From today’s Crikey email:
If the Nats were hoping for a bit of a publicity splash from their leadership election, they picked the wrong day yesterday to hold it, what with a new government and Kyoto and everything else. Still, the elevation of Member for Wide Bay Warren Truss to the leadership of a depleted band of country cousins did inspire one quip from a blogger: “In Warren we can Truss.”
That might be about as good as it gets.
The former Trade Minister’s much more newsworthy Queensland Senate colleague, Barnaby Joyce, having variously thrown his Akubra in the ring for the leadership and deputy leadership since the Coalition wipeout, walked away with nothing and has made no comment at the time of writing.
Somewhat muted as well were the mutterings from the Queensland Nats’ organisational wing over the weekend. Threats to secede don’t have the same strength as they did in the days when Joh and Sir Robert Parkes effectively crippled John Howard’s first opposition leadership, or even when Bob Katter was still nominally in the fold. And the selection of Truss was always going to dampen down any rebellion from the Deep North, where in any case the once dominant party only holds three House of Reps seats.
But Joyce did succeed in one long term aim – seventh term Senator Ron Boswell was ousted in favour of NT CLP Senator Nigel Scullion. This isn’t particularly important in terms of Scullion’s profile – which is probably limited even for political junkies to allegations about beer bottles left behind after a fishing trip in a no grog zone despite his ministerial honours. Boswell, who’d long been a “strong Coalitionist” and hyped his closeness to Howard in seeking to retain preselection this time around, has a political style that couldn’t be more distinct from Joyce’s.
Joyce, of course, had expressed some public dissent about the Coalition campaign in its dying days, and made headlines by signalling that he might vote for the repeal of WorkChoices. He hasn’t shied away from South Australia’s sole Nationals MP, Karlene Maywald, who sits in the Rann Labor government, despite her persona non grata status with the rest of the party. Joyce appears to understand that selective support for Labor bills in the Senate is one way the decimated party could boost its importance.
A lot of the younger and unconventional candidates who ran for the Reps and who were much touted by Mark Vaile as the new face of the modern Nats were more than happy to express their enthusiasm both for Joyce and for floor crossing. They all lost, of course, weighed down by the Coalition banner and the opprobrium of WorkChoices in low wage regional seats which were in any case changing demographically. But Joyce certainly believes this approach would at least offer his party a future.
Truss and Scullion may not set the political world on fire, but Barnaby Joyce is well placed to in a closely divided Senate. His vote on the AWA transition bill in February will be crucial. He’ll enjoy the attention, but if the Coalition rejects the bill and he lines up with them, he may just find – like candidates in seats like Page and Forde – that rhetoric alone won’t differentiate his party towards electoral salvation.