It is true that Joyce has been successful at the time-honoured Nationals tactic of demanding handouts for farmers despite a complete lack of policy rationale (beyond Joyce's personal and, given recent events, now ironic vision of Australian agriculture as a rural idyll of white heterosexual families). Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on irrigation infrastructure and concessional loans to farmers at Joyce's behest. But a quick check of Joyce's other career highlights suggests he has serially been a problem for his own side of politics.
There was his painfully short, but for his colleagues far too long, stint as Coalition finance spokesman, when he claimed Australia was about to default. Abbott had to kick the "best retail politician in the country" out of that portfolio. There's his embarrassing railing against foreign investment in agribusiness. There's his inability to properly manage his close friendship with Gina Rinehart. There was his long-running feud with Liberal senator Bill Heffernan, who knows more about rural water issues than Joyce ever could and who was prepared to call out Joyce on his advocacy for his irrigator mates. There was Joyce breaching Cabinet solidarity to bag his own government's decision and another minister over the Shenhua mine. And there are his repeated, cack-handed contributions on foreign policy, usually at odds with the government's actual policy, forcing Julie Bishop (who under any sensible arrangement would be Deputy Prime Minister, not him) to clean up his mess.