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Bye bye Barn, but what future for a once-proud party?

by Mark Sawyer | May 30, 2022 | Lobbyland

In the greatest two cartoon series of all time, The Flintstones and The Simpsons, characters named ”Barn” served as the sometimes fractious sidekicks of the lead characters, Fred Flintstone and Homer Simpson. A boozy one, in Barney Gumble’s case.

For six years, on and off, Barnaby Joyce was the hilarious, moody, sidekick of the Turnbull and Morrison prime ministerships. But no more, On Monday David Littleproud defeated Joyce in a three-way challenge with Darren Chester to become the 102-year-old party’s 16th leader. Senator Perin Davey of NSW was elected deputy leader. Oddly, Bridget McKenzie remains the party’s Senate leader.

Under Joyce’s leadership on May 21, the Nationals kept their 16 House seats and gained a Senate seat. But as the hind legs of the Coalition pantomime donkey, he was the perfect whipping boy for the independents fighting Liberal MPs in the ”Teal” seats.

Which is sad, because as MWM observed, Joyce does have something to say to the people of the regions.

Hating Barnaby Joyce: is it him, or is it us?

But his name recognition made him a convenient target. Imagine if Joyce had not deposed Michael McCormack. Attack lines such as ”the Liberal MP in  Goldstein says he is a moderate, but he votes with Michael McCormack on every issue” might have prompted the furrowed brows and response: ”Who’s Michael McCormack?”

There is no doubt that the quality of Nats leaders has tailed off. The names Earle Page, Arthur Fadden, John McEwen and Doug Anthony – solid, dependable types; squinty-eyed sons of the soil communities; tough-as-teak negotiators – are likely to loom larger in the history books than successors such as Charles Blunt, Mark Vaile, Warren Truss, Joyce and McCormack. Even as conservative headkickers, the old brigade had it all over their successors.

But there’s a different Australia today, and hopefully not one where the voice of the outer suburbs and the regions is dismissed. Contempt seemed to lie just beneath the surface of the denunciations by climate independents against their Liberal opponents as National Party pawns. At times their message seemed to be that the concerns of the regions must be subordinate to the agendas of the superior citizens of the inner cities. And some of the post-election commentary has come close to that old-fashioned term, elitist.

Last week an academic told ABC Radio:

I think Scott Morrison has pitched, and to some extent the previous LNP governments, were pitching to the outer suburbs and regions because that’s where their support base was, and I think the Teals have come along and the Greens have come along because the critical mass of populations in Australia’s capital cities haven’t been being listened to for past three terms.

Next stop, no votes for bogans?

Littleproud represents Maranoa, a colossal chunk of southern Queensland, the nation’s sixth biggest electorate and bigger by quite a way than metropolitan France. If it was nation, it would rank 39th in size. Not the sort of electorate that can be flipped with a campaign of carpet bombing. It will be up to Littleproud himself to earn the nation’s respect, but the nation owes a fair hearing to the people of Charleville, Roma, Kingaroy and Warwick.

And Winton, where a $4 million geothermal plant, the nation’s first, has failed to deliver any power in two years of operation. Yes, the clean-energy future that the city slickers keep telling us about.

In the meantime, farewell to Barnaby, at least for now. For all the noise he made, Joyce held the leadership for less than three years in two stints, and that includes the nearly six weeks he spent out of parliament while his citizenship was being sorted out. Nonetheless he was the National Party’s marquee name for the nine years of the Coalition government.

But by the end, this ”Barn” was giving off, in electoral terms, the stench of the wingman who actually prompts the good sorts to keep a wide berth from the bloke out on the tear. Or even Barney Gumble after a heavy night.


Mark Sawyer is a journalist with extensive experience in print and digital media in Sydney, Melbourne and rural Australia.

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