Thursday, March 7, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Nats for the knackery
The party has no answers for the farmers it sold out long ago


Nationals Leader Michael McCormack is the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights, shown floundering on national television last night and now the subject of a front-page [$] insurgency in The Australian by a group of “energy rebels” in Queensland. On The Project, McCormack was unable to think of a single time when the Nationals had backed farmers over miners – a simple, killer question from Waleed Aly – which exposes how far his party has strayed from its rural roots. There are plenty of times when the Nationals have backed miners over farmers, of course – particularly where coal or coal seam gas projects are involved. And there are also some very high-profile examples of former Nationals MPs who have done very nicely out of the resources industry after leaving politics, including former leaders Mark Vaile and John Anderson (and former leader Barnaby Joyce’s close relationship with Gina Rinehart is well known).

Aly’s segment, “Nats in Crisis?”, tapped into a backlash against the party, expressed most potently in the “Anyone but Nats” slogan: put the Nats last. Like One Nation’s old reap-the-whirlwind strategy of preferencing against sitting members, this call smacks of blind rage. The Nationals are now plagued by challenges from minor copycat parties like the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and Katter’s Australia Party, or rural independents, who are even harder to manage.

It is a developing story, which Gabrielle Chan, author of Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up, canvassed in a podcast last week with The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy. While country independents have been around forever – think Tony Windsor or Peter Andren – Chan says what’s new is how the independent candidates running for conservative-held rural seats around the country are comparing notes. From Indi to Mallee to New England to Hume, says Chan, “they’re all tick-tacking and I think that’s the really new thing in [these] regional seats … They are talking, and it’s already been well recorded that the people who are running ‘Voices for Warringah’ are down at a ‘Voices for Indi’ forum, trying to work out how they did it. There is no single policy platform, of course, but there are common themes, and they are not so far removed from the concerns prevalent in city seats like Wentworth and Warringah, or Kooyong and Higgins: better political governance (through a federal ICAC, for example) and the environment, climate change and water.”

Which is where the Nationals are simply unable to respond. Both the current leader, McCormack, and his predecessor and potential challenger Joyce, are climate dinosaurs, who have hitched their wagon to denial. The “energy rebels” now circling McCormack are running a phoney campaign grounded in ignorance: new coal-fired power stations would take years to construct and won’t lower prices; “big stick” energy laws have Buckley’s chance of passing before the election.

Meanwhile, a mountain of evidence piles ever higher, day by day: today it’s news that Glencore has been bankrolling a multi-million dollar pro-coal campaign through Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor’s C|T Group; the ASX and the Australian Accounting Standards Board are pressuring [$] companies to disclose their financial risk from strong global action on climate change; and a new Climate Council report documents Australia’s “Angriest Summer” yet. McCormack’s response is to tell Aly the climate’s been changing since “the year dot”. Country voters, quite simply, aren’t going to buy this head-in-the-sand stuff much longer.


“The fact that [the Australian Building and Construction Commission] are raiding the offices of employers to get the private information of working people, in order to fine them $42,000 for attending a political protest, is outrageous. It’s outrageous in terms of our democracy ... Have we seen that type of reaction to the behaviour of banking executives who have engaged in behaviour that’s criminal? Working people are simply protesting about the fact that wages aren’t going up.”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus, announcing a national day of protest on April 10, as part of the Change the Rules campaign.


“Bottom line – the process of her appointment was done before Kelly [O’Dwyer] had resigned and so unless he had a crystal ball he couldn’t have known that and who would nominate anyway.”

A spokesperson for the attorney-general, Christian Porter, dismisses Labor’s calls for the AFP to investigate the appointment of failed Higgins preselection candidate Jane Bell to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Number

The minimum wage, which Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott acknowledges “is low” while also cautioning against a “sugar hit” if workers were paid a living wage.

The Policy

“End offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru; Increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 50,000 per year; Establish a regional solution for people seeking asylum …; Introduce a 7-day limit for onshore detention …; Abolish Temporary Protection Visas and fast track assessments; Establish a Private Sponsorship of Refugees program, in addition to our humanitarian intake; Establish a royal commission into Australia’s immigration detention regime.”

Key points from the Greens’ refugee policy, launched in Melbourne today.

The list

“Had Nancy simply told Centrelink to stop the payments as soon as she left Katherine, the problem would never have arisen. And there was an appeal process she could have accessed. But bureaucratic reviews aren’t high on anyone’s list of priorities when they’re funeral planning. She didn’t have a phone. She wasn’t in town to visit Centrelink. Every week, more than $250 went to the school ... Somewhere between Katherine and the community, between the school and Centrelink, the purpose of the Centrepay deductions was being lost.” 


“When credible numbers are released by forecasters suggesting Australia will fall way short of its Paris target ... Morrison responds with the old mantra. Until this week, he never gave detail of how it might be done. He just endlessly repeated the simple assurance – we will meet our targets ‘in a canter’. Over recent days, though, Morrison finally announced some detail.” 


“It is easier for the carers to look after this babel of old people if they are medicated, the granddaughter realises. They don’t panic, or fight, or cry out in incomprehensible languages. One night, Ah Mah has a stroke and is taken away. ‘He doesn’t realise she’s gone,’ says the carer with deep sympathy, a few days later to the granddaughter. ‘The family hasn’t told him?’” 

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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