The Coalition campaign bus was seen overtaking the Labor campaign bus earlier this week in photos posted on Twitter, veracity untested.
Seemingly related, Twitter had been more feral than usual. A section of Auspol who previously had felt comfortable about politics and the likely change in government, elicited the high pitch of a group losing control, think U.S. Democrats post Trump’s election. Add on, or possibly causative, was media consensus generally agreeing Morrison had a better week than Shorten, and this campaign stopped looking so oppressive for the Coalition.
Then #Watergate hit the proverbial kitchen table.
With all the Coalition leadership changes of this Government there is a surplus of blood in the water for political sharks to feed on. Labor seemed to expect this hemoglobin surplus from past disunity would safely see them into government. Not surprising then that Barnaby Joyce’s time as Leader of the Nationals would attract attention at some point in this campaign.
At one point he held real power, managing the Nationals’ enthusiasm within the Coalition as the Liberals changed captains from Abbott to Turnbull, not exactly a coveted conservative change. This real power was previously acknowledged within the Abbott Government when Joyce was able to seek and receive the water portfolio. We might all be reminded at this point of the aphorism: Be careful what you wish for.
Later in the Turnbull-Joyce Government, Joyce was persuaded against his better judgement to resign as Leader of the Nationals in a measure of personal disgrace, losing his responsibilities as a Minister and moving to the backbench. Subsequently Labor, while carefully avoiding reference to Turnbull’s #BonkBan and the intersection of personal and public-office disgrace, has fed on the Coalition’s discomfort around Joyce, his public fall and hopes of redemption.
Further, Labor actively encourages the media to scour the entrails of Joyce’s time over the water portfolio in light of anything, water buyback policy changes he introduced that saw an $80 million purchase from a Cayman Island’s entity being perfect fodder. We note at this point the limited scope of Labor’s recently announced judicial enquiry (from old news says Michelle Grattan).
This enquiry delivers for Labor without needing a finding anytime soon. It also doesn’t require an eventual finding of illegality, impropriety or corruption (unlikely says Malcolm Farr) to deliver campaign manna for a few more days.
Understanding his current predicament Joyce now claims the title of humble backbencher. The ‘elected Deputy Leader of Australia’ Joyce had previously struggled with that well known fall-from-power disease ‘relevance deprivation syndrome’.
Current travails must tempt Coalition leaders to throw this humble backbencher under the bus any chance they get, making that interesting dynamic where enemies coalesce and a pollie might wake in fright from reoccurring dreams of seeing nothing but fish food in the mirror.
While the Prime Minister has pointed the way forward, stating water policy irregularities will be noted by the Auditor-General, all Nationals’ candidates will be sensitive to the possibility of a national Coalition campaign being thwarted over a rural issue. We might also suggest that progress in public policy is sometimes the handmaiden of political necessity, and Australians are set to keep learning more about Murray-Darling water management as a result.
Cowper’s Patrick Conaghan will be hoping the Prime Minister, Nationals party leader Michael McCormack and the Minister for Agriculture will manage the Australian electorate’s interest and Joyce’s interventions going forward, while his opposing candidates will be salivating over any hint of Government incompetence.
In contrast to Joyce, this electorate’s current member Luke Hartsuyker attracts far less attention. While not going out entirely on top, he has returned to the humble backbencher role with less difficulty than Joyce. Having risen to be a Minister, holding lesser positions of responsibility and providing long service to Cowper over 18 years, we are yet to see his record contested with much success. This is as good as a gift to the Nationals’ Conaghan.
Adversarial democracy pretty much compels Cowper’s other candidates to contest what currently is a scandal-free high office record with a little more vigour to improve their likeliness of success.
This week we saw Port Macquarie’s Oxley Oval upgrade possibly being a sign of more effective attacks to come. Hartsuyker had promised the Government would support the upgrade financially at the 2016 election, but cost blow outs had ensured more was needed in 2019 to even begin. Rob Oakeshott was quick to spot the shortfall, promising a better result, after observing Conaghan promise more Government support in an effort to bring it to fruition.
The next three plus weeks will likely see the Nationals further try to promote Hartsuyker’s service and the potential Conaghan has to fill these shoes, while Andrew Woodward, Oakeshott, Lex Stuart, Lauren Edwards and Allan Green will try to persuade the communities that they have received not nearly enough, and that their party will, or independently they will, in contrast deliver the results Cowper needs.
At this stage, it’s anyone’s guess if the leading challengers Woodward or Oakeshott will be successful, or whether Conaghan can continue the Nats’ dominance of the electorate for another parliamentary term. What you can be assured of is Joyce’s example is a bittersweet lesson of personal political power, attained and lost, for each of them.