Barnaby Joyce, looking a bit disconsolate, was interviewed on the ABC a couple of days after the May 21 election result became clear. When asked about an assertion by Nationals colleague Michael McCormack that Joyce’s unpopularity was a factor in the Liberal Party losing about 20 seats, he resorted to the ‘I’m in the Nationals’ argument and ‘that’s a question for the Liberal Party’1.
In another interview (which I saw, but cannot now find) Joyce whined about the low primary vote of the Labor Party. While it is true that the Labor Party primary vote is quite low (at 32.8% a drop of 0.5% from the 2019 election) and is lower than the Coalition primary vote (at 35.9%, a drop of 5.5% from 2019)2, Joyce seemed to be unconcerned about separating himself from the Liberal Party in this instance. If he had done so, he would have been shooting himself in the foot.
The Liberal Party primary vote was 23.9% (a drop of 4.2% from the 2019 election), the Liberal-National Party (the Queensland amalgamation of the Liberals and Nationals) had a primary vote of 7.8% (a drop of 0.9% from 2019), while the Nationals primary vote was 4.0% (a drop of 0.3% from 2019)2.
Joyce also seems to forget, as do some hopeless ‘journalists’ (are you there, Andrew Probyn?), that we have a preferential voting system and that many people (me included) vote ‘strategically’, insofar as we largely vote against someone. In the recent election, I and others I know, may not have given their first preference to the Labor Party, but made sure that their preference chain ended there, rather than with the Liberal Party.
A couple of other changes in primary votes from 2019 are also probably worth noting insofar as they perhaps denote a change in the political winds in Australia. The Greens primary vote was 11.8%, and increase of 1.4% from their primary vote in the 2019 election and the Independents primary vote was 5.5%, and increase of 2.2% from their primary vote in the 2019 election. Both are more than the National Party primary vote.
The National Party has a secret coalition agreement with the Liberal Party, which presumably relates to how many of their number are given cabinet and other ministries depending on the number of seats they win. To keep them sweet, the Liberal Party has to roll out the barrels of pork. The agreement of the Nationals to sign up to net zero emissions by 2050 cost Australia more than $20 billion worth of pork in Josh Frydenberg’s last federal budget for Joyce’s pet projects3.
The Nationals, while their primary vote has been in decline for a long time, concentrate their efforts in regional seats, rarely going head-to-head against Liberal candidates or in any metropolitan seats. Because of this, their very low primary vote translates into 10 seats in the House of Representatives. The Liberal National Party of Queensland gets about 20 seats in the House of Representatives. Of these, about three quarters sit in the National Party room, while one quarter sit in the Liberal Party room4. The latter is why Peter ‘Spud’ Dutton (LNP member for the Queensland seat of Dickson) is being considered for leadership of the Liberal Party now that Morrison has resigned.
On the surface, the Nationals are in an enviable position. When the Coalition is in power they get barrels of pork and can say to their electorates: “look what we got for you”, and when the Labor Party is in power and the barrels of pork cease to be rolled out they can blame it on the Labor Party. However, I expect the National Party’s primary vote will continue to decline and they will become irrelevant, especially if they continue to deny climate change when it is already deeply affecting this nation. Having sat through several of Barnaby Joyce’s interviews in preparation for this article, his incoherence is staggering and it amazes me that people actually vote for him.