BARNABY Joyce, the National Party’s Federal member for New England, has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s “special envoy” for drought assistance and recovery.
Although not officially a cabinet minister or parliamentary secretary, the idea of this role is as an advocate and adviser for drought relief.
Considering the depths to which the disgraced former Deputy Prime Minister has sunk in just a few months, Joyce seems happy to be on the path to his own recovery. He tweeted: “I am so excited about helping further with the drought. This is so important. Let’s combine all that knowledge for a better outcome”.
But all is not roses. Immediate action is required to assist farmers in dire straits. However, there is also a need to take a long-term view to drought-proof farms through supporting a regenerative approach to farming.
When he was Minister for Agriculture, Joyce sat on a report from the National Advocate for Soil, former Governor-General Michael Jeffery. The report, “Restore the Soil: Prosper the Nation”, advised the government on how to restore and maintain the health of the Australian agricultural landscape.
This report has been presented to the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum and is under “active consideration”. Will the new Agricultural Minister, David Littleproud, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has made drought a priority, heed the advice and implement the recommendations?
Joyce preferred to take a myopic view as illustrated in his own opinion piece of July 2014 entitled “Australia will be high and dry if we don’t consider more dams”.
The evidence tells a different story. Water needs to be captured and absorbed into the soil rather than in dams where so much simply evaporates. But then, despite it being right in front of his nose, as a friend of the coal industry he doesn’t recognise the impact of climate change either.
However, some transparency provides an insight into Joyce’s motivation. Former Independent MP Tony Windsor, who lost the seat of New England to Joyce in 2013 and failed to wrest it from him in 2016, keeps a close eye on Barnaby and @tonyhwindsor tweeted recently: “Joyce’s ramblings on diverting water to grow lucerne has more to do with placating preselectors in New England than curing drought.
Local LNP chair Ian Coxhead, whose vote is critical to Joyce’s survival, happens to be an irrigated lucerne grower… all politics is local”.
The thread that followed Windsor’s tweet was most informative. It included a comment from Kerry Deayton (@deayton_kerry) expressing concern about the role played by Joyce and the huge cotton magnates and calling on the government to stop “stealing water from the Murray Darling for their cotton empires and all will be solved”. Such was the interest in transparency that Windsor’s tweet was liked and retweeted more than 2000 times.
Additionally, the critical issue of the political parties’ support for lack of transparency regarding donations to political parties should always form part of such discussions.
Just as the ACT has caved to community pressure for an Anti-Corruption and Integrity Commission, at the Federal level such a body is long overdue. In the words of former NSW auditor-general Tony Harris, regarding such bodies: “It would have been an obligation under the Act, any suspicion of wrongdoing or corruption would have to be referred to the ICAC.”
It is regrettable that so many of our hard-working politicians are dragged down by the lack of ethics, the want of integrity and the absence of decency of a small cohort of their colleagues.
However, it is time to establish a body that would do justice to the vast majority of members of our Federal parliament who are ethical, honest, dedicated and committed to the community good.