According to the disgraced former leader of the National Party, Barnaby Joyce, there’s a leftist plot under way to stop him becoming leader again.
During a late-night television interview on Thursday, Mr Joyce accused a “whole heap of lefty back-briefers” of “scheming and plotting and planning” to bury him because he was ‘effective’.
Mr Joyce denied he was actively campaigning to return to the Nationals’ leadership, but stressed he would not be “bullied and intimidated by lefties” into ruling himself out of ever returning to the top job.
However, it’s unclear who Mr Joyce is referring to when he talks about the lefties out to get him.
Does he mean the Radio National host whom he accused on Friday morning of ‘basically lying to people’ for suggesting he was testing the waters about a potential comeback?
When also asked by the host about the sexual-harassment complaint made against him by respected rural businesswoman Catherine Marriott, Mr Joyce claimed the allegation had no bearing on his fitness for office because it “wasn’t proved”, and so people should stop using such “innuendo” to cruel his future prospects.
For the record, the National Party review of Ms Marriott’s complaint was unable to reach a conclusion due to insufficient evidence.
Perhaps it’s Ms Marriott and other members of the Australian farming community opposed to Mr Joyce’s return to the leadership whom he sees as lefties. Ms Marriott was in Canberra last week to MC the national congress of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the farming sector’s peak lobby group.
When asked about the prospect of Mr Joyce becoming Nationals leader again, Ms Mariott reportedly said it was “heartening to hear the Prime Minister repeatedly express his strong support for [current Nationals leader] Michael McCormack”.
Then again, the lefties might be journalists at the unashamedly progressive Guardian Australia, which has published stories exposing the distinct lack of support in some parts of rural Australia for a leadership comeback by Mr Joyce.
The Guardian spoke last week to rural women who were in Canberra for the NFF congress and rural women’s award dinner, including Alana Johnson, who is a founding member of another peak group, Australian Women in Agriculture, and who said: “I think rural women are angry at Barnaby Joyce and his behaviour, and they would be very disappointed if the National Party thought he is the calibre of leader they want.”
Another of Ms Johnson’s roles point us to perhaps the real reason for Mr Joyce’s tirade against the leftists. Ms Johnson is also past president of Voices for Indi, the grassroots political movement that successfully campaigned for the election of country independent Cathy McGowan in north-east Victoria, who is hardly a lefty but is probably seen as such by the arch-conservative Mr Joyce.
Now that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is left with a minority government following the Wentworth by-election, he has to pay closer attention to the concerns, needs and wants of crossbenchers such as Ms McGowan.
This week, she and Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie hinted that their continued cooperation with the Morrison government would be dependent – at least in part – on the National Party not being ‘brave or stupid enough’ to oust its current leader.
Ms McGowan said the community was “extraordinarily cross” about the government’s behaviour and Malcolm Turnbull being brought down, warning that “rural and regional Australia would not be happy” with another spill.
The mention of Ms McGowan leads us to the remaining bunch of lefties that Mr Joyce may believe is trying to ‘bury’ him. These are the moderate or progressive Nationals MPs within his own party room (yes they do exist).
While Nationals MPs from the hard right in Queensland are pushing for Mr Joyce’s return in the hope he’ll save them from One Nation, moderate Nationals are concerned about rural voters shifting to Labor, the Greens or independents.
Gun-toting Victorian senator and Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie is not most voters’ idea of a progressive, but she’s part of the moderates’ push to modernise the National Party. This means she’s not in the pro-Joyce camp.
Nevertheless, Mr Joyce put on a brave face this week to welcome the news that Senator McKenzie will move her electorate office to Indi; this is being read to mean the senator might try to move to the lower house by running against Ms McGowan at the general election.
If successful in such an endeavour, the ‘leftist’ Senator McKenzie might have done the Coalition a favour by reducing the number of MPs on the crossbench. However, she will have created a huge problem for Mr Joyce by becoming eligible to run for the Nationals leadership (which she can’t do from the Senate).