ONE day he’s launching The Betoota Advocate’s latest book and shortly after he’s the man babysitting the agriculture ministry during Barnaby Joyce’s absence.
That’s the rural, political life of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who was sworn-in as the acting Agriculture and Water Resources Minister following the High Court’s decision to disqualify Mr Joyce from federal parliament on Friday.
Mr Joyce will now head to a by-election for his NSW rural seat of New England on December 2 and is expected to win easily, with former independent member Tony Windsor declaring he won’t nominate, for what was being tipped to be a bitter battle.
But Mr Joyce is still likely to face some ongoing and unwanted scrutiny during the by-election campaign from his arch political nemesis Mr Windsor; largely driven by his comments on social media.
Despite that anticipated pressure, most political analysts are predicting the one-time maverick Queensland Senator will be returned in New England and re-join federal parliament in several weeks to resume his full leadership of the Nationals, as the parliamentary leader, and reclaim his job as Deputy Prime Minister.
Ahead of the High Court’s ruling, Mr Turnbull took time out of his hectic schedule to launch The Betoota Advocate’s second book ‘Betoota’s Australia’, at Parliament House in Canberra last week, offering a brief moment to enhance his rural credentials.
Mr Turnbull noted the niche media outlet’s diversity - and move to survive in the challenging modern media market - by referring to its move into branded beer sales, while sipping a Betoota Bitter, alongside Nationals Maranoa MP David Littleproud.
The Betoota Advocate’s understated editorial contributors Errol Parker and his satirical partner in crime Clancy Overell also stood alongside Mr Turnbull to sip their brews and launch the new publication.
Mr Overall said the latest book was all about “channelling our greater ethos as a newspaper”.
Mr Turnbull said the Betoota was Australia’s oldest newspaper, published in one of Australia’s “thriving metropolis’ Betoota”
“There’s a great example here from The Betoota Advocate that other organisations can take up,” he said.
“Threatened by the digital revolution, formidably challenged by Facebook and Google, many have cried foul and unfair, ‘stop doing it to us you digital giants’.
“But what does the Betoota Advocate do – they diversify into beer.
“They know that is one thing that will never go out of date and they’ll stick with it.”
But back onto more serious matters, Mr Joyce said he was pleased Mr Turnbull would be minding his ministerial patch, during his temporary absence from parliament, and didn’t expect any major disruptions to how the farming and water portfolio is managed.
“It just goes to show people that a) the government takes agriculture seriously and b) it’s just a temporary measure until I get back,” Mr Joyce said of the PM acting in his role, for the time-being.
“What I’m confident in is that nobody is going to change any decisions whilst the portfolio is held by the Prime Minister.
“It’s a bulk deal; it’s agriculture and water resources - that is the portfolio.”
Mr Joyce said there was nothing pressing for Mr Turnbull to deal with in the next month while holding his portfolio - but the empowering legislation for his signature policy, the ‘Barnaby Bank’ or Regional Investment Corporation still needed to pass the Senate.
But he said independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie was still holding up the passage of that legislation.
“Lambie’s statement is that she supports it but she hasn’t said that she can’t vote for it,” he said.
With Labor accusing the government of being in disarray, Mr Turnbull said the Coalition retained a majority of members in the House of Representatives, even in Mr Joyce’s absence and “we have support from the crossbench”.
“Throughout the uncertainty of the past few months we've been determined that the court's deliberations and the pending hearings would not distract us from the important business of government,” he said.
“I will be sworn in as Minister for Agriculture and Water resources - a portfolio not entirely unfamiliar to me as the older ones among you will remember and one that I will hold until the people of New England have had their say.
“There is much more to do between now and the end of the year, much more to do here and of course much more to do in New England.”
Mr Turnbull said Mr Joyce, “does not take the support of his community for granted”.
“He's approaching them with enthusiasm, determination and humility and I'm confident that with that combination of capabilities he will win once again the support of the people of New England,” he said.