HE may be a bit one-eyed but Nationals New England electorate council Chair Russell Webb says farmers working hard on the land also have an unambiguous and blunt view-point of Barnaby Joyce’s citizenship dramas.
The Tamworth Regional Council Deputy Mayor spoke to Fairfax Agricultural Media about feedback he received at Ag Quip this week on the challenge to the Agriculture and Water Resources Minister and New England MP’s constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament, following revelations of his NZ citizenship last week, due to his father’s birthrights that has since been denounced.
“I’ve been speaking to many farmers and the first question they ask me is ‘how’s Barnaby going?’ and then they say, ‘What a load of garbage this is - what an absolute load of bullshit this is’,” he said.
“They also say the government needs to just get on with running the country and that Barnaby’s a champion for agriculture and we need to keep him going.
“To a person, they’re hoping he can get through this as quickly as possible and come out unscathed and continue to represent New England and the nation.”
Mr Web said many farmers he spoke to weren’t necessarily from New England where Mr Joyce is the local member but they want him to stay in Canberra and the ministry “ because they believe he’s doing a great job“.
“But they’re also very keen to see the government get on with governing because they’re sick of all this garbage that’s been going on,” he said.
“I’ve not heard one person say that they think Barnaby’s got a conflict of interest.
“They understand his father was of NZ descent and that he was born in Australia at Tamworth and is an Australian citizen and believe that should be the end of the story.
“They’re all farmers who are out here working hard to try and make a quid and this bloke is trying to make their work place a better place and this bloke is really making the agricultural work place a better place to be.
“People are recognising that and that’s why Barnaby’s becoming so popular – he’s a real champion for rural and regional Australia.”
Mr Webb said the vast majority of farmers didn’t believe Mr Joyce should stand aside and quit his cabinet roles, while the High Court rules on his eligibility for parliament, as per section 44 of the constitution.
“Most people and I’d say 90pc of them are saying he should stay where he is and get on with it,” he said.
He said the Coalition government also had legal advice on the matter that it was confident of which suggested Mr Joyce would be cleared of any constitutional breach which helped justify his reasons for staying put.
“They’ve got the legal advice so they should just get on and continue to do the job,” he said.
“The government needs to start governing and we don’t need to be sidelined by this debate over citizenship at the moment because a lot of that is not really productive for our nation.
“People are saying they’re sick of it and just want the government to get on with governing.”
Mr Webb said it was “questionable” as to whether Tony Windsor would contest any by-election and run again against Mr Joyce, for New England, if the High Court ruled that way.
He said the Nationals leader had “grown on the electorate” and predicted his vote would be better than last time, if another poll was held.
“It was 60-40 last time around and I’d be as bold as to say if he didn’t go to 65-35 I’d be surprised,” he said.
“Tony Windsor would hopefully see the writing on the wall and some of his supporters who spoke to me a couple of days ago said they’d find it difficult to run again and lose again in the way that he did the last time.
“But it’s challenging times for all those involved and who knows where the High Court will go.
“Barnaby has said to me he’ll try and put aside the issues and the challenges that he’s facing but we all know it will play on his mind and impact on what he does.
“He knows he’s got a lot to do to keep the wheels rolling but I think that’s what he’s focussed on at the moment.”
He should go
But Mr Windsor said Mr Joyce should step down from parliament while the matter is resolved – with the High Court now to set hear the New England MP’s case of which he’ll make a submission to, and other members also facing citizenship questions, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, in mid-October.
He said the Nationals leader - and Regional Development Minister and Nationals deputy-leader Fiona Nash who is also under a citizenship cloud - should step also aside, but it was more of a “mistake” by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, for allowing them to continue.
“Malcom Turnbull has lost any ground that he had on this by not standing them aside, while it’s determined because there’s probably a better than 50 per cent chance that the ministers will be found ineligible,” he said.
“It opens up a whole range of debates if they are found ineligible – who’s going to challenge some of the laws?
“All of that stuff will go on and the person who cops it in the face will be Turnbull because he made the call but that’s what leadership’s about; making bad mistakes.”
Mr Windsor said Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan had “done the right thing” by resigning from the ministry while the Court decides his eligibility, following revelations of his dual Italian citizenship late last month.
He said he did not believe the Solicitor General’s advice had said that any of the members in question over citizenship would be “exonerated”.
“I haven’t seen the advice but have heard people commenting on it,” he said.
“That’s not for me, I’m not a lawyer, but I’d have thought prudence in light of this might have been a better option for Turnbull.
“He doesn’t - but that’s his call, not mine.
“I would have thought he would be better off if they stood aside because all this does now is to create three or more months of more agony for him - but maybe he likes that.”
WA Labor Senator and leading rural voice for the opposition Glenn Sterle said the citizenship issue had become a “massive distraction for the government – my bloody oath it is”.
He said it consumed almost all of last week’s stretch of four days sitting in Canberra and was only displaced by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s stunt of wearing a burqa into the Senate.
“They can’t get any clean air,” he said.
“It is a massive distraction.
“Hollywood couldn’t write a b-grade mini-series that had this many twists and turns.”
Senator Sterle said he didn’t think it was right for Senator Nash and Mr Joyce to continue in the ministry with a cloud hanging over their heads due to “double standards” given Senator Canavan’s resignation from cabinet duties.
“If there is a cloud hanging over people who, through only fault of their own and not doing due their diligence, have failed to do the proper paperwork or there is a question mark, I believe they should be paired out and they should not be voting on legislation and that goes for a minister, or backbenchers,” he said.
“And I’d have the same view if it was anyone from our side of politics.
“They can step aside and continue to do the community work they do but they should not be voting in parliament.”