nationals abc
Nationals Leader Michael McCormack.

It’s an indictment of the state Australian politics when limiting our “Crisis Watch” format to just the major parties seems totally unfair. This is particularly true of the Liberals’ Coalition partner, the National Party, which punches so routinely above its weight in terms of minor-party scandal-generation that we felt it deserved a special look.

Intra-Coaltion warfare

The Nats are plagued by scandal, vested with bullies and riddled with incompetence. The one thing they were supposed to be good at were looking after farmers and they have failed at that. 

Who delivered that scorching assessment? A senior Labor figure, or one of the more bellicose Greens? Nope, that was Wagga Liberal branch president Colin Taggart, who has “declared war” on the National Party in the state seat of Wagga — which, incidentally, overlaps a great deal with Nationals leader Michael McCormack’s own federal seat. Taggart is organising with a new anti-Nationals campaigning group, Anyone But Nats, to help defeat the Coalition partner at the NSW election. The seeming impunity of Nationals members is clearly starting to grate within the Liberal Party.

Anyone But Nats are not leaving it there — they are planing to support candidates in several Nationals-held seats and will hold a series of community forums at regional centres in key electorates. 

The Murray-Darling Basin

A focus of Anyone but Nats and Taggart has been the colossal mismanagement of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This mismanagement stretches back years, but has hit a horror show peak in recent weeks. One million native fish have died in the basin, and the stomach-churning sight of scores of dead and rotting fish floating to the banks of the Darling river system provide a potent and haunting visual metaphor for this rank policy failure. 

Horny boys and fed up women

Last year, having been engulfed by his “sugar daddy/James Bond” sex scandal — the second such scandal to afflict a Nationals MP that year — Andrew Broad announced he would not contest the next election, leaving the Nats, who have no obvious replacement, nervous about retaining his safe seat of Mallee. Peta Credlin has been touted as a possible candidate for the seat, and given the circumstances, a high-profile conservative woman would be a fraught prospect for the Nats.

Oakeshott to the heart

Another high-profile candidate that could cause the Nats strife in 2019 is Rob Oakeshott. Six years after his retirement from politics, the former independent is running again in the safe nationals seat of Cowper. Quite apart from his experience and name recognition, in 2016 he ran what he called a “crazy three-week campaign”, gained 45.4% of the two-party preferred vote and inflicted an 8.1% swing away from Nat Luke Hartsuyker. 

Live exports

Sickening footage of sheep dying on an Emanuel Exports ship emerged last year, calling attention to yet another area that the Nationals have responsibility for, and have unforgivably screwed up. Even stories that paint animal activists in a negative light, like this morning’s report that money was allegedly offered to whistleblowers for incriminating footage, keeps the original cruelty and suffering in people’s minds.

The Barnaby Joyce of it all 

All of these issues — disastrous mismanagement of the agricultural portfolio, fights with the Liberal Party, fights with high profile independents, and insensible horniness — have one common thread: Barnaby Joyce, the man who more or less necessitated Crikey’s Crisis Watch specials in the first place.

His demotion to the backbench after a sex scandal early last year has not stopped him causing trouble. Earlier this month, it was revealed he’d charged taxpayers $6000 to attend — with new partner Vikki Campion — a forum supporting live sheep exports in Western Australia, and he’s recently been forced to deny allegations that it’s corruption as much as drought that has led to the current Murray-Darling crisis.

But it’s also failed to stop speculation about his return to a position of leadership in the party. And as long as that remains even a faint possibility, the sense of calamity surrounding the Nats is unlikely to dissipate.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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