Barnaby is a Queenslander and in good Queensland style is something of a populist. And populism has always played well in Queensland -- witness the long reign of Sir Johannes Bjelke-Peterson. And a rout in Queensland would tip Federal Labor out of power. From memory, the Whitlam Labor government retained only one out of 17 Queensland Federal seats in 1975 and that was the end of them. And that rout was largely the doing of the populist "Sir Joh"
THE Rudd government is clearly determined to create a media image of the opposition's finance spokesman, Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce, as totally compromised in his new frontbench role, the economic village idiot or a combination of both. Unfortunately for Labor this spin isn't working. In fact there are signs of growing public concern at the bully-boy tactics that Rudd and his cabinet colleagues have used to demonise anyone who dares to criticise the Prime Minister's policies.
Those who questioned the logic of Rudd's emissions trading scheme, and Joyce led this political assault, were denounced as climate change dinosaurs and economic vandals who should be cast into the wilderness because of their lack of support for Rudd's compassion over the future of the planet. But in immediate response to the Liberals' rejection of this scheme, after months of painful internal soul searching, the Liberal Party's stocks rose, as the last Newspoll showed.
The Liberals' decision to dump Malcolm Turnbull and support for the government's ETS, which he had fought tenaciously to preserve, vindicated the stand taken by Joyce. It also meant that the Rudd government had to carry its tattered ETS banner off to Copenhagen on its own. It can blame this humiliation more on Joyce than Abbott, who defeated Turnbull by the narrowest margin. So it is no wonder that when Joyce put his head up to raise the spectre of the US and some Australian states defaulting on their massive debt repayments, Rudd and his ministers tried to kick it off.
Joyce was variously condemned for shooting from the lip, advocating whacko economics and being an extremist. He also was attacked for urging a ban on investment in the resource sector by Chinese government-owned enterprises.
There is undeniable downside potential from the huge debts that have been run up by governments across the world in response to the global financial crisis. And there is considerable concern in Australia that the government is going out of its way to accommodate a resource-hungry China by softening foreign investment rules.
Nevertheless, Joyce seems to be well aware that he strayed into a minefield and, while not recanting his opinions, says he will now focus on his portfolio responsibilities. You only have to look at the wide area covered by Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner to see the potential for Joyce to shake up the government. To start with, he need go no further than the government's much vaunted national broadband network, where administrative responsibility is shared between Tanner and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.
This project has enormous financial implications for the whole country, including rural Australia, which will have to rely on satellite delivery for high-speed services instead of the fibre-optic cable the government plans to roll out into all homes and businesses in large cities and other high-density areas. Yet again the Nationals' rural constituency faces being relegated to second-class status in this latest attempt by government to create a communications superhighway. This assumes, of course, that the NBN gets off the ground.
But so far the taxpayer is being asked to take on trust the government's grand $43 billion scheme which, as yet, has no business plan. On a magic carpet ride of rhetoric recently, Rudd said the national broadband fibre-optic caravan, which is still to roll out of Tasmania, would create a platform for future innovation, drive new business efficiencies, support smart infrastructure, open new trade opportunities and contribute to productivity growth across the economy.
It also would address the challenge of greenhouse gas emissions, which it could reduce by 5 per cent, Rudd assured a government-organised forum designed to pump up the NBN's image. Part of this effect would come through the use of video-conferencing, reducing the need to travel for face-to-face meetings.
Clearly this option does not extend to the office of a Prime Minister who is highly sought after on the global diplomacy speaking circuit. Rudd's assessment of the NBN's positive effect on climate change ignores the increased energy demands that would be required to meet a substantial take-up of this high-speed service. Undaunted, Rudd says the NBN and the government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme go hand in glove in Labor's policy on climate change.
Now this is a worry, looking at how the ETS has blown up in the government's face. But what we are witnessing is an attempt by Rudd to wrap the NBN in the same blanket of political correctness he used to shield his ETS policy from its critics.
Considering Joyce's successful strike rate against this flawed ETS policy, it is no wonder that Rudd is pulling out all stops to try to knock him off his perch before the campaign begins for the next federal election.
Posted by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here