This Year In Politics Has Been Utterly Nats
The political year has ended in controversy, the same way it started. And the book-end controversies have been courtesy of the Nationals, a minor party with only limited parliamentary representation.
Of course the Liberals weren’t to be outdone, removing a prime minister in a coup only to see the challenger defeated by a third candidate, Scott Morrison. Such antics saw the Coalition’s standing in the polls take a tumble -- from a competitive 49-51 percent two party result to 45-55 percent last week, according to Newspoll
The ongoing scandal and divisions within the Nationals this week won’t help matters -- distracting from the mid financial year mini-budget (which contained good economic news) and ensuring the government goes into the summer break with stalled momentum, if it had any in the first place.
Barnaby Joyce lost the deputy prime ministership in a sex scandal at the start of the year, and just this week Nationals frontbencher Andrew Broad resigned from the ministry and announced he’ll be leaving parliament at the next election. The reason: also a sex scandal.
The irony being not only that the Nationals would classify themselves as a conservative political party, but Broad was one of the chief critics of Joyce’s conduct. He was also a close ally of new leader Michael McCormack, whose handling of the saga is more than a little questionable.
McCormack knew about Broad’s indiscretions for at least six weeks, having initially claimed he only knew for two weeks. Having told his close ally to report the matter to the federal police and tell the Prime Minister, McCormack apparently neither followed up what was happening nor told the PM himself. So when the news broke, in New Idea of all places, Morrison was as surprised as anyone.
I can’t tell you the number of Liberals who have disdainfully remarked on McCormack’s handling of this matter. And the PM is thoroughly unimpressed, apparently, with the way this has gone down, fracturing their relationship ahead of a difficult campaign. Throw in a staffing scandal and it's hard to understand how such a small party can have such big problems.
An electorate officer to a Nationals backbencher, Barry O'Sullivan, sent a vile and abusive text message to a respected female gallery journalist, using swear words I won't repeat and suggesting he hopes her family die of cancer (yes you read that correctly).
The bloke hasn't been sacked, only stood down on full pay. In other words, an indefinite paid holiday. We are told there is complexity behind what happens from here, but what hasn't happened is instant dismissal, as I'm certain would happen in most other professions for such unprofessional conduct.
Internally of the Nationals there are MPs who think McCormack’s mishandling of Broad should cost him his job. Of course most saying so opposed him getting the gig in the first place. The Nationals are more divided than they have been in a long time, with a genuine schism having developed between Queensland and the southern states of NSW and Victoria. Even though Joyce represents the Northern NSW electorate of New England, he’s very much in the Queensland camp.
For such a small party there are a surprising number of leadership contenders, which perhaps only serves to ensure McCormack stays where he is. Names include a Joyce comeback (unlikely this side of the election), David Littleproud (a Queenslander who has been a competent enough new cabinet minister), Darren Chester (who has no chance because he’s too moderate but should be the first pick based on performance), and Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie. She would need to move down from the senate, but -- guess what -- the seat of Mallee (Broad’s electorate) in her home state is suddenly available.
Of course the problems within the Nationals haven’t prevented the party seeking to raid Liberal seats, as 10 News First reported last week with Joyce approaching Liberal MP for Hughes, Craig Kelly, about jumping ship if he lost his pre-selection. Morrison moved to save Kelly’s pre-selection before the plan needed to be enacted.
For anyone interested in policy over scandal, 2018 hasn’t been their year. And we’ve only touched the surface of the shenanigans by zeroing in on the Nationals.