CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Is Barnaby Joyce a leader in the making?
, June 13, 2009
Senator Barnaby Joyce has a good grasp of political issues and the ability to speak in a language the people understand.When Oppositions fail to do their job properly, an individual, a group or party faction inevitably steps forward to fill the power vacuum.
In the case of the Rudd Government's proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS), Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has moved to fill the space of a credible policy alternative by speaking out against a scheme which has the potential to devastate Australia's economy.
Rather than take a leadership stand on behalf of the Opposition, Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull has taken the soft option of calling for a delay in any government decision until after the United Nations climate talkfest in Copenhagen in December.
Moreover, Mr Turnbull has also called for yet another inquiry - this time by the Productivity Commission.
Presumably, Mr Turnbull is incapable of striking a balance between the Liberal Party's climate-change believers, such as Greg Hunt, and its sceptics, such as WA MP Dennis Jensen, and does not want to be "wedged" on the issue.
His position is one of agreement with the Rudd Government's steps to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 20 per cent below 2000 levels. However, he wants to delay action for another few months.
The Labor Party rightly criticises Mr Turnbull for continually moving the goalposts without offering a feasible alternative policy.
If Mr Turnbull's suggestion of a referral to the Productivity Commission is taken up, at least officials in that organisation will be familiar with the subject matter.
The commission has already completed as many as a dozen separate reports on the economic effects of attempting to contain greenhouse gases, stretching back to 1991 before the issue was even fashionable.
Most recently, the Productivity Commission produced yet another - a substantial 93-page submission to the Garnaut Climate Change Review, itself the landmark advice to the Rudd Government on moving the policy forward.
However, Senator Joyce is arguing that any Senate deferral of the ETS until after Copenhagen would be the equivalent to voting it down.
"The ETS is the Employment Termination Scheme for working families in the coal-mining and farming belts of Australia," Senator Joyce wrote in a statement late in May.
"It is undeniable that this scheme will put our major export at risk and also put us on the path to further exacerbate the loss of our food sovereignty.
"You cannot take the major income-earner out of the house, then put more impediments on the food in the cupboard and expect the life in the house will go on as before.
"The mining industry has clearly spelled out this will be a disaster. The farming sector has shown us that this could lead to a 20 per cent reduction in the economy of some regions. The ramifications will flow up every street, no matter where you live."
Senator Joyce argues that ETS basically is tokenism, an ineffective gesture when put against the vast quantity of emissions from overseas. In a typical turn-of-phrase he describes it as a sap to Labor's constituency at "the Mystical Monkey Coffee Shop in inner suburban Nirvanaville".
From his arrival in Canberra from Queensland in 2005 as an unpredictable maverick who was prepared to defy his party and Liberal colleagues to repeatedly cross the Senate floor on key issues, Senator Joyce has slowly graduated into the mainstream of political debate.
He has a good grasp of issues and - that rare commodity in politics - the ability to speak in a language that people understand. He also understands that riding shotgun alongside the Liberal Party but without a gun, is as good as useless.
In other words, the party has to stand for something or die.
In September last year, Joyce was elected without fanfare as Nationals leader in the Senate, but, critically, he refused to take an Opposition portfolio responsibility.
This meant that, even though he was in the Coalition leadership group, he was not locked into a Coalition policy straightjacket and had the ability to continue to speak his mind.Aggressive strategy
Reluctantly, Nationals MPs are coming around to realising that Senator Joyce's aggressive, independent strategy is more effective in raising the Nationals brand name - particularly while in Opposition.
Some Nationals MPs resent the publicity that Senator Joyce manages to attract, and they consider him an unpredictable upstart.
But older and wiser hands, such as long-time Queensland Senator Ron Boswell, whose loyalty to the Coalition was never given the recognition it deserved, realise that a separate identity for the party is vital.
Events are moving in a way whereby Nationals will soon be asking: is Senator Joyce a leader in the making?