How can Barnaby Joyce come back?
THE timing was incredible really: as the who’s who of Australian agriculture descended on Canberra last week, celebrating its rural women, talking diversity, planning for a $100 billion future – there were the Nationals, still stuck in the past.
Whispers of a possible Nats leadership challenge swirled, and the farm sector was left scratching their collective heads – how, just eight months after Barnaby Joyce resigned in disgrace, and just eight weeks after the Liberals’ own botched leadership spill, could a Joyce comeback even be a thought bubble?
Mr Joyce denied canvassing support, but made no secret of his ambitions: he’d return to the leadership in a heartbeat if he were drafted.
But he and his supporters should check the temperature outside their backyards, because there’s plenty of those the Nats claim as their base who do not miss him in the least.
“He seems to have forgotten the team handbook,” one farm leader observed dryly at the National Farmers’ Federation Congress last week.
“He’s doing what (Tony) Abbott and (Kevin) Rudd did,” said another.
“People have lost their minds if they’re thinking of supporting him,” a third declared. “Seriously, tell me it’s not happening.”
Mercifully, for now at least, it appears there’s no appetite to force a spill, even among Mr Joyce’s supporters.
Aside from the fact another change would be the fourth Nats leader in three years why should Mr Joyce be returned?
What kind of legacy did he leave that people are apparently so eager to have him back? Those who dealt with him as agriculture minister say he was incredibly difficult to work with, in turn describing him as erratic, unprofessional, refusing to take advice from anyone.
As party leader, MPs have said he was divisive.
Add to that his personal indiscretions and allegations he sexually harassed one of Australia’s most respected rural women, and it’s no wonder questions arise on his judgment or character.
The leader Michael McCormack has been lacklustre.
His worst offence seems to be he’s yet to make a mark.
But to compare that to Mr Joyce’s legacy, is it really reason enough for the Nats to look backwards?
■ Natalie Kotsios is The
Weekly Times national affairs