The mind-boggling behaviour of Barnaby Joyce seems like it might be politically terminal. Firstly, in playing away from home and impregnating his staffer, he argued that such a sequence of events should remain private. And so it would have remained, if he had not been such a hypocrite during the campaign against same-sex marriage. Secondly, his claiming of all sorts of allowances, including 50 nights in Canberra when parliament was not sitting, and his gift of rent-free accommodation from a big-time donor to the National Party1, and the upgrade of the security at that accommodation, paid for by the taxpayer2. Thirdly, the odd occurrence of his paramour being shifted around into purpose-created jobs in Canavan’s office and then Drum’s office1. Finally, his bizarre volunteering of the information that he may not be the biological father of the child his former staffer carries. The implication is that his paramour ‘sleeps around’. This is the same sort of suggestion that Michaelia Cash employed against the young women in Bill Shorten’s office3. The irony of Joyce effectively accusing his paramour of sleeping around while he was doing precisely the same thing is apparently lost on him. Self-awareness is not the strong suit of the conservative politician.
The apparent self-centred, venal nature of Joyce’s behaviour, while not surprising, is symptomatic of a much greater malaise in the National Party. The party started off in 1920 by the amalgamation of several farmers’ organisations. At that time it was called the Country Party and was to represent graziers, farmers and rural voters. Indeed, its first leader, Tasmanian William McWilliams stated: “we crave no alliance, we spurn no support but we intend drastic action to secure closer attention to the needs of primary producers”. The Country Party was renamed the National Country Party in 1975 before simply becoming the National Party in 19824.
The National Party’s vote has been in long term decline as there has been an increasing number of independents elected in what would be considered rural seats, some of whom are former members of the National Party. It is also falling victim to demographic changes with increasing automation on farms and the aggregation of farms into larger agribusinesses, with the concomitant decrease in the farming population4. It is also exacerbated by the decline in services in country towns as banks, hospitals, medical centres and post offices close, as people employed by those local businesses and services leave. This has made the National Party desperate to prop up its voter base, and like the Liberal Party, they have opted for money, as money can buy elections in seats, states and nationally. As a consequence, the National Party has, like Barnaby Joyce, sold out to those with money, such that now the party is beholden to those who make the biggest donations. They are big mining companies, big gas companies, big irrigators, big agribusinesses and the wealthy big fish in the small ponds of regional centres. The farmers who slave away for long hours on family farms for limited returns, often being kept afloat by other members of the family working in the little local towns, don’t matter anymore. They don’t donate enough cash to the National Party.