Joyce back in landslide win
BARNABY Joyce will return to Canberra and take back his role as Deputy Prime Minister after a strong by-election victory.
Once considered Australia’s best retail politician, the Nationals leader was hard to find yesterday as he fought to win back his seat of New England.
The former deputy PM, who was forced to resign after discovering he was a dual citizen, cast his vote at his former primary school in the tiny town of Woolbrook, northeast of Tamworth, population 248.
There was no sausage sizzle or street walk for Mr Joyce, who stayed away from the major centre of Tamworth, bar a late visit to a school alongside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Mr Joyce spent the day in smaller towns, taking his elderly parents James and Marie with him to cast their vote.
Early results suggested a swing of up to 10 per cent to Mr Joyce, who previously held the safe Nationals seat by an 8.5 per cent margin. Malcolm Turnbull said the result was a “stunning victory”.
Addressing supporters last night at the Southgate Inn, Mr Joyce said he was “humbled” by the support.
His re-election bid has been marred by death threats, party infighting and controversial comments from the NSW Deputy Premier that Mr Turnbull should quit.
In the final days of the campaign he travelled with a security guard after being stalked by a local man who has followed him on the campaign trail, bombarding him with questions about his personal life.
Mr Joyce’s wife and daughters have been absent from the campaign and his party last night, but Nationals colleagues including Damian Drum, Andrew Broad and Cabinet min- ister Darren Chester spent the day handing out how-to-vote cards in the rain.
With a threat of an electionday shooting, police were on guard at polling booths across the electorate.
A bullet and a note threatening a shooting was reportedly found on one school premises and another bullet was sent early in November to Joyce’s Tamworth electorate office.
Despite the strong swing, Mr Joyce looked like a defeated man while casting his vote with his parents, admitting it hadn’t been an easy campaign.
“It’s been a very long campaign,” he said. “I wouldn’t want (it) to go on for another couple of weeks.”
SIX months ago members of Malcolm Turnbull’s frontbench delivered a message to the Prime Minister that a probe into the banks would be unavoidable.
There was growing concern that the Government was using up precious political capital protecting the scandalplagued banks and receiving little in return.
Anger grew when the Government narrowly avoided losing a vote on the matter by standing guard around Queensland MP George Christensen during a division.
The banks, now led by former Labor premier Anna Bligh, offered little thanks.
Back then Malcolm Turnbull was even offered a tactical withdrawal. After investigating lending practices by the big banks, former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell said the Coalition “should not rule out a royal commission” because as many as 2000 small businesses and individuals deserve justice.
It was a significant U-turn that would have provided the Government the cover it needed to backflip on the policy. But it didn’t.
Instead, Malcolm Turnbull was this week dragged kicking and screaming to the banking probe after backbencher Llew O’Brien declared support for the royal commission.
He sided with colleagues Barry O’Sullivan and George Christensen who had wooed the Greens with a private member’s Bill. The Government no longer had the numbers.
Despite the warning in June, the Prime Minister had missed the populist push that even bank chiefs could see. He had also underestimated the dummy spit by conservatives over the swift passing of samesex marriage and retaliation for the Queensland election.
It was messy and showed how bad things have become within the Coalition.
While a handful of Nationals — mainly Queenslanders — are happy with the result, those further south rightly fear they have overplayed their hand. Don’t be fooled by the faux unity on display in New England this weekend. They are furious that their colleagues used up any goodwill within the Coalition on a $75 million inquiry that won’t win them any love in the electorate. As one told me, “come election time, there won’t be any money for us when we want roads and hospitals, this is what we got”.
Some Nationals MPs are hopeful they will be able to use the royal commission as a campaign tool and claim victory for delivering the popular probe. But it will always be seen as a Labor Party policy that gathered support from across the chamber.
If the banking royal commission unearths allegations of foul play, Bill Shorten will be quick to remind voters that the Government was opposed to the inquiry.
Malcolm Turnbull and his Cabinet will be haunted by 18months’ worth of sound bites where they told us all what a bad idea it was.
Even if it turns out to be a fizzer, but drives up interest rates as some have warned, the Government will get the blame and won’t be able to say “I told you so”.
The Nationals were already on the nose with the Liberals after the citizenship saga claimed their leader and deputy leader. Now things are about to get worse.
Their actions have humiliated the Prime Minister and caused a deep divide in the Coalition and it won’t be forgotten. Barnaby Joyce’s election victory and return to Parliament this week should bring some stability back to the Nationals, but that could be short lived.
This week the junior Coalition partner will elect a deputy leader after Fiona Nash resigned following the dual citizenship saga. Queenslander Matt Canavan is considered a favourite with Michael McCormack from NSW also a chance. The contest will be used by factions to flex their muscles for control.
REUNITED: Barnaby Joyce with Malcolm Turnbull before voting yesterday.
KICKING AND SCREAMING: Malcolm Turnbull didn’t want a royal commission into the banks.