‘You won’t exist’: farmers’ warning to Nats
The image of Michael McCormack standing po-faced, poker-faced or stony-faced as a large, angry, protesting farmer tears strips off him outside Parliament House is the epitome of the Coalition’s problems with the drought and rural Australia.
For a start, the Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister is not popular in rural Australia. The Coalition’s handling of the drought — despite more than a billion dollars in extra aid — is not appreciated and there is widespread sympathy for the farmers’ call for more water to grow food.
John Russell, a farmer from the Victorian town of Kyabram in the Goulburn Valley, confronted Mr McCormack outside Parliament House on Tuesday and told him: “The National Party is not going to exist after the next election unless you grow some spine and stand up. Where’s the passion? I haven’t seen any passion from you. You’re like a poker player. Get up there and say this isn’t f..king good enough and get angry.”
Cobram maintenance worker Shane Bugge clashed with McCormack over water allocations on the river.
“I wasn’t going to back down, I just told him he was selling us down the river and that his party has caused all this rack and ruin,” Mr Bugge said later.
He held a sign suggesting former leader Barnaby Joyce wouldn’t be able to bail the Nationals out of their crisis.
The anger and organisation of the farmers’ protests suggests
that the dissatisfaction is spawning a new breed of political group.
It looks like the militant, conservative, active and unaligned “yellow vests” of France who have tired of seeing activists fighting for left-wing, social causes and climate change getting all the attention in the cities.
This is a working, green-shirt movement fighting for the right to make a living and feed the nation. It has the potential to grow and splinter parties of the right or funnel support to Pauline Hanson and her ilk.
There is also a clear perception that it’s not just the drought that is the problem. The NSW Nationals are fed up with the federal Nationals’ leadership and the NSW Coalition government is splitting from the Morrison government on water management.
The Nationals are divided and Scott Morrison’s personal support is not enough to quell the anger in the bush.
The Prime Minister has done much to help farmers since becoming Liberal leader but his own popularity in rural and regional Australia only highlights the weakness of his Coalition partner.
The placards and slogans on the side of hay trucks saying they are fighting a “man-made drought” are not referring to man-made climate change but the misallocation and corporate exploitation of water allocations made all the more precious by the drought.
These are the hitherto quiet — and unacknowledged — working Australians who only six months ago delivered government to the Coalition in rural Australia, in the Riverina, western Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria.
Yet in the final parliamentary week of 2019 they are besieging Parliament House, making McCormack look like an ineffectual goose, getting a review of water allocation rights, causing a split between the NSW and federal Coalition governments and, like the red bonnets and yellow vests of France, vying with the Extinction Rebellion climate change activists for public attention and government decisions. When Nationals leaders have travelled to France, their party has been described as a “peasant” party. Well, the peasants are revolting, they want water, bread and the heads of the Nationals. Not even Barnaby Joyce is seen as a saviour.
All of this in one moment of unalloyed passion combined with a political blandness so determined and without answers it was totally negative.
Victorian farmer Shane Bugge confronts Nationals leader Michael McCormack outside Parliament House on Tuesday