QUEENSLAND Nationals MP George Christensen says Barnaby Joyce has been a victim of “trial by media” that will see a “nastier, more personal and more vindictive form of politics” in future.
And he says being best mates with Liberal leader and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull isn’t a core attribute that any new party leader will need to possess.
Mr Christensen was speaking out after Mr Joyce resigned as Nationals leader yesterday and Deputy Prime Minister, following a relentless month of scrutiny following revelations of his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion and the breakdown of his marriage to wife Natalie.
The outspoken rural MP has declined to say who he’s backing at Monday’s meeting to determine the party’s next leader – but he wants the replacement to be a “fighter” on rural and regional policy issues.
Asked if re-building the relationship with Mr Turnbull between the two Coalition parties was one of the new leader’s necessary qualities that he’d be looking for to determine his vote, Mr Christensen gave a forthright reply.
“I think the issue of getting along well with someone is overplayed,” he said.
“There’s an old saying in politics, sadly, ‘if you want a friend in politics, bring a dog’.
“You’re there to do a job and that’s to represent your electorate and fight for the issues they need to be enacted and acted upon.
“That often creates arguments and often creates enemies, sadly.
“We’re not here to make friends and play nice - we’re here to get a job done and again, I think it’s important for the incoming leader of the Nationals to have that attitude.”
Mr Christensen also expressed bitter disappointment at the media coverage of the issues that led to Mr Joyce’s decision to step down from the leadership, after two years, and sit on the backbench, and the associated politics.
“Personally, I’m not going to give a commentary of someone’s private life; it’s out there in the public and everyone knows it,” he said.
“It’s just a sad situation in terms of the breakdown of his marriage; sad for his daughters and sad for Natalie.
“We’re all pretty close knit in the Nationals – we feel for them and we feel for Barnaby and we feel for his new partner Vikki who has had to endure all of this, front page, sort of titillating, scandal-style reporting, when she’s in a very late pregnancy and that can’t be an easy thing.
“Barnaby is probably going to be glad all that’s going to be removed and it should be removed, because it’s his personal life.”
Mr Christensen said “we’ve entered a new era for better or worse and I think it’s the latter” where people’s personal lives in politics will come under greater and greater scrutiny.
“And heaven help the next generation because everyone’s life is on social media,” he said.
“Everyone has made mistakes in their past and I’m no different.
“We have had trial by media; we have had political opportunists jumping on, after trial by media, to get the knife wounds in; and as a result, a Deputy Prime minister, who was such a strong advocate for rural and regional Australia, was deposed and that’s a great shame.
“And we’re probably entering into what will probably be a nastier, more personal and more vindictive form of politics that we haven’t had in Australia before, as a result of all this.”
Mr Christensen said in relation to matters concerning Mr Joyce he’s had about 25 local constituents write to his office, but “scores of others have come up to me personally”.
“Of the 25 that wrote into the office, 15 said Barnaby had to go and 10 said he had to say,” he said.
“But of the scores and scores of people who came up to me personally in the streets, in shopping centres, farm sheds, and in pubs, three said that he should go, the rest said they think it is ‘overblown and ridiculous’ and that included men, National Party voters, Labor voters and women.”
Mr Christensen said he didn’t know if there would be a vote or not at Monday’s meeting but “I suspect that there will be”.
“But my vote is not going to go on personalities; my vote is not going to go on private issues or anything like that,” he said.
“My vote is going to go on who I think will be the best placed person to fight for issues of concern and I’ve got issues of concern coming out the woo-ha up here in north Queensland.
“We’ve got north Queensland insurance premiums through the roof; we’ve got the casualization of the mining workforce; we’ve got the sugar industry code of conduct which needs to be legislated so an incoming Labor government, if they’re incoming, can’t simply remove it because it’s only a regulation right now; and we’ve got the imbalance that’s felt, particularly in relation to big business and small business on contract payment terms.
“These are the sort of bread and butter issues which don’t get too much of a look in because both Liberal and Labor are dominated by big city interests.
“These are the issues that we’re going to have to champion and I want to see someone step up to the mark who is going to be a fighter, on these key points.
“I noted a comment that Tim Fisher, a great former leader of the party made, earlier today, said, ‘the job maketh the man’ and I very much hope so because none has the standing that Barnaby had – that’s quite clear.
“Whoever it is that’s elected, to that position, is going to have to grip it with both hands and fight for the party and fight for the issues that rural and regional Australia want to see delivered by their government and that’s what I’ll be on the lookout for when it comes to appointing a successor for Barnaby Joyce.”
Other Nationals speak out
NT Senator Nigel Scullion – the leader of the Nationals in the Senate – said Mr Joyce was “truly once-in-a-generation politician”.
“He represents and fights for the forgotten people and communities scattered across rural, regional and remote Australia,” he said.
“He advocates for farmers, fishers, small business people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians across the country.
“From Opposition, he successfully led the campaign against Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard’s job-destroying, economy-wrecking carbon tax.
“In government, he delivered drought relief when it was needed, he delivered an Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper to restore Labor’s savage cuts to biosecurity, he delivered new funding for water infrastructure and dams and he delivered the Inland Rail funding.
“Throughout his entire career, Barnaby has been a servant to the people he fights so hard to represent.
“I acknowledge the difficult decision Barnaby has made and know that he will continue to serve the interests of regional Australia and the people of New England to the best of his ability into the future.”
Federal Nationals President Larry Anthony said Mr Joyce had been “a great leader of the party and a true champion of regional and rural Australia”.
“The Party will greet this news with a heavy heart but we understand and respect his decision to stand down as leader,” he said.
“The Nationals’ thoughts and support are with Barnaby and those closest to him at this time.
“During his time as leader, Barnaby was a fierce advocate for regional Australia. He made an enormous contribution to The Nationals, highlighted by his herculean efforts to lead the Party to our best electoral result in 20 years at the 2016 Federal Election, which was critical to forming a Coalition Government.
“Barnaby will continue to be a huge asset for the Party as the Member for New England.”
Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said Mr Barnaby Joyce leaves, as Nationals leader, a long list of accomplishments.
“As leader and before, he helped pull the Nationals back from the grave,” he said.
“Just a decade ago it was commonly accepted that the Nats would have to merge with the Libs to survive.
“Within a decade the Nats helped save a Coalition government from a first term defeat, in part due to Barnaby's strong leadership.
“Barnaby has more courage than most.
“He often took up arguments or causes that many seasoned politicians, or advisers, would caution as being ‘too courageous’.
“Barnaby often defied their warnings and proved that courage is an essential ingredient towards the recipe of success.
“He did so to protect the interests of working people and small businesses in the bush.
“I am sure Barnaby will continue that fight, as will the Nationals.”
Senator Canavan said “Barnaby has made mistakes but I am sure he will recover, learn and be a better person from them”.
“He now has a new partner and a new child to care for and that is much more important than any of his achievements in public life,” he said.
“I also express my regret about the impact this has had on Natalie and Barnaby's four daughters.”
Victorian Nationals Senator and acting leader Bridget McKenzie said Mr Joyce’s decision to stand aside was the right decision for the National Party, the nation and most importantly his family.
“Barnaby has always remained focused on the people in the regions and in ensuring Coalition Government policy always has the best interests of rural Australia in mind,” she said.
“His dedication was pivotal in returning the Coalition in the 2016 election.
“He has a proven record of delivering for our party and a vision to grow regional and rural communities.
“Every member of The Nationals team is unified and committed to ensuring the great work started by Barnaby will be delivered long into the future.”
Queensland MP and Nationals whip Michelle Landry said “I am sure there will be numerous members nominating for the (leadership) position and I am confident of the ability of any of them to execute the role to a high standard”.
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