“There are a lot of swerve balls in politics and you never know what’s around the corner,” so says former Nationals deputy-leader and NSW Senator Fiona Nash.
Ms Nash was recently disqualified from federal parliament due to dual British citizenship linked to her Scottish father’s birthrights, along with party leader and former Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce for his dual NZ citizenship.
While remaining hopeful of returning to politics in the short-term, Ms Nash has ruled-out any comeback at the next federal election that’s currently due some-time in 2019.
But that’s a time-line that exists unless the citizenship saga strikes more victims within the Coalition government to reduce an already paper-thin majority in the House of Representatives, to an unworkable position.
Reflecting on achievements, Ms Nash said one of the “definite” highlights of her 12-year political career was bringing to light critical issues underpinning the sale of Australia’s largest publicly listed agribusiness GrainCorp to US multi-national food giant Archer Daniels Midland.
Ahead of the $3.4 billion foreign investment transaction being surprisingly rejected by the new Coalition government and then Treasurer Joe Hockey, shortly after the 2013 federal election, Ms Nash joined with sparring partner and former NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan to focus political considerations on concerns about the sale, due to grass roots threats for the east coast farming community.
“Bill Heffernan and I did a lot of work on the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee and I still miss working on that Committee,” she said.
“But at the time of the ADM proposal to take-over GrainCorp, we just really felt it was going to have such a negative impact on farmers and rural and regional communities and it was worth fighting right down to the wire for.
“It was a David and Goliath fight – it really was – and I was absolutely delighted to be part of the process that ensured we got the right outcome.
“When I looked at it at the time, you could just see there was a whole range of things that were going to happen that were going to create a negative impact.
“And being out there and being involved in farming and seeing from a local level what it was potentially going to actually do, really worried me so that’s why I go so involved in the fight.”
Asked what was harder to endure - the High Court ruling that ultimately disqualified her from parliament and led to the loss of her Regional Development and Regional Communications cabinet roles, or making her statement to the Senate in mid-August that initially revealed her dual citizenship issue and subsequent court referral - Senator Nash said “None of it’s been easy, that’s for sure”.
“When Barnaby came out and said he had his issue with his NZ father, I thought, ‘well with my father being Scottish, I thought I’d better check as well’,” she said.
“That obviously led to the chain of events but in my wildest thoughts I never thought I’d be a British citizen by decent.
“That’s all water under the bridge now but it was very difficult to make that known at that time and it was very difficult to deal with the High Court decision.
“But there are a lot of swerve balls in politics and you never know what’s around the corner, that’s for sure.
“It was something I had to go through and this has been the outcome – but there are so many paths in life that you can choose to take so who knows what can happen next?
“I’m yet to turn the next page of my life’s book.”
Senator Nash said she honestly hadn’t turned her mind to what’s next following politics.
“I’m in New England at the moment with the by-election and I’ll just let the dust settle – for a while - but I’d dearly love to stay in a position to do things that makes the lives of regional people better; I absolutely would,” she said this week while campaigning for Mr Joyce’s by-election.
Ms Nash said she believed Mr Joyce – who was joined yesterday on the New England campaign trail at a Melbourne Cup function by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull - said her close friend and political ally deserved to be re-elected.
“We absolutely need Barnaby back in there, in parliament, to make sure that we get things done for the regions,” she said.
“He’s been such a brilliant member of parliament - obviously as a Senator and Lower House member - and he’s been a sensational leader and we just need him back in there.
“If you need a fighter for the regions you can’t back anyone stronger than Barnaby so we need him back in there.”
Ms Nash said the mood amongst voters in New England over the High Court decision and citizenship issue which disqualified their local MP was one of ‘it’s ridiculous ‘.
“People are just perplexed as to how an issue like this has produced the outcomes that it has with Barnaby Joyce going to a by-election and me being thrown out of the Senate,” she said.
“They’re just absolutely perplexed as to how on earth we can get to this situation, but they’re very keen to see Barnaby returned because they know how hard he’s worked and how much he’s delivered, which is really good to see and hear.”
Ms Nash said she didn’t believe voters were upset at the incumbent New England MP for failing to fill-out his nomination form correctly, which led to the court’s disqualification over the dual NZ citizenship, which has since been renounced.
CountryMinded however has pledged to make the by-election contestable and challenge the sympathy vote they believe Mr Joyce’s is currently enjoying despite his disqualification, while ignoring the potential to hold sway in a potential hung parliament and remove the Nationals leader and former Deputy Prime Minister.
But Ms Nash said “People who’ve listened to Barnaby and I sort of explain how we got to the point where we did, obviously not having thought we were dual citizens, I think they understand it’s just one of those extraordinary circumstances that has arisen”.
“I don’t think there’s any backlash at all that I’ve certainly come across and if anything it’s the opposite,” she said.
“There’s more support there because they don’t think Barnaby should be in this situation.”
Ms Nash and Mr Joyce along with other party members have been highly critical of former independent MP Tony Windsor for backing the Gillard Labor government to form office in the 2010 hung parliament.
But she did not want to expand on Mr Windsor’s decision to not contest his former seat of New England at the upcoming by-election; despite being a party to the High Court action against the Nationals leader which triggered the election contest that’s now due on December 2.
“What Tony Windsor does is a matter for him,” she said.
“I’m just focussed on being up here helping Barnaby Joyce and the campaign team and doing what I can do to help.
“I’m not particularly interested in Tony Windsor.
“The things that the voters are talking to me about are things they’re talking about right across the regions - about access to doctors, about how their kids are going at school, about whether or not their grandchildren are going to have a job about internet access.
“They’re the sorts of things voters are talking about; not personality issues.”