Doctor and activist

The Resurrection of Barnaby Joyce

23 June 2021

Barnaby is back at the head of the National Party. He was sworn in by the Governor-General, with his new little son running around for the cameras.

The National Party used to fight for the interests of farmers. Now it principally fights for the rights of big miners, even if they are on farmers’ land and likely to destroy it. Joyce is against doing anything on climate change or anything environmental in terms of getting rid of the trading water ‘rights’ and excess extraction.

He is in favour of helping Assange and the Biloela refugee family.

Here is Crikey’s take on it all:

Return of a true blue rural populist: what Beetrooter redux really means for city, country and Labor
The Beetrooter is back! For lo we hath seen his redness rise in the north, like a shepherd’s warning at morning, and the prophecy has been fulfilled: that a child will come to lead them, and he will be as a shouting bag of blood hooked up on a drip cradle, a rural engorgement.
And it didn’t take him too long to give his supporters what they want, taking the fight back to Labor and progressives in a way that Michael McCrom- McMorc- Mc — that guy never could. McSomething showed why he had been edged out of the leadership, giving a farewell speech that sounded like a dog about to be shot heaping praise on the farmer, and then retiring gracefully into the shadows, as Labor enthusiastically applauded the man who had earlier hoped that a mice plague would invade the cities and bite children in their beds. Gnawing resentment, much?
Leadership change in the National Party doesn’t really have to be explained in factional terms — more ‘Yeah I reckon you’re right’ sort of thing from one quasi-aristocratic grassland lord to another. In switching from Macca (which no one has ever called him) to Barnaby, the party has just chosen one extractionist for another, and one likely to be more effective in channelling not just culture war stuff, but a deeper sense of rural populism and anti-politics. Though various people on the progressive side have tried to portray Scotty and others as Trumpian, that’s always been a mischaracterisation.
But Barnaby’s the only one in Australia with a real touch of that raw, about-to-explode look, scorning all experts, science or even common sense and judgment in the management of his own life. There’s a touch of the old Kingfish there, Huey Long, Louisiana governor in the ’30s, who had run on the principle that he was a rube like all the other rubes.
The Kingfish, yes. But also a touch of Princess Diana. When Barnaby’s affair with Vikki Campion, the worst-kept secret in the world, was revealed by a news org big enough to withstand libel threats and smoke it out, he could have gone the whole “man is a man, man’s got needs” route. He would not be the first National/Country Party leader to do some agisting in the bottom paddock.
Barnaby, or whoever was advising him, went the other way, and it was a stroke of genius. By playing up the emotionality stuff, the depression, angst, guilt blah blah, as told to The Australian Women’s Weekly, he managed to keep that part of the rural vote who don’t care who he roots, but also leapfrog mainstream politics to become the very modern man, vulnerable, pulled off course by love, following his heart. In other words, classically feminine. He has essentially become our modern Tiresias, swapping back and forth across the line as suits.
Those positions may look like polar opposites, but they ain’t. Barnaby’s masculine take — orrrrr I don’t reckon there’s much to this climate science, the Murray-Darling’s doing all right, them fancy city blokes etc etc — is an anti-metropolitan, anti-technocratic one, and so too is the lerrvvv stuff, that one can be blown this way and that by love. The fact that Barnaby had to go because of entirely sexual harassment allegations has been quietly forgotten.
The widespread bewilderment and condemnation of the Nats that has come from the press gallery and mainstream commentators show that they either don’t get the degree to which various forms of populism, anti-elitism, anti-politics are a winning ticket these days, or they just don’t care about actually reading the country. They would prefer to enforce a knowledge-class view of the world, in which Barnaby’s spinning penis pinyata act is simply incomprehensible politics, mad stuff. It got a stern lecture from professional political photobomber Troy Bramston, that this was not how we do things (and you wonder why Labor’s losing), and the 87th article from Katharine Murphy, the Lucille Ball of Australian political commentary, perpetually wide-eyed and agape that everything’s gone crazy and she can’t find the words for it.
Well, yes, there are some rural voters in the larger regional cities who may be finally detached from the Nats on climate change and personal conduct grounds, but there are others who will be persuaded to abandon any dalliance with tell-it-like-it-is rural independents, and that the Nats are speaking for them again. The Nats’ big competition is the new Voices movement, and they know it. Maybe Voices candidates won’t break through this time, but they’re not going away. The non-party structure as a network grounded in community is long-term viable in a way that start-up upstart parties, or isolated independents, aren’t.
The only remaining question is whether Barnaby’s return will have an effect in the cities, in divisions like Higgins, Boothby and others. But I believe people really don’t factor that in much in the ballot box. When the election starts, Nat politicians disappear down the wombat electoral trail and aren’t heard from for weeks in the cities. Barnaby would have to shoot an escort’s pimp in the head to get in the news then –something which he has presumably timetabled for early 2022.
The response to his return is not to put one’s hands up in the air and shriek. It’s to respond to politics with politics. In Labor’s case to tell the truth to country Australia and thereby gain support in the cities. Country Australia was a state-sponsored project, created by government monopsonies. Those days are over. If it’s going to survive as anything other than a vast FIFO zone it’s going to have to stop whining about getting no love, and make real and big changes — the imagination of which is entirely beyond the scope of the National Party.
To presume that everyone voting, or thinking of, for something like a Voices candidate is a rural soft progressive or centrist is to misunderstand both populism and the country. Populism doesn’t work on the left-right spectrum, since it is not per se about one economic system or the other. It’s about a relationship to elite power, which is how things like Brexit, or the National Front in France, or the election of Pedro Castillo in Peru happen. The Nats know that if they can’t keep their increasingly complex rural voting coalition together, they’re finished. They become subject to the (Tony) Windsor rule: if you run headlong against an existing Nat with a big majority and split the vote down the middle, the preferences will swamp them. By contrast, marginal seats will be harder, since the prospect of a Labor get-in will reestablish rural solidarity.
We are about five years away from global exclusion from trade due to our profligate emissions policy. When it happens, it’ll happen fast. Deep down, a lot of country people know that country, in its inherited form, is over. The appeal of Barnaby, the perpetually enraged personification of the left-behind, is that it means you don’t have to think about that for a while, and in technocratic hypermodernity that is all a lot of people vote for.
Go Barnaby, you big hen’s night prop, purplish and forever reinflatable.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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