View from The Hill: Coal turns lumpy for Scott Morrison and the Nationals


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison’s government is struggling with a fresh crisis,
the combination of a bitter domestic within the Nationals and the
conflicting imperatives of pitching to voters in Australia’s north and south on the highly charged issues of energy and climate change.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday turbocharged his push to regain the Nationals leadership with a media blitz.

Obviously the former Nationals leader would like his positions back
now (despite saying “we’ve got to go to the polls with the team
we’ve got”) but if that’s not possible he’s staking his claim for
after the election.

There was a manic edge to Joyce’s Monday interviews, focused on leadership and championing coal. Explaining why, while he wouldn’t move for a spill, he’d feel no “guilt” about standing if the opportunity came, he described himself as the “elected deputy prime minister of Australia”. That claim was based on occupying the position when the Coalition won the election.

Bizarrely, he also questioned that emissions could be measured. “It is a self-assessment process by the major emitters … And then it’s compiled by the government. So basically, it’s a proposition about a supposition,” he said on the ABC.

Although these days he sounds more over-the-top than ever, Joyce resonates with Queensland Nationals fearing a loss of seats – they have boundless faith in his campaigning power, and are highly critical of the ineffectiveness of party leader Michael McCormack.

One of their key KPIs for McCormack has been that he must successfully pressure Morrison for the government to underwrite coal-fired generation.

But McCormack hasn’t been able to deliver, and that became obvious on Monday, when Morrison indicated the government won’t be nominating a Queensland coal project for underwriting.

“For such a project to proceed, it would require the approval of the Queensland state government,” the Prime Minister said.

“Now, the Queensland state government has no intention of approving
any such projects at all. So I tend to work in the area of the
practical, the things that actually can happen”.

Annastacia Palaszczuk might derive some wry amusement to find the
PM sheltering behind her skirts.

The Queensland rebels are less amused, seeing this as evidence that
McCormack has lost the battle (if he ever joined it) and worrying the Prime Minister is “cutting Queensland adrift to sandbag Victoria”.

Morrison certainly knows that to embrace a coal project would be
counterproductive for the Liberals in Victoria, where a number of
seats are at risk.




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But it is not just Victoria, or even just Liberal seats.

A hard-fought state election is underway in NSW, and the Nationals have much at stake.

They have several seats on or near the north coast where concern about climate change would top commitment to coal.

Lismore is a case in point, where the Nationals have their member retiring, and polling is showing a strong Green vote.

The regional vote is seen as crucial to the NSW election outcome,
and it is very volatile.

The destabilisation in the federal party is the last thing the NSW
Nationals need right now. If the state Nationals do badly on March 23, there will be recriminations and that will flow back into the federal backbiting and panic.




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Mark Latham in the upper house? A Coalition minority government? The NSW election is nearly upon us and it’s going to be a wild ride


How McCormack will go managing his rebellious party in the coming
weeks is problematic.

He displays poor judgement under pressure, as he did on Monday, after Joyce said the Nationals could pursue policies in their own right because “we are not married to the Liberal Party”.

“I understand when you have a marriage that it’s a two-way
relationship,”. McCormack shot back. “You don’t always get what you
want, but you have to work together … That’s what I do with the
Liberals.”

The man who lacks “cut through” had cut through, in an unfortunate way, to Joyce’s marital failure.

On Monday night, the row over coal took a new turn, threatening a
dangerous further escalation.

A batch of moderate Liberals, in a co-ordinated effort, waded into the debate, with public comments opposing taxpayer funds being used to build or pay for any new coal-fired power station.

They included Trevor Evans, Jason Falinski, Tim Wilson (who likes to call himself “modern” rather than “moderate”), Trent Zimmerman, Jane Hume – and Dave Sharma, the candidate for Wentworth.

Their comments were made under the cover of supporting the Prime Minister, but they had been wanting to say their piece for quite a while.

Once again, raging energy and climate wars are burning out of control in government ranks.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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View from The Hill: Michael McCormack fails leadership test in handling of Broad scandal


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It took disgraced Nationals MP Andrew Broad 24 hours after the “sugar baby” story broke to announce the inevitable – that he won’t recontest his Victorian seat of Mallee. They do things slowly in the Nationals.

In Michael McCormack’s case, at glacial pace. The Nationals leader’s handling of the Broad scandal has been appalling. His failure to instantly inform Scott Morrison of a potentially explosive situation – the prime minister only learned of it on Monday – is inexplicable, and must severely strain the relationship between the two men at the top of the government.

McCormack on Monday muddled his account, saying he had only been told “a couple of weeks ago”, when he urged Broad to go to the police over the actions of a woman he met on a “seeking arrangement” website.




Read more:
National Andrew Broad forced to quit frontbench amid ‘sugar baby’ allegation


McCormack’s timetable was blown out of the water within hours by an Australian Federal Police statement that said Broad had referred the matter to it on November 8.

On Tuesday, McCormack’s performance was extraordinary.

He explained his confusion over timing by saying, “I don’t carry around the dates and times of what people tell me”.

He hadn’t informed Morrison at the start because “I don’t tell the prime minister everything about every member of parliament. He’s got enough on his mind at the moment.

“And quite frankly I thought it was a matter for Andrew to sort out with his family. Obviously, I wasn’t aware of the entire extent of what had taken place. I wasn’t made aware of that until yesterday.”

Asked whether he wanted Broad to run for Parliament again, McCormack blathered rather than just saying no.

Any diligent leader would have got to the bottom of the matter at once, extracting the full picture from Broad. Any prudent leader would have briefed the prime minister without delay. Any savvy leader would have known the scandal was likely to leak and that, anyway, Broad’s behaviour showed he was in an untenable position.

McCormack must live in some parallel universe if he ever thought his assistant minister’s account of flying off on an overseas date, which resulted in an apparent move to extract money from him, was just “a personal matter between him and his family”.

Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said in a statement late Tuesday: “The Nationals are not a party where this standard of behaviour is acceptable”.

Yet McCormack kept Broad on as his assistant minister for weeks. And in his Monday morning statement announcing Broad had resigned from the frontbench, the Nationals leader said Broad “will continue as an effective and hardworking Member for Mallee”.

McCormack’s leadership is only secure because we are so close to an election. He was already under criticism from within his party and his conduct over Broad might have brought on a challenge in other circumstances.

The Nationals, supposed to be a party of family values, have bookended the year with two personal scandals. Barnaby Joyce’s affair with his former staffer, now mother of his son, distracted the Coalition in the early months.

How the Morrison government’s grand tactical plan to overshadow Labor’s national conference went awry! The big story about a surging budget position, promising dollars for tax cuts, was expected to dominate the news.




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View from The Hill: Morrison goes a bridge too far to outsmart Shorten


As things turned out, the government did squeeze out the Labor coverage – but for the worst of reasons.

Labor’s management plans, in contrast, went as smoothly as clockwork.

Tricky issues, notably border security, were stitched up. Potentially controversial polices, including how broadly a Labor government would allow industry-wide bargaining, have been left for decisions by the leadership later.

Even what seemed the risky course of having Kevin Rudd address the conference – as a gesture of reconciliation and party unity – played out without a hitch.




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Rudd says Murdoch media is a “political party”


A raid on New South Wales ALP headquarters in Sydney in pursuit of an ICAC investigation into donations was embarrassingly timed but didn’t threaten the narrative at the conference in Adelaide.

The conference was used as a platform for announcements – on housing affordability, the protection of superannuation, the environment, reconciliation, refugees, the pursuit of gender pay equality. There were few votes and only one of them, on a left proposal for a human rights charter, involved a count – the left narrowly lost.

Controversy over signing up to a nuclear weapons ban treaty, on which Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong have different views, was defused by wording that leaves plenty of latitude.

One significant resolution that was passed calls for a Labor government to recognise Palestine, something that various state conferences have been urging strongly.

The role of the unions was proudly acknowledged.

The ACTU secretary Sally McManus told the conference: “The trade union movement is the early warning system for this nation. We are the earthquake sensors in the ocean that feel the tremors before they reach the shores. We are the smoke alarm trying to wake you from your deepest sleep. The siren that makes you look up before it is too late.

“And we are sounding the alarm now. We see the unfairness, we see the fair go being crushed with growing inequality. It is time to listen and to act. And Australian Labor, Bill Shorten, is doing just that.”

It’s notable that in the election for the ALP national executive, the CFMMEU has gone from one representative to two. Its national secretary, Michael O’Connor, is now a member of it. The conference has left open how much the unions will get as Labor unveils more detail of its industrial policy over the coming months.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

McCormack puts Chester back on frontbench in cautious changes


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester, controversially dropped from cabinet by Barnaby Joyce, has been restored to the ministry in a minimalist reshuffle by new party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Chester takes McCormack’s old posts of veterans’ affairs and defence personnel. He also replaces McCormack as deputy leader of the house. He will be in the outer ministry rather than in cabinet, as he was previously, but is believed to be happy with the outcome.

The dropping of Chester in the December reshuffle – on the stated grounds that the election of Bridget McKenzie as deputy meant Victoria would be over-represented in the Nationals’ cabinet line-up – sparked much criticism. It added to the pressure on Joyce when the news of his affair with a former staffer broke.

In other changes, Queenslander Keith Pitt, also dropped by Joyce, becomes assistant minister to the deputy prime minister.

Mark Coulton, from New South Wales, is elevated to assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment.

Two assistant minister have been relegated to the backbench – Damian Drum from Victoria and Luke Hartsuyker from NSW.

McCormack has rewarded supporters but has been cautious in making changes. Rumours were flying among some in the jittery Nationals of much wider changes though these never seemed likely, given the new leader needs to settle the party down. McCormack said in a statement that “ultimately my focus was on maintaining stability so the government can get on with the job of delivering for the nation”.

The ConversationOn Monday, McCormack was sworn into the infrastructure and transport portfolio that Joyce took from Chester in December.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

McCormack has tough task to match Barnaby Joyce’s 2016 electoral gold standard


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

One man’s disaster is another man’s serendipity. If Barnaby Joyce hadn’t fallen spectacularly, Michael McCormack, 53, the new deputy prime minister, would likely never have become the Nationals’ leader.

In the normal course of events, by the time Joyce had moved on the party probably would have been ready for generational change – for example, to Queenslander David Littleproud, 41, who counted the numbers at the weekend but found he did not have enough for a tilt at the leadership on Monday.

Littleproud, a former agri-banker who was elevated by Joyce in December from the backbench to cabinet, potentially had as many as eight or nine out of the 21 Nationals, according to his supporters.

McCormack, the one-time editor of a regional newspaper who holds the New South Wales seat of Riverina and was a junior minister, comes to the top job with no blood on his hands, and with the Nationals knowing it is in their interests to get solidly behind him ahead of a difficult election next year. Those are significant advantages.

On the other hand, McCormack faces an uphill and possibly hazardous path, as he tries to establish himself within the government – where he’s unlikely to be a Joyce-type squeaky wheel and so could lose battles – and in regional Australia.

Joyce set the electoral gold standard for the Nationals at the 2016 election. When Turnbull was losing multiple seats the Nationals kept all theirs (and took one from the Liberals).

To replicate this or come close, McCormack must project the Nationals as having a distinct identity and relevance, and to cut through with their messages.

As one Nationals source puts it, when the Liberals are in the ascendant, as in 2013, the Nationals can ride on their coat-tails. But when the major partner is struggling, as in 2016 (and likely in 2019), it’s vital for the Nationals to distance themselves and establish their own pitch for support.

For all that Joyce’s position was untenable and his resignation a relief for the government, most of the Nationals – apart from Joyce’s known enemies – lament what they’ve lost. They recognise that even if McCormack proves a good leader he will never resonate in the bush the way Joyce has in the past (how he will in the future, after everything that’s happened, remains to be seen).

McCormack will need to work especially hard in Queensland, a state vital to the Nationals at the election (and where the Liberals and Nationals are formally joined in the Liberal National Party). Joyce was uniquely placed – a sort of dual citizen, the cheeky might say, who holds a NSW seat but previously was a Queensland senator.

Even after he moved to NSW, the Nationals from Queensland still saw Joyce as one of them. They had him there in the Queensland election, which was on when he was fighting his New England byelection. McCormack doesn’t enjoy such a convenient dual identity.

It will be important for McCormack to establish a good relationship with Littleproud, who’s well placed to help with the formidable task of Queensland campaigning. Those who know Littleproud say he is by nature loyal and would not seek to undermine McCormack.

Another Queensland challenge is maverick Queensland backbencher George Christensen – who made a token run in Monday’s leadership vote. He was difficult enough for Joyce to handle, though the two were personally quite close. Christensen won’t be any easier for McCormack, and could be harder.

How Joyce plays things in the next few months will be relevant to McCormack’s ability to run a united team.

As well as always being a centre of interest because he’s such a colourful character, in the minds of some in the party and the media Joyce is not dead forever. Immediately after he was elected as leader, McCormack was asked whether he was “keeping the seat warm for Barnaby until he can mount a comeback”.

Such questions (though I think far-fetched) must be annoying for the new leader. But whether Joyce’s presence becomes a serious irritant depends as much on McCormack’s performance as on Joyce’s behaviour.

Most immediately, Joyce’s travails aren’t over. It was revealed in Senate estimates on Monday that last week Malcolm Turnbull asked the head of his department, Martin Parkinson, to look into whether Joyce had broken the ministerial code of conduct. This investigation has now been abandoned with Joyce’s resignation.

But the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority is still probing whether there was any misuse of entitlements by Joyce and his former staffer – now partner – Vikki Campion.

More seriously, the Nationals’ organisation has on its plate the complaint from former Western Australian Rural Woman of the Year Catherine Marriott, accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.

Leaving aside the row over who leaked the woman’s name (the Nationals deny it was them), this matter is surely a nightmare for the party. How is it going to inquire into it? Is the matter going to be tied up in a protracted legal argument? Will Joyce and his accuser be summoned for questioning?

The ConversationTo state the obvious, the outcome of this inquiry is critical to Joyce’s personal reputation. He’s called for the allegation to be referred to the police. He has also claimed in private conversations that his rejection of the allegation would be backed by text messages.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Liberals likely to win Tasmanian election, while federal Labor’s poll lead widens


File 20180225 108122 15yx1mg.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
On the stated figures, the Will Hodgman-led Tasmanian Liberals are most likely to win 13 or 14 seats out of 25.
AAP/Rob Blakers

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday. A ReachTEL poll, conducted for The Mercury on February 22 from a large sample of more than 3,100, gave the Liberals 46.4% of the vote, Labor 31.1%, the Greens 12.1%, the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 5.2%, others 2.0%, and 3.3% were undecided.

When undecideds are excluded, the Liberals have 48.0%, Labor 32.2%, the Greens 12.5%, and JLN 5.4%.

Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Sample sizes for each electorate in ReachTEL were 620-650. The Liberals had well over 50% in Bass and Braddon, and 49.6% in Lyons, implying they would win three of the five seats in each.




Read more:
Tasmanian election likely to be close, while Labor continues to lead federally


In Franklin, the Liberals had 42.6%, easily enough for two seats. In Denison, the Liberals had 33.8%, just enough for two seats.

On the stated figures, the most likely overall seat outcome is 13 or 14 Liberals out of 25, eight-to-ten Labor, and two or three Greens. So, the Liberals should win a majority.

Like other Tasmanian polls, ReachTEL has in the past skewed to the Greens and against Labor. At the last two federal elections, ReachTEL skewed to the Liberals in Tasmania, though it skewed against the Liberals at the 2014 state election.

Adjusting for ReachTEL’s skew, Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham thinks the most likely outcome is 13 Liberals, ten Labor, and two Greens. The next two most likely outcomes are 13 Liberals, 11 Labor, one Green; and 12 Liberals, 11 Labor, two Greens.

I do not think opposition to Labor’s anti-pokies policy caused the swing to the Liberals during the campaign. The most important factor was probably that many Tasmanians detest the Greens, and will vote for the major party most likely to win a majority. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that had appeared likely to result in a hung parliament.

The Greens’ vote of 12.5% in this poll is below the 13.7% they won at the 2014 election, and it could be lower given ReachTEL’s pro-Greens skew. It is likely the Greens are doing badly because Labor, under Rebecca White’s leadership, has become more left-wing, so the Greens are having trouble differentiating themselves from Labor.

Incumbent Will Hodgman led White by 51.8-48.2 on ReachTEL’s forced choice better premier question. Labor’s pokies policy was supported against the Liberals’ policy by a 57-43 margin.

ReachTEL 54-46 to federal Labor

A Sky News ReachTEL, conducted February 22 – the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned – had federal Labor leading by 54-46, a two-point gain for Labor since late January. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 11% Greens (up one), and 7% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% probably included some undecided voters.

ReachTEL is using respondent-allocated preferences, which have been better for the Coalition than previous election preferences, as One Nation preferences are flowing to the Coalition at a greater rate than the 50-50 flow at the 2016 election. By last election preferences, Bonham calculates this poll was about 55.5-44.5 to Labor. This makes it one of the worst polls for the Coalition this term.

Despite the blowout in the Labor margin, Malcolm Turnbull continued to lead Bill Shorten by 53-47 in ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question (54-46 in January). Although the Joyce affair appears to have damaged the Coalition, Turnbull is not being blamed.

Last week’s Newspoll, conducted February 15-18 from a sample of 1,630, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (steady), and 8% One Nation (up three). This was Turnbull’s 27th successive Newspoll loss, three short of Tony Abbott.

The overall Labor/Green vote in this Newspoll was 47%; the left vote has been stuck at 47% in Newspoll since August. Despite the Joyce affair, the overall Coalition/One Nation vote was up one point to 44%.

Turnbull’s ratings were 34% satisfied, 54% dissatisfied (37-50 previously). Shorten’s ratings were the same as Turnbull’s, and Turnbull led Shorten 40-33 as better prime minister (45-31 previously).

A total of 65% thought Joyce should resign as deputy prime minister, while only 23% thought he should stay. By 64-25, voters supported a ban on politicians having sexual relations with their staff. By 57-32, voters supported Shorten’s policy to give Indigenous people a voice to federal parliament.

As long as Republicans hold Congress, no chance of real US gun control

After the recent Florida high school gun massacre, there has been a renewed push for US gun control. However, as I wrote following the Las Vegas massacre in October, meaningful gun control will not happen under Donald Trump and the current Republican-controlled Congress.




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No chance of US gun control despite Las Vegas massacre; NZ left gains two seats after special votes


The Florida state legislature, which Republicans control 76-40, defeated a motion to debate a ban on assault weapons by 71-36, even as students from the affected school looked on. Instead, it passed a motion declaring pornography a public health risk.

Trump’s ratings are currently 39.1% approve, 55.6% disapprove, in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate. Before the gun massacre, Trump’s approval had risen to 41.5% owing to perceptions of an improving US economy; for several weeks, Trump’s approval was at least 40%.

Democrats lead by 47.0-38.8 in the race for Congress. Before the massacre, the Democrats’ lead had fallen to 6.4 points. All 435 US House of Representatives seats will be up for election in November, and also one-third of the 100 senators. Democrats probably need a mid-to-high single-digit popular vote margin to win control of the House of Representatives.




Read more:
Strong US economy boosts Trump’s ratings, as Democrats shut down government for three days


Italian election: March 4

The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of both chambers of the Italian parliament will be elected by first past the post, and the remainder by proportional representation.

Italy imposes a blackout on polling during the final two weeks of election campaigns. The last polls were published on or before February 16.

In the final pre-blackout polls, the centre-right coalition was in the high 30s, with the centre-left coalition and the populist left Five Star Movement trailing with about 27% each. A left-wing breakaway from the centre-left had about 6%.

Even though the overall left vote is about 60%, the right could win a majority owing to the first-past-the-post seats.

The centre-right coalition includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s old party (Forza Italia). Although Berlusconi is banned from contesting elections, he could be the power behind the throne if his coalition wins a majority in both chambers.


The Conversation


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Will elections in 2018 see 2017’s left-wing revival continue?


Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Under McCormack, the Nationals need to accept they are a minority and preserve their independence


File 20180225 140178 14sui79.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
New Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack (front) talks to the media, while former leader Barnaby Joyce (left) listens in.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

The demise of Barnaby Joyce as leader of the National Party is an event of considerable importance in the long-term trajectory of Australian politics.

While his successor, New South Wales MP Michael McCormack, appears to have good conservative credentials, he is largely unknown to the Australian public, having held relatively minor ministerial portfolios such as Veterans’ Affairs.

Joyce was the last high-profile conservative leader left in mainstream Australian political life. With his banishment to the backbenches, it would appear that the triumph of left liberalism in Australian public life has been complete.




Read more:
Barnaby Joyce: the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall


This needs to be explained a little further. There was a time when the Australian Labor Party espoused a mixture of what it called “socialism”, or social justice, and conservative social values. In part, this reflected the strength of the Catholic Right in the party. Those days are now gone, as can be seen in the way that the party so enthusiastically embraced marriage equality.

John Howard once famously described the Liberal Party in terms of liberalism and social conservatism. However, recent events would seem to indicate the continued ascendancy of the moderate, or social liberal, faction within the party. Like Barnaby Joyce, Tony Abbott sits on the backbench, hurling the occasional hand grenade at the moderate hegemony.

Two possible conclusions could be drawn from these developments. One is that the Australian population is increasingly adopting left liberal values; the postal survey on marriage equality could be cited as evidence, as even many National Party electorates voted in favour. A counter argument could be mounted that the political class has moved in a left liberal direction, even if the people they represent have not.

Even if left liberalism has become more dominant, this does not mean it has been universally embraced. Many Australians still adhere to more traditional values and do not want their voices to be silenced by what threatens to be a left liberal hegemony.

Of course, the primary role of the National Party is to represent the interests of rural Australia, which it has been doing for some 100 years. The only problem is that, during that time, rural Australia has become an ever-decreasing part of the Australian population. In 1922, when the then Country Party first entered into a coalition with the then Nationalist Party, it won 12.56% of the vote in the House of Representatives and held 14 seats in a 75-seat Parliament.

In 2016, the Nationals hold 16 seats in a 150-seat House of Representatives. The outlook is even gloomier, as the increased immigration of recent years has largely gone to the large cities. The number of National Party members can only decline over time. The rural voice will be heard less and less.

One option for the Nationals would be to merge with the Liberal Party. This has been tried in Queensland, where it seems to have benefited the Liberals while failing at last year’s state election to deliver government to the Liberal Nationals.

The trajectory of Australian social development means that rural Australia is forever doomed to minority status. One consequence of this development is that those holding conservative values are also condemned to being in a minority. One can only say that this is a very difficult situation.

One solution would be to embrace the dominant left liberal ideology. This, however, raises significant problems, as the Nationals represent a constituency that remains quite traditional in its values. The more liberal it becomes, the more open it also becomes to having its constituency stolen by parties espousing more traditional values, such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.




Read more:
Welcome to the new (old) moralism: how the media’s coverage of the Joyce affair harks back to the 1950s


The reality of any democracy is that the majority should prevail, but minorities need to have protection from the “tyranny of the majority” and the tendency of majorities to impose their desires and values on everyone else. The reality in Australia is that the majority is based in urban areas and will increasingly come to hold left liberal values.

In such circumstances, the situation of those who are either conservative and/or rural becomes increasingly difficult. Their values and outlook will often be at odds with the majority, and their chances of prevailing on any major issue are not great.

The same is true for the National Party. It must recognise that it is a minority and that its constituency can only get smaller over time. This does not mean that it should embrace the left liberal hegemony. If it were to do so it would only risk being displaced by a competitor.

Rather, it needs to embrace its minority status, establish clearly what it stands for, and recognise that perhaps the best it can do is soften the harshness that the tyranny of the majority might seek to impose. It would be foolish to rush into the arms of the Liberal Party and suffer what conservatives within the Liberal Party have suffered at the hands of the moderates.

The ConversationIndependence has long been a primary virtue of rural Australians. It is a value they should continue to embrace. For all his faults, Barnaby Joyce was an embodiment of that spirit of rural independence. Judging by his background, McCormack is cut from similar cloth. It remains to be seen how he will portray himself to the Australian public.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

McCormack wins Nationals leadership after token challenge by Christensen



File 20180225 140194 1733f05.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Michael McCormack has been elected as the Nationals’ new leader.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Michael McCormack is the new Nationals leader and deputy prime minister, defeating Queensland maverick George Christensen, who was a late and unexpected starter in the leadership ballot.

McCormack, speaking after the party meeting, paid immediate tribute to Barnaby Joyce, saying he had been an “outstanding leader” whose “legacy will endure”.

The new Nationals leader went into immediate talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who’d returned from his US trip only hours before.

There will be a limited reshuffle, with the key decision being who occupies the key infrastructure and transport portfolio that Joyce had. There will also be interest in whether Victorian Darren Chester, dropped from cabinet last year by Joyce, is returned to the frontbench.

McCormack, 53, a former journalist, who is member for the New South Wales seat of Riverina, entered parliament in 2010. Most recently he has held the ministerial jobs of veterans affairs and minister for defence personnel. He is a former minister for small business.

His challenges will be to unite his party behind him, make himself widely known among rural and regional voters, forge a strong relationship with Turnbull, and establish his authority more generally within the government. He will also have to try minimise any disruption that having Joyce on the backbench may cause, as well as keep the perennially difficult Christensen under as much control as possible.

The challenge by Christensen, who at the weekend questioned the value of the Nationals being in coalition, was a token one. The numbers in the vote were not announced, and even the contenders said they didn’t know them.

A more serious potential contender, David Littleproud, from Queensland, pulled out late on Sunday night, under pressure for a consensus result.

Party whip Michelle Landry told reporters that in the partyroom Christensen had talked about the National Party’s values and what it had done for regional Australia.

In his comments after the meeting, McCormack emphasised he was a “team player”. He also said that while the National Party was a party of farmers, it was broader than that – with its MPs coming from many different backgrounds.

The ConversationMcCormack has taken Joyce’s portfolio of infrastructure and transport, and has been sworn into his new ministry and as deputy prime minister at Government House.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shattered Nationals meet to chart their post-Barnaby course


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Demoralised Nationals meet on Monday morning to replace Barnaby Joyce, with their deputy leader Bridget McKenzie flagging a push for consensus on the leadership rather than a contest.

Late Sunday, only Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, was a declared candidate after David Gillespie, assistant minister for children and families, pulled out of the race.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, from Queensland and close to Joyce, was “weighing his options”, according to his spokesman. Several people had urged him to run.

McKenzie told the ABC that in the Nationals “conventionally around leadership, there usually isn’t a vote.

“Deputy leadership positions are obviously hotly contested, but convention has been in previous times that we only ever have one candidate. But who knows? That’s up to the members and senators.”

Joyce will formally resign as leader at the meeting, after his announcement on Friday, in the wake of the scandal over his affair with his former staffer, now his pregnant partner, and a sexual harassment claim made to the Nationals by a Western Australian woman.

The claim has set off fresh trauma for the party after the name of the woman who made it, former Western Australian Rural Woman of the Year Catherine Marriott, was leaked. She had wanted her identity kept confidential.

The Nationals have been accused of the leak, with the president of the National Farmers Federation, Fiona Simson, tweeted:

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McKenzie said she had “absolutely no evidence to suggest that the National Party has been the one to actually put Ms Marriott’s name forward”.

She said she had commitments from the Nationals’ federal president and federal director that the party did not breach Marriott’s request for confidentiality.

Pressed on where else the leak could have come from, McKenzie said: “My understanding is, through a range of networks, that it wasn’t unknown who the complainant was.”

As the Nationals, reeling from recent events, try to regroup, maverick George Christensen, from Queensland, questioned the value of the Coalition for his party. He said the party must choose a leader “who will deliver for regional Australia rather than serve at the table of the elitists’ metropolitan feast in the hope of nicking a few scraps for the bush”.

“I believe the formal Coalition is too restrictive. I would rather see a Liberal prime minister, Liberal deputy prime minister, and a full cabinet of Liberal ministers than have to compromise our values and the welfare of the good people we represent,” he wrote on Facebook.

McCormack, 53, entered parliament at the 2010 election representing the seat of Riverina. He is a former journalist and was editor of The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga. While editor he published in 1993 a strident anti-homosexual editorial, for which he had to apologise repeatedly over the years.

McCormack is socially conservative but has not had a sharp profile on issues generally, beyond his commitment to regional areas and small business.

Littleproud, 41, has had a meteoric rise. He only entered parliament at the 2016 election but was elevated by Joyce from the backbench to cabinet in the December reshuffle.

Update

Littleproud announced just after 11pm on Sunday night that he would not be contesting the leadership. He said in a statement: “Now is not the time for internal contests. Now is the time for all individuals to be team players. Now is the time to think about stability and the good of the party.”

The ConversationHe said it was time for The Nationals to get behind McCormack as leader.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnaby Joyce: the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall



File 20180223 108119 vdf7n6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Barnaby Joyce’s departure to the backbench obviously brings immediate relief for the government and the Nationals.
AAP/Marlon Dalton

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the end, the tough man crumpled. For a fortnight Barnaby Joyce had resembled someone out in the snow who’d broken through the pain threshold, as he defied massive pressure and political common sense to try to cling to his job.

But as the scandal engulfing him tore at the government, he finally gave way; on his own account, a sexual harassment allegation that was revealed publicly only on Thursday was the last straw.

Most observers thought the saga had to come to Friday’s conclusion. The media stories weren’t going to stop. They were of two kinds. There were those surrounding the employment arrangements made for his former staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion. The others were the various claims of inappropriate behaviour that kept surfacing.

His Nationals colleagues, despite their admiration for Joyce’s campaigning and other abilities, looked on aghast during the last two weeks, increasingly pessimistic about the way things were going. Never mind his enemies – by Thursday, even his loyalists could not see a way through.




Read more:
Barnaby Joyce wields the tea towel in the government’s soap opera


Within the government, clearly the relationship with Malcolm Turnbull was gone after the prime minister’s extraordinary personal attack last week and Joyce’s counterpunch. The staged weekend meeting to suggest a patch-up was farcical.

The fact that Joyce informed Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann, rather than Turnbull himself, of his impending resignation announcement says it all. Joyce’s opinion of Turnbull now likely matches what Tony Abbott thinks of Turnbull. Abbott had a thinly veiled jibe in his tribute to Joyce, saying “part of the problem has been poor management at the most senior levels of government”.

Joyce’s departure to the backbench obviously brings immediate relief for the government and the Nationals. What it will mean beyond that is more difficult to predict.

Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, seems virtually certain to become the new Nationals leader. He’s a junior minister with a relatively low profile, and has sometimes been shielded in parliament’s Question Time by more senior ministerial colleagues. The party is moving in behind McCormack, because there is no real alternative, and in an effort to show it is regrouping.

Another NSW National, David Gillespie, has also put up his hand – despite still waiting on a High Court decision about his constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament. But he is not a chance.

McCormack might grow into the job, as leaders sometimes do. Tim Fischer (unkindly) likes to remind me that I wrote him off when he became leader, and then had to acknowledge how well he turned out.

But taking over in these circumstances will be hard going for the new chief, who must sell himself in the electorate as well as establish enough authority within the government to enable the Nationals to punch above their numerical weight.

In the parliament, the Nationals are a top-down party. They number only 21, so they need their leadership to be strong – ideally not just the leader but their other senior ministers as well.

They are eons from the glory days of John McEwen, Doug Anthony, Ian Sinclair and Peter Nixon. But Joyce, under whom the party performed well at the 2016 election, enabled it to hold its own in the Coalition.

His successor will step into a Coalition climate in which many Liberals are furious that the Joyce scandal and the Nationals’ failure to resolve it quickly wiped out the government’s good start to the year. Also, even before all this happened, the rural Liberals, looking for more bounty and kudos, were flexing their muscle against their Nationals colleagues.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Is Barnaby’s baby a matter of ‘public interest’ or just of interest to the public?


Joyce (like Abbott before him) says he won’t snipe from the backbench. They all say that, the cynic might observe (especially a cynic watching Abbott’s run-up to Turnbull’s expected 30 losing Newspolls).

On the other hand, Joyce’s fall is different from that of Abbott. He was not knifed in a coup by his own party. Indeed, even on Thursday, some Nationals sources believed Joyce probably still had the numbers (whether they would have held in a spill is something else).

Joyce was brought down by his own behaviour, relentless media disclosures, and the reality that the government could not stand the damage being done to it.

Whatever he might say about being busy on other fronts, with the baby and all, discipline and quietness are not in Joyce’s nature. When he first entered the parliament as a Queensland senator, he crossed the floor countless times and caused many headaches for the Nationals’ leadership.

It would be surprising if, as a backbencher in the lower house, he keeps his opinions to himself, even if he eschews floor-crossing, given the government’s tight numbers.

It’s premature to judge how damaged Joyce is as a campaigner in regional Australia. Initial opinion polls are a limited guide. If it turns out he still has cache as a retail politician, it will be interesting to see how extensively the Nationals, under their new leader, choose to use him in the next election campaign.

At a human level, Joyce is the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall.

Joyce – who garnered international publicity when he threatened to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs – has always been a larger-than-life politician, a distinctive brand.

When he arrived in Canberra in 2005, no-one thought he’d ever lead the Nationals. He punched through, overcame setbacks, and remade himself while retaining the characteristics that led people to regard him as authentic.

But then his personal flaws and indulgences cost him all he’d worked and schemed for, as well as bringing grief to many close to him.

The ConversationIn other times and circumstances, Joyce might have skated through, little harmed by the scandal. But today the personal can quickly become the political – something Joyce failed to understand.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.