The maverick Queensland National senator Barnaby Joyce has been hogging his fair share of headlines in the last week. Today the Federal Government gleefully reacted to his comments that carbon emissions trading would do nothing to counter climate change and would cost jobs. Joyce took the argument to its Godwinesque conclusion when he compared climate change sceptics with Holocaust deniers and said he would not be "goosestepping" along with environmentalists. Agriculture Minister Tony Burke then called on Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull to get Joyce to retract his comparisons with Nazi Germany. But given that Joyce has crossed the floor many times against his Coalition colleagues, it is doubtful Turnbull has much influence over him. It is also possible Joyce made the comments as part of his own ambitions to replace the Nationals' ineffectual leader Warren Truss.
Joyce is up for Senate re-election in 2010 but has recently expressed his desire to cross to the lower house and contest for the party leadership after an endorsement from former PM John Howard. Joyce has publicly vowed to consider contesting a seat not held by the Coalition if it will boost his profile and his party’s election chances. However, the most logical seat for him to represent would be his St George hometown seat of Maranoa held by the veteran National Bruce Scott. The problem is that Scott is not in a hurry to resign and is no fan of Joyce. Today he came out swinging and told The Australian that "if Barnaby Joyce wants to boost our chances by taking a seat off Labor or an independent, that's fine."
But Scott may yet have to deal with internal pressure to stave off a Joyce assault on his territory. Maranoa is Nationals heartland and their safest seat with a massive 21 percent margin. Scott has held the seat since 1990 and will be 67 at the time of the next election. As one staunch National party member told the rural news site Agmates recently “Bruce is a really nice man, but he’s had his go, time to move over and let someone else have a shot - especially if it’s Barnaby". He continued, “If Bruce won’t stand aside, someone in the Party needs to tap him on the shoulder.”
Today, Scott Steel at Pollytics weighed in with a delicious pummelling of the time-serving current Maranoa member. He said Bruce Scott was “channeling Charlton Heston’s greatest NRA convention moments and giving [Joyce] the 'from my cold, dead hands' spiel.” He went on to say a Barnaby Joyce leadership represents the best chance for the National Party to rescue itself and position itself toward a more independent line by “doing something profound in Nats circles – actually representing the interests of their constituents.” Independence, says Steel, is the only way the Party can prevent extinction. However he also points out the double dilemma Joyce poses for his party. Firstly, finding a lower seat house to suit him and secondly, defending his seat in the Senate at the next election.
The Australian’s Queensland political reporter Sean Parnell believes Joyce may need to switch state to achieve his lower house ambitions. Parnell quoted fellow Queensland National senator Ron Boswell who suggested that he take on independent MP (and former National member) Tony Windsor in the NSW seat of New England. Although Joyce does have farming interests in the seat, it is likely Boswell is being disingenuous in order to focus attention away from more winnable Queensland seats especially ones held by National MPs who dislike Joyce’s perceived independent stance in parliament.
Joyce himself said he would more than likely stay in Queensland. Ben Raue, writing at The Tally Room, proposes the seat of Flynn which borders Joyce’s home seat of Maranoa. Labor gained an eight percent swing in Flynn in the last election to win the seat but it now hangs on a knife-edge with a swing of just 0.2 percent needed to win it back. Also as Raue points out, a redistribution is likely to pull Flynn further away from urban centres, which could be enough to make it a notional Nationals seat.
Meanwhile the Mackay Daily Mercury suggests that Joyce is eyeing off James Bidgood’s seat of Dawson. Bidgood became the first Labor MP for the Mackay seat in 30 years when he took it in the 2007 election with a 13.6 percent swing from the National’s De-Anne Kelly. The seat could be won back with a swing of less than 4 percent. Joyce has himself admitted Dawson is one of his best options.
However as Scott Steel says, the historical volatility of North Queensland and uncertainty following the re-drawing of electoral boundaries make the likes of Flynn and Dawson problematic seats for party leaders to hold when they should be concentrating on national issues – as Joyce’s recent mentor John Howard found out to his cost in the last election. Maranoa is the best option, but it means carrying out the difficult task of removing the deadwood Bruce Scott.