The direct exchange of jobs for votes nakedly revealed in a Nationals reshuffle has everything to do with personal reward and nothing to do with running the country.
Barnaby Joyce gives the dividends of victory to David Gillespie, Andrew Gee and Bridget McKenzie in a deal that serves no purpose other than to repay favours.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is trying to reward his backers with promotions. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Australians have low expectations of their politicians and are used to seeing leaders reward their followers with the salaries, perks and status of public offices funded by taxpayers.
But the trade is brazen in the Joyce reshuffle. Every transaction tells Australians what to expect from the Nationals leader now he is restored to what he sees as his rightful place as Deputy Prime Minister. It should embarrass ministers who like to think they gain their positions on merit.
After promising too much to those who were willing to vote for him in last Monday’s leadership spill, Joyce has engineered a bizarre ministry that drops the country’s biggest export sector from cabinet.
Keith Pitt remains Minister for Resources and Water but is dropped to the outer ministry, a ludicrous move when shipments of iron ore and coal are lifting the country out of recession. Throwing water out of cabinet makes no sense, either, when regional communities expect the issue to be a priority.
Darren Chester is dropped from the ministry altogether in order to give his job, veterans’ affairs, to one of Joyce’s supporters. This is an unnecessary change when the government has only just set up a royal commission into veteran suicide. Chester was a good minister, liked by many on both sides.
The only reason for the change is Gee wanted a cabinet post. Rarely noticed in his old portfolio of regional education, Gee is said to have changed his vote to back Joyce in recent weeks. Voters in his electorate of Calare, in central NSW, can make their own judgment about why he is suddenly in cabinet.
The return of Bridget McKenzie to cabinet, after she resigned last year over the sports rorts affair, is no surprise but offers only a hint of a vision. Her main title, Minister for Regionalisation, could mean anything. It is a cabinet post in search of a mission. Her responsibility for drought overlaps with the party’s deputy leader, David Littleproud, who is Minister for Agriculture.
Another winner is David Gillespie, a doctor who holds the seat of Lyne on the NSW North Coast. He has supported Joyce for years and gains regional health at the expense of Mark Coulton, one of those who fought to the end against the leadership spill.
A smaller prize goes to Susan McDonald, a Queensland senator who backed Joyce. She becomes envoy for northern Australia, a job without ministerial rank because there is no ministry available. Here, at the lower ranks, Joyce has avoided revenge. He has kept Michelle Landry and Kevin Hogan as assistant ministers even though they did not want him as leader.
Joyce would have been asking for trouble in dumping these two colleagues. Hogan hates leadership spills: he moved to the crossbench for a time after Malcolm Turnbull was deposed. Landry would have been free to say what she really thinks about the new leader if she had been dropped to the backbench.
What does Scott Morrison think? The Prime Minister conveys his answer in code. His statement on the new ministry uses four adjectives to praise the former Nationals leader, Michael McCormack: selfless, dedicated, tireless and faithful.
Would Joyce ever get that praise? Not likely. The greatest compliment he gets at the moment is purely political – that he can win the Nationals votes in Queensland. Even his conservative supporters do not pretend he can help run a better government.
Joyce, borrowing from Joh Bjelke-Petersen, will confuse his personal interest with the public interest and believe his new ministers really are the best for the country. Deep down, of course, they are simply best for him.
So the trade at the heart of this reshuffle is laughably obvious. There is no code needed to find four words for it. Selfish. Venal. Vengeful. Shameless.
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