When Barnaby Joyce was shown to be a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand and had to step down from the ministry, that caused another ministerial reshuffle in March, 2018. At that time, Luke Hartsuyker, the Nationals member for Cowper, who had been Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment since the previous reshuffle three months earlier, was given the boot. He was replaced in that role by fellow Nationals MP Mark Coulton. Although Hartsuker was disappointed at being given the bum’s rush, he said: “I look forward to getting on with the job of representing the people of Cowper and strongly advocating for the mid North Coast in the federal parliament”1.
Hartsuyker’s enthusiasm for representing his electorate seems to have waned fairly rapidly over the next 5 months, because, in early August he announced his retirement from politics at the next general election2, which has to be held by May 2019. This may be due to a combination of factors: firstly, that the current federal government are running around like headless chickens, bereft of direction and bereft of a policy framework; secondly, that Hartsuyker’s electorate of Cowper has had significant boundary changes which apparently cut his two-party preferred margin down to 3.2%3; and thirdly, that the former independent Rob Oakeshott (who previously represented the electorate of Lyne) lives within Hartsuyker’s electorate of Cowper3, and is contemplating running for the seat in the next general election4.
The fact that Rob Oakeshott is contemplating running for Cowper, means that he will be up against a newbie, picked from the remaining drips in the small talent puddle that is the National Party. This, in addition to Oakeshott’s reputation as a genuine representative, rather than a party hack, and the vacuous, directionless nature of the current government, means that Oakeshott has a better than even chance of being elected. So, what have the government done? They’ve rolled out another pork barrel. Nationals Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has announced that up to 50 staff from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority will be moved from Canberra to Coffs Harbour, the town near the northern extremity of Hartsuyker’s electorate of Cowper6, and where Hartsuyker has his principal electorate office7.
We have seen this sort of pork-barrelling before, when Barnaby Joyce severely damaged the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) when he ordered its move to Armidale8, which is smack bang in the middle of his electorate of New England9. Many people told him at the time that this would turn into a fiasco for the organisation, and so it turned out to be10. The National Party is caught in a cleft stick, and is probably in terminal decline11. Like most modern political parties, it is dependent almost entirely on corporate donations, and many of these come from big gas, big coal and big irrigation corporations. It is these corporations who are riding roughshod over the wishes of local farming communities in establishing new coal mines and coal-seam gas fields on prime farmland, or are extracting too much water from river systems such that downstream farmers do not have enough. The party was originally set up as the Country Party to represent these rural and regional voters, but its dependence on corporate donations has made these people very much a lesser concern, as they do not donate enough to warrant serious representation or consideration. As a consequence, pork-barrelling is all the Nationals have left, but that will not be enough.