It is 5.45am on Monday as I leave St George for what will be my final budget estimates as a senator for Queensland. Below me is the Western Downs of Queensland and to the east is the sun rising over the Bunya Mountains between Kingaroy and Dalby.
I have an unsurprising sense of apprehension because if I fail at the next election, this won't just be my last budget estimates as a senator for Queensland, it will be my last full stop. This puts my personal position in somewhat of a correlation to my nation. In the next few months the nation will make a decision that will influence our future financial health in an emphatic way.
Budget estimates, if properly pursued, should flesh out the capacity of ministers and departments to manage the finances of the nation in straitened times. The combined picture, across departments, should cast some light as to whether there is any hope of extracting the country from the financial deficit death spiral that could drive the government's social contract with the Australian people into the ground. Because of the complexion of the political participants, budget estimates becomes more of an Alice in Wonderland wander in the political park, hoping to stumble across a wondrous mushroom that will illuminate the path to the political knockout punch.
If you are supported in any way by a government payment then the position of the budget should be of crucial importance. If you receive medicine subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, if you drive on a federally funded road, if you go to a doctor that gets paid by Medicare, if you rely on states that rely on federal funding to pay your school teachers, if you drop off kids at childcare, if you want a defence force to stop your nation falling into foreign hands and if you work for the public service then you should be a fiscal conservative, if for no other reason than self-preservation.
What will Australia look like if the cheques bounce? How on earth do we repay the debt if it arrives at the market value on the budget statements of $370 billion, remembering there is no legislation to increase the limit above the present $300 billion limit?
It is 9.35pm on Tuesday and I have just been to a function for Tom Sefton, Liberal candidate for Canberra. Two tours of Afghanistan, former conference president of St Vincent de Paul, married with one kid but up against a 9 per cent margin. He is in for a real test of his mettle. In a Liberal-Labor stoush where the public service is under the pump, even though it is Labor debt that has to be repaid, Tom will need skills in this battle. He has to work hard if he is to have a chance of a close fight.
Last year the Gillard government reduced the public service by more than 3000 people. The pressure that is on the public service is because of the reckless and wasteful spending of the government. When the last Coalition government left office, there was not that pressure on the public service because the budget was managed responsibly and, whether you agreed or disagreed with them, you got a sense of stability from those controlling the reins of power.
The best thing for Canberra would be to restore that sense of stability and competence to the federal government.
Down the road from where the function is happening at Marcus Clarke Street, Civic, is the new ASIO headquarters where apparently the plans have been lifted and are now in the hot hands of someone in Beijing.
Everything is closing in. We owe so much money to the same country, and that same country is acquiring interests in our power supplies, rural land and more. I wonder if the Foreign Investment Review Board is taking notes and taking into account what may be contrary to the national interest.
The interesting thing is soon, for whatever the outcome may be, I will be a free agent. Yes, I will have to, and so I shall, resign. Tom Sefton shall stand in what would otherwise be an impossible task in the seat of Canberra but this current fiasco parlaying as a government makes all seats possibilities. Political correctness will state that "there is nothing to look at here" as far as Chinese infiltration into Australia's national interest is concerned. What else could they say?
Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the opposition spokesman for regional development, local government and water.