My political life is an absolute fluke that I have tried to make the best of. My exceptional luck; a two-bob nobody from Charleville winning back a Senate seat for a party about to disappear from the Queensland political landscape. But in politics you see a lot of two-bob nobodies so I don't think of myself as unique.
I want to dedicate what is left to the people who I believe need representation the most. I wrote a book about them; they live in the weatherboard and iron of the smaller towns and villages. I want to drive three additional issues: Newstart, nuclear power and regional senators. Not that they in themselves are some grand elixir but they are a match to ignite controversy that illuminates other issues near the country campsite fire. You always need at least three logs to get a fire going.
The Canberra Times is the biggest bush paper in our nation. Most of the material for Weatherboard and Iron was initially written for this paper. The Canberra Times reminds me of my bush friends, surprisingly independent in private to what you may expect is their ingrained political views. At their core, though, is a fair go, otherwise known as justice.
Those closest to you have the power to surprise you the most. My mother, who has cancer, said one of her proudest moments for her in my political career was when I went out against then-prime minister John Howard to get fair legal treatment for David Hicks. This was no endorsement of the actions of Hicks but a belief that we support proper jurisprudence and not to be a lickspittle to an alternative agenda of another nation.
The problem at the root of issues for those in the weatherboard and iron of regional Australia is their loss of political power.
My dim views about Hicks remain the same but my belief in habeas corpus trumps my disregard for Hicks.
You get in strife speaking up and believe you me, the day was not a good one when I raised my concerns about Hicks with Howard in the joint party room.
Currently we have a drought and workers are being put off, not because they are lazy but because the farmer can no longer afford to pay them. Similarly, in small towns and villages in rural Australia, people out of work are not sustained on Newstart. Just do the maths on rent, groceries, power and fuel in a week and compare that to what someone out of work gets. Maybe it requires a greater use of the cashless debit card, maybe we should talk to employers in drought areas as to what the government could do further to keep their employees in work. You can't just say to St Vincent De Paul, which, among many, have brought this to my attention, and say, sorry, in politics advocacy must get permission. They want to hear your advocacy, they want to see it. If required they want to see you punched in the nose because of it.
Power prices are attached to poverty. No power, no fridge, heater, stove, lights or hot water. Around and around we go in this debate as those who want Australian emissions reduction to trump those who need dignity in the most basic appliances in their life. Power policy for the poor is not working and the rhetoric does not match the power bill.
The Greens now rage against wind farms in Tasmania, meanwhile solar farms in other areas are starting to attract the ire of some locals. The current political zeitgeist abhors coal-fired power and although we send uranium all around the world for zero emissions power, there is an exceptional paranoia about it in Australian politics. They threateningly thunder "Do you want a nuclear reactor in your town?" Well, Sydney has one smack bang in the middle of it and blocks of land were selling at a million dollars a pop adjacent to it in the most recent sales. The debate is so cowardly with everyone taking the no side now on nearly every alternative.
Power policy will be working in Australia when we return to the cheapest power in the OECD as we once had. If we believe that emissions are more important than dignity, we had better rethink our ethos of a fair go.
The problem at the root of issues for those in the weatherboard and iron of regional Australia is their loss and lack of political power.
I read of former deputy prime minister John Anderson's speech in London where he bemoaned the current lack of, as he divined it, morality in Australian politics as the root of political problems. I kept my counsel but now I will reply. No John, you are wrong, it is the loss of regional political power and you oversaw a fair section of that demise while you were leader. I remember you musing about closing the Nationals to join the Liberals; hell of a leader that says that to his troops. The federal political representation went to record lows under John Anderson so his undisputed morality was not helping us much in the Parliament as it was in the church.
We need regional senators, two per region and six regions per state to take the place of the Motorist Enthusiast Party being able to win a Senate seat. If we had regional senators then I believe the Parliament would not believe the ventilation of regional issues is the actions of the recalcitrant.
- Barnaby Joyce is Nationals MP for New England and former party leader.