ONE week ago, Barnaby Joyce was still digging in his heels, trying to fight off the biggest political threat of his 12-year career.
In the end, by continuing to throw counter-punches, he was only digging a hole that was enlarging and deepening with each new media burst and allegation, with its hefty expansion destined to eventually capture the Nationals, the Coalition government, his family and eventually himself.
After officially succumbing and resigning from the party leadership on Monday, he was replaced by Michael McCormack who also took over as Transport and Infrastructure Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
He moved out of his plush ministerial office into a new and more modest backbencher’s residence marked ‘Barnaby Joyce MP’, and was digging into boxes to unpack books and other trinkets of his political journey, while settling into a new world-view.
“It’s a game of snakes and ladders this and obviously and unfortunately I’ve stumbled upon a very big snake that’s taken me down to one of the earlier squares,” Mr Joyce told Fairfax Media in his first formal interview since giving up the leadership.
“That’s life, I accept it and take it on the chin and I’m dealing with that.
“What I’ve got to do is get back into work and that’s precisely what I’m doing.”
One of My Joyce’s first jobs will be targeting a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act which he says is due by 2019.
During a speech in the House of Representatives this week – his first from the backbench since becoming the member for New England in 2013, after leaving the Senate - he launched an early indication of what’s ahead from his new outlook.
He also aims to try to protect his legacy, from four years as Agriculture Minister and two as Nationals leader pushing through with the inland rail project and decentralising government agencies like the APVMA into regional areas, by ensuring such tasks are followed through to completion.
In his speech, Mr Joyce said the EPBC Act “goes beyond protecting the environment to completely inhibiting the capacity of people on the land to deal with the private asset that they have paid for”.
He said conservative governments should believe in private ownership and in governments “staying away”.
“If you come into an area and decide that by mandate, by edict, piece by piece, you'll dispossess a person on the land of their capacity to properly own the land, if you take from them, without payment, an asset that was formally theirs - that is not the side of conservative politics and not the side of people who believe in a market economy where you should have just and fair compensation,” he said.
“If the community truly believes it is the community's right and in the community's interest to take an asset off a private owner then it must be the community's responsibility to pay for it.
“We saw that in so many regional areas with tree clearing legislation.
“As many people saw it, an asset that they formerly owned was taken over and owned by the government without payment.
“There was a word for that in the past; it is called 'communism' when the government decides it is not going to acquire an asset but take it without payment.”
During the interview, Mr Joyce said, of the APBCA Act review, that he had no issue with a person making sure the law was abided by.
But he said he had an issue where, in some instances, the laws have gone beyond their initial purpose and had ‘become excessive”.
“I’m going to use my time on the backbench to start dealing with some of these issues,” he said.
“You are the first sit down interview I’ve given and it’s not to cry in my beer but to say now it’s time to get back to work.
“I’ll also have more time to get around my electorate which I’m looking forward to.
“The ministries I held were in my areas of passion, like farming and building the infrastructure to make regional areas better.
“By nature, when I was Deputy Prime Minister, I had to be here, there, everywhere and overseas, and now I’m happy that I’m not allowed to travel outside of my electorate, or I won’t get reimbursed for it, and that suits me fine because there’s a lot of stuff I want to do for my electorate.”
Never say never on leadership, but it’s no for now
Back onto more pointed political matters like would he support the new leader, Mr Joyce was well-meaning.
“I want the best for my party and I want every office holder to do the best possible job they can for our nation,” he said.
“I wish Michael all the very best.
“People are asking all sorts of tricky questions like would you consider standing again (as leader)?
“I’m trying to give you an honest answer - that’s unlikely to occur - but I’m not going to rule myself in and out of any position because you just look like a complete and utter hypocrite if you do it again.
“Playing this sort of riddle game of ‘would you, if it ever happens?’ well talk to me about it if that opportunity ever arises.
“But if you said, are you planning for it or am I trying to make that event happen?
“No I’m not.
“I’m just planning to work very hard for the people of New England and also taking on some causes that you can take on, on the backbench, because you’re not bound by cabinet solidarity anymore which means you can speak your mind more and be a greater and more vociferous advocate than you otherwise would, by being in cabinet.”
Mr Joyce said changes to the ministry under the new leader were “completely his call” but stressed David Littleproud had been doing a good job and “hit the ground running” since he was appointed Agriculture and Water Resources Minister in December.
“That’s about where that issue finishes for me,” he said.
Keen to return his focus to attacking the EPBC Act, Mr Joyce said it was “just insane people can’t knock down a tree for a centre pivot, they can’t put a new road in, and you can’t put a dam in on a dry gully”.
“You have basically put so many caveats on the operation of their place you’ve basically taken a quasi-form of ownership over it without paying for it and in our country we believe in private ownership, because otherwise what’s the point of paying off a property if the government can change the rules at any time to take ownership of it,” he said.
Mr Joyce said he had “heaps” of other policy issues that he wanted to tackle from the backbench using his greater powers of freedom to speak unrestrained by cabinet confidentialities but was going to start with the EPBC Act.
“And then I’m going to make sure things I started like the inland rail get completed,” he said.
“I’m going to make sure the Regional Investment Corporation comes into existence and Country of Origin labelling, so people can identify farm produce from Australian farms, gets fully enacted.
“I want to ensure we maintain 100pc depreciation on fences and water reticulation and write-offs over three years for fodder storage, new silos and new hay sheds and continue to get better access to overseas markets, to get a better return back to the farm gate.
“You only have a legacy if the legacy is fulfilled by it actually being enacted and I want to ensure moving the APVMA to Armidale and the decentralisation agenda continues.”
Mr Joyce’s speech also saw a return to one of his favourite political tasks, taking aim at Labor and the Greens, saying they are “known to have no vision for agriculture”.
“The Greens are content on trying to basically shut it down and return us all to being hunters and gatherers on the forest floor eating beetles and nuts,” he said.
“That's their vision for the future.
“Apparently, as long as you can pick it off a tree in the middle of a rainforest, it's all right to eat, but if you have the temerity to go forth and try and develop the land and make sure that we get an efficient form of agriculture, then they have no view of it
“The Greens with their desire to tie up everything in green tape are becoming, more and more, the enemy of people on the land.
“They have gone from having serious concerns - which we must hold - on issues such as protection of aquifers and prime agricultural land to basically something that wants to inhibit any development on land.
“Now that I have the capacity that's been given to me - with a pay cut - through being on the backbench, I want to make clear some of the things we need to do.
“What we have to do now, what we have to fight for, is to make sure that one of our nation's greatest benefits, the massive turnaround in agriculture, is not stymied and continues to be built on.”
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