Barnaby is back. The Nationals have delivered leadership into the hands of a political terrorist and his allies, thereby throwing tacks under the tyres of rural communities. Slow clap for them.
Meanwhile, the rest of us out here in their actual electorates are trying to run businesses that depend on Australia following the world on climate policy. Why? A) Because we export so much of our produce into those markets. B) Because there are opportunities for rural communities – particularly farmers – in a decarbonised world.
The resurrection of Barnaby Joyce just made life harder for the Nationals constituency for three solid reasons. (There are many more.)
First, farmers and producers of all products will face carbon tariffs in the next few years while the National party is fighting any policy that will see them prepare for their future.
Its well signalled plans mean carbon footprints will be scrutinised in order to leap future tariff hurdles. Exporters will reach all the way back to farmers. And that requirement will spread into the rule books of other countries sure as night follows day.
So to be clear, in threatening to blow up any climate ambition, Joyce’s Nationals could shrink our markets for agricultural exports in less than two years. (Why don’t we just punch ourselves in the head like Monty Python’s One Man Wrestler Colin “Bomber” Harris?)
Second, agriculture minister David Littleproud is trying to roll out a biodiversity scheme that would see farmers paid through private market partnerships with some government funding to improve habitat on farms. This program would provide diversified income for landholders riding the climate rollercoaster and (if properly verified) provide better environmental outcomes.
That job becomes harder if the party leadership and his henchmen are arguing against climate change action while trying to tell taxpaying millennials who can’t afford their own housing to fund farmers.
Third, one of the big opportunities for income streams in rural communities generally and agriculture in particular is the energy sector.
No doubt the Nationals will now double down against the net zero target by 2050. Joyce is likely to insert himself as the major hurdle to stop Australia joining countries such as the UK and the United States who have already committed to that target.
If you think those targets are bullshit virtue signalling, ask global capital markets. They are looking for sustainable investments. Targets make it easier to read the business landscape.
And if you think it’s just farmers and shiny bum investors who can reap the rewards, whole rural communities such as Hepburn and Mallacoota are benefiting from more stable supplies with decentralised, community-owned power generation or storage and the jobs that can flow with assured power.
Whether country voters like it or not, the National party is associated with rural people.
So what has the Joyce team ever done for us? We know how the first movie ended. Joyce resigned in 2018. There had been news of his affair with a staffer, whom he subsequently married. In his resignation press conference, he cited sexual assault allegations as the reason for walking away from the Nationals leadership. It was, Joyce said, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” while denying the allegations. The National party’s eight-month investigation, which had no external expertise, failed to reach a determination. (The NSW state director who oversaw that process, Ross Cadell, was recently voted into the top of the party’s NSW Senate ticket.)
Joyce’s policy thinking has been as shallow as a dam in a drought. His much vaunted 2014 agriculture white paper designed to set the guidelines for the future of industry sank without a trace. Climate change was not even mentioned in the terms of reference.
He oversaw the murder of the National Food Policy Working group, which was designed to advise on challenges in the food and agricultural supply chain. (But by christ, we love farmers!) It got the chop in the 2014 budget when he was agriculture minister. And of course, the carbon price itself was spiked under his agricultural leadership, a market that would have provided farmers the best chance of being paid for carbon abatement, a fact recognised by a gaggle of economists.
None of this caper – the behaviour, the leadership spills, the dodgy standards – serves rural people. Yet a majority of Nationals MPs have cynically voted to improve performance art over policy substance. Well guess what, vaudeville acts do not materially benefit country voters.