‘It’s our fault’
Barnaby Joyce says Nats to blame for the Coalition’s Eden-Monaro defeat
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has blamed his own party for the victory of Labor’s Kristy McBain in last weekend’s Eden-Monaro byelection, after the Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs conceded last night. With counting almost finished, McBain leads Kotvojs by 723 votes after preferences, with 50.4 per cent of the two-party vote. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party won 5.4 per cent of the vote on its debut in the ultra-marginal regional electorate, and the party directed its preferences to McBain. “Shooters preferences have definitely put the Labor party in,” Joyce told The Monthly Today, “and it’s definitely our fault that we left the territory vacant so they could do it.” The Nationals campaign in Eden-Monaro was marred by the abortive candidacy of NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, a Joyce ally and factional opponent of the Nationals’ federal leader, Michael McCormack. Barilaro pulled out, sending a spray of poisonous texts to McCormack, saying he had “failed as a leader”, which were leaked to the media. “I don’t think people in Tumbarumba or Adelong or Batlow would care much about that, to be frank,” says Joyce. “The soap opera is magnified in the political realm, but it’s not really a big issue in rural and regional towns. They absolutely want to see you voicing their issues, fighting for their issues, and doing it in a bright spotlight where they can see it – they definitely want that.”
The Nationals’ endorsed candidate, McCormack supporter Trevor Hicks, polled 6.4 per cent of the primary vote, representing a small adverse swing of 0.6 per cent. The Shooters’ candidate, local Hilltops councillor Matthew Stadtmiller, who lives just outside Eden-Monaro in Harden, has stood twice previously in the state seat of Cootamundra. Stadtmiller says there is growing frustration in the bush with the level of representation provided by the Nationals. “Often when you have the National Party in a seat, they’re not going to make any noise about something that the Coalition is doing wrong in general, whereas we have the opposite approach,” he says. “We’re making as much noise as we can, to effect change. So we’re not here to placate the masses, like the Nationals are.” Stadtmiller says that, on his last count in Eden-Monaro, the Shooters topped the Nationals’ primary vote in 45 booths to 37, especially in the west of the electorate where there is huge concern about water allocations. He makes no apology for his party’s decision to preference Labor. “I don’t have a problem with it. I’m not going to shy away from the fact, that that’s what our how-to-vote card suggested. Our view is that if Labor was in government and they’d done a poor job regarding bushfire response, COVID relief and drought, we might’ve sent preferences or a suggestion to vote with the Coalition. We’re not really taking sides on it, we’re just sending a clear message to the government that we’ve been able to come in and pick up five per cent of the vote, and we can go a long way to determining who’s going to hold government if we run in a number of seats at the next general election.”
The federal Nationals are threatened on their right flank by the rise of the Shooters party, One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party and others, and they are internally divided after a failed leadership challenge by Barnaby Joyce in February, which saw former resources minister Matt Canavan demoted to the backbench. In response to the rise of the Shooters party, Canavan this week urged his party to “change direction” and become more forthright within the Coalition. Joyce says likewise that the emerging alliance between the Shooters and Labor is an electoral threat to the Nationals. “You either learn from the numbers or become casualties of them at a later stage,” says Joyce. “I think, tactically, one of the key things for the Labor party is they’ve realised they can win a seat with a 36 per cent primary, by reason of a political alliance with the Shooters and Fishers, and preference flows … The National Party have got to accept responsibility that they left the space, which gave the Shooters and Fishers the votes to preference Labor. And now the Labor party’s worked out that that’s a good trick.”
In a written response earlier this week to questions about the Nationals’ showing in Eden-Monaro, a spokesperson for McCormack declined to comment until the result was declared, but pointed out that the Nationals had beat both the Shooters and the Greens on first preferences, which was a “strong endorsement” of the party’s campaign. “The Shooters did a dodgy deal with Labor,” read the response, “a deal Anthony Albanese still needs to explain. The people of Australia deserve to know what promises Labor made to the Shooters in exchange for their preferences, including which part of the Shooters’ policy platform Labor would seek to implement. The Shooters want to soften our gun laws that John Howard and the late, great Tim Fischer fought so bravely to achieve. Reform that has saved lives, prevented Port Arthur–type massacres, particularly in the cities. This is worse than Victorian ALP branch-stacking. This has far more severe consequences for society.”
McCormack is right to worry about the Shooters and Fishers, but the more immediate danger may be from his own colleagues.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has blamed his own party for the victory of Labor’s Kristy McBain in last weekend’s Eden-Monaro byelection, after the Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs conceded last night. With counting almost finished, McBain leads Kotvojs by 723 votes after preferences, with 50.4 per cent of the two-party vote. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party won 5.4 per cent of the vote on its debut in the ultra-marginal regional electorate, and the party directed its preferences to McBain. “Shooters preferences have definitely put the Labor party in,” Joyce told The Monthly Today, “and it’s definitely our fault that we left the territory vacant so they could do it.” The Nationals campaign in...
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