Tag Archives: Barnaby Joyce

Barnaby Joyce does not own New England

AS I approached the polling station at the Tenterfield Memorial Hall on by-election day in December 2017, I suspected Barnaby Joyce would put in an early appearance.

If Mr Joyce was going to cover New England glad-handing and holding babies, finishing in triumph at Tamworth, he’d have to start early in this town at the far reaches of the electorate that had recently been stripped of its sitting member.

Despite being a local boy, Mr Joyce had been found by the High Court to be a dual citizen of New Zealand and dumped from parliament under the clear terms of our Constitution.

I was at Tenterfield to hand out how-to-vote cards for CountryMinded candidate Peter Mailler, and as I tied a couple of Pete’s signs onto the picket fence, Mr Joyce arrived to greet his ‘Barney Army’ in their yellow National Party shirts.

He settled his nerves by introducing himself to the competition. As he approached me, I was struck by his height. On television he never seems to carry his 1.85 metres, but he stood on eye level with me. I saw his elbow draw back and his hand flatten into a shape akin to an axe, signalling in a manly show that a handshake was expected.

“I’m Barnaby,” he announced.

I’ve long believed in the importance of meeting politicians, particularly those who represent us. Having recently moved from the South East Queensland electorate of Bowman, I’d spent years challenging sitting Liberal MP Andrew Laming about his inexplicable fence-sitting on marriage equality.

Barnaby Joyce and I have more in common that he realises. I’m slightly taller, he’s a bit older. We were both born in the New England region, me at Inverell and he at Tamworth. Our fathers were both graziers. We were both dual citizens of New Zealand by birth, until he revoked his in order to stand for election again.

The similarities seemed enough for him to feel safe with me, until I opened my mouth.

“If you win the seat today, and you’re back in parliament in time, how will you vote on marriage equality?” I asked, since the opportunity was unlikely to come again, and the people of New England had recently returned a result of 52 per cent in favour of allowing same-sex couples equal access to the Marriage Act.

Barnaby looked at his feet (I realised then why he often appears shorter), rolled his eyes, winced, and proceed to huff and puff.

“Look, I always said I’d never vote against the will of the people,” he said, scuffing his feet together like a schoolboy.

“That’s good to know,” I said. “Thanks,” I added. Then, the clincher: “What about religious exemptions?”

I didn’t see Barnaby signal to his security guard. All of a sudden a blob of a boy stood in my face, but I kept addressing Barnaby, who’d moved out of the brief common ground we’d created.

“I’m your constituent, Mr Joyce,” I said, even though technically at that point he wasn’t our MP. “I’m allowed to ask you questions, I believe?”

With a distinct look of fear, Barnaby retreated up the pathway to stand with the yellow T-shirts, before he and his crew swept south across the electorate he’d go on to win back that day.

New England voters were almost universally slammed on social media for backing Joyce, but we were acutely aware that progressives expected us to topple the Turnbull Government. The voters of Bennelong had the same experience just one week later.

Not all of us voted for Barnaby, of course. Just shy of 40,000 voters picked someone else or voted informally.

He might have won in a landslide, but in running away from scrutiny, Barnaby Joyce was heading inevitably towards defeat.

Sooky Chook

As it turned out, Barnaby abstained from the final vote that brought about marriage equality in Australia’s House of Representatives on December 7.

I should have noticed him telegraph his intention to betray LGBTIQ. Despite being a major architect of the divisive public vote on human rights, Barnaby Joyce, ‘family man’ was never going to get his fingerprints on a policy that made his marriage equal to ours. His immature blather to me had been code for abstention.

Yet the rumour about his extramarital affair and the pregnancy of his new partner had done the rounds at the polling station and the district on the ubiquitous Bush Telegraph. I witnessed the fallout when comments deemed defamatory were removed from Facebook threads under stories published by my former employer, Fairfax Regional Media. Commenters were unafraid to detail what they’d heard about Barnaby’s trashing of his own family values, and angry the local media was inexplicably protecting him. One comment labelled Barnaby a “sooky chook” if he needed such protection.

What was more concerning about the local pre-election vibe was the struggle other candidates had getting cut-through for their messaging. Sixteen alternatives threw their hats in the ring and despite being a more natural Greens voter, I decided to back the grain farmer from Boggabilla who was clear about his support for marriage equality. In places where the Greens don’t usually register high numbers of primary votes on election day, I have often voted strategically this way.

I’d met Pete years before while sub-editing his columns for FarmOnline, and knew him to be a progressive thinker. I also knew he stood for holding the Nationals to account after years of taking the country vote for granted. After Tony Windsor endorsed him, I took it on myself to contact several national political journalists in case they were writing stories about Barnaby’s competition. The trouble is, most of them weren’t.

And Barnaby was thumbing his nose at all of us by avoiding public forums, a decision that provided fertile ground for gossip.

A pub fracas with another local posing questions to him at Graman was reported. Mr Joyce had not been in the mood for providing answers, not even to his constituents when delivered in person. Instead, he claimed he was being stalked.

A sooky chook indeed.

Out of place

Barnaby had expert social media support during the by-election campaign. One of the most intriguing examples was the video of his visit to Bingara cemetery where his great-grandfather is buried.

Here, in the heart of Kamilaroi Country, he whined about being called into question for possible allegiance to a foreign nation, using a relative he’d never known as evidence. Clearly, he exuded, he was a hard-done-by Aussie to his bootstraps and all this talk about dual citizenship was bull-dust.

What really struck me in that clip was how very out of place Barnaby Joyce appears in this electorate.

Held for eight decades by the Nationals (many of those under their old Country Party permutation), New England could be considered their heartland and not the Kamilaroi’s, if only it weren’t so very different on the ground for those of us looking closely.

After forty years living in other regions both in Australia and overseas, in October 2017 I returned to live at Deepwater, a stone’s throw from the place of my birth and the region my parents farmed outside Delungra, on the way to Bingara.

My ancestors have lived in and around Inverell for as long as Barnaby’s, and I have a different take on the experience.

Ever since I was a child I have known of my mother’s connection to New Zealand. I’ll never forget seeing her cry as she revisited for the first time since she was a baby, on descent into Christchurch as we passed over the west coast of the South Island.

She told me when I was a child about the Myall Creek Massacre of 1838, which took place just a few kilometres from our farm. The crimes of settlers against Kamilaroi rang strongly throughout Bingara and Delungra families, and led to one of the country’s most enduring reconciliation projects, the annual Myall Creek Massacre memorial.

The day Richard and I moved into our new home, I drove the hire truck back to Glen Innes at dusk and saw the hundreds of wind turbines on the ridges. Since then, we’ve seen them in all directions, often situated with solar farms in upland valleys and ranges. Employment in renewables often tops the search engine results for jobs in the New England region, and plenty of farmers and greenies are allied in their desire to lock the gate against CSG exploration and mining.

In 2001, for the first time since 1922, the seat was won by independent candidate Tony Windsor, who was re-elected three times. Windsor’s incumbency broke the notion that the seat needs to be held by a deeply conservative National Party pollie in order for locals to be happy.

At the regional Farmers and Producers Market started at Tenterfield in late 2017, we’ve enjoyed working alongside African immigrants, also commonly sighted on the streets of Armidale. The resettlement program at nearby Mingoola has been an example of how refugee assistance can be mutually beneficial for remote Australian communities.

It seems out of character, but Barnaby has led the way.

Clearly, he is capable of being progressive when it suits him. It’s just one of many paradoxes about the man who once had a home base at Tamworth, but now seems to belong nowhere.

Border Country

Lately, I’ve encountered a few people who are shocked to hear that Barnaby Joyce comes from the New England region and not Queensland, where he entered politics as a senator in 2005.

Politically, he seems a more natural fit for the state that produced Joh Bjelke-Petersen. It’s not surprising, since the NSW New England region and Queensland’s Darling Downs are often blended into a kind of “border country”.

As kids at Delungra Public School we knew enough of Sir Joh to make up songs about this amusing old politician with a lyrical name. We used Queensland vernacular (“port” instead of “school bag” being just one example) and Brisbane was geographically closer than Sydney.

Queensland Nationals certainly claim New England. At Tenterfield polling station on by-election day Senator Matt Canavan and Toowoomba MP Trevor Watts put in hours handing out for Barnaby and posing for selfies with fans.

But where the pro-mining, ‘family values’ man who won’t countenance the Uluru Statement sits in the community of his birth, which is getting on with renewables investment, reconciliation and social progression regardless of him, is the question.

It’s firmly rural, New England, but it’s definitely not Sir Joh country. Quirindi-born Tony Windsor knows it. Pete Mailler knows it too. The Kamilaroi know it and I suspect even Sir Joh came to realise it. I doubt Barnaby Joyce has ever given it any thought whatsoever.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Carbon Cate’s direct action on the cultural cringe

HEDDING OVERSEAS Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett in STC's Hedda Gabler.
HEDDING OVERSEAS Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett in STC’s Hedda Gabler.

WITH a second Academy Award under her belt, Australian-born actress Cate Blanchett joined an international cultural elite, and it was fascinating to watch the response of the Australian media to her accolade.

This was particularly true of News Corporation, which dubbed her ‘Carbon Cate’ when she joined a 2011 advertising campaign encouraging Australians to understand the benefits of the Labor government’s Carbon Tax.

But by the day of the Oscar ceremony, The Daily Telegraph had reverted to calling Blanchett “Our Cate”.

Within minutes of her award, tall poppy syndrome had kicked-in, and News Corp’s news.com.au was questioning Blanchett’s contributions to the Australian film industry over the past decade.

The day after her historic win, which marked the first time an Australian actor won two Oscars, they buried Carbon Cate in the entertainment news, which is probably where they believe she belongs.

“It seems the cultural cringe is still alive and well in Australia.”

In case we need a reminder, ‘cultural cringe’ is the tendency of a colony to question the relevance of its artists against its ‘motherland’. It’s a kind of inferiority complex, if you like.

But this anti-intellectual process doesn’t only apply to the Arts.

When Barnaby Joyce leapt onto the ‘Carbon Cate’ bandwagon, he was taking a dig at someone he accused of being out of touch with economic realities.

He also had an agenda, which was not just anti-Cate, it was anti-science, and he probably knew very well that coining an alliterative derogatory term for his target would be highly effective.

So, it’s time for a reminder on the facts about Blanchett’s commitment to Australian industries and solutions to climate change.

Cate Blanchett is a local, who has lived with her family in the Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill for almost a decade.

In 2013 she ended a six-year stint as to co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), work she admits put a dent in the time she could commit to an international film career, yet led to a golden era in Australian theatre exports.

Yes, that’s correct: Australian theatre, exported.

Despite the level of Australian Government funding for National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) students, the local film, television and theatre industries they graduate into would not stand comparison with the reach and profitability of any other similarly funded Australian industry.

Australian theatre particularly does not even register against our worst-faring industries, such as agriculture and manufacturing. A decade ago, NIDA graduate and Australian actor Jeremy Sims quite rightly described our theatre industry as a “cottage industry”.

Before Cate Blanchett played the title role in Hedda Gabler for STC in 2004, Australian international theatre tours were few and far between. But in 2006, STC took the production to New York, where it played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music to a limited but sold-out season. It was not quite a Broadway experience for the company, but the touring cast and key creative crew were Australian.

The experiment was repeated and expanded with STC productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Uncle Vanya touring to NYC and Washington; and Gross und Klein, which toured to France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Like all good international trade, the experiment was a two-way street, including collaborations with America’s Artists Repertory Theatre, and international artist imports, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, William Hurt, and Isabelle Huppert, to work alongside local creatives.

With Blanchett’s star power attached, local and international sponsorship was attracted to match government funding.

Consequently hundreds of Australian theatre practitioners were employed in a viable industry which did more than break even, it made money.

And Blanchett was smart and generous enough to include Sydney Theatre Company in her Oscar acceptance speech this year, in front of one of the world’s largest live audiences.

It was a form of product placement which every fledging industry needs, and there was absolutely no inferiority about Blanchett’s description of STC as, “one of the great theatre companies in the world.”

AUSTRALIAN MAID Isabelle Huppert and Cate Blanchett in STC's The Maids.
AUSTRALIAN MAID Isabelle Huppert and Cate Blanchett in STC’s The Maids.

When STC’s production of The Maids, starring Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert, opened at New York’s Lincoln Center last August, the experiment moved from its start at the fringe of one of the largest theatre industries in the world, right to its heart.

Created in Sydney, and sold to the world, Australian theatre has never experienced such exposure, and it’s already had an effect on other Australian theatre companies, with the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) matching STC’s international touring record with something of a coup.

Instead of touring in an American or European classic, the way STC has done, MTC showcased an original Australian play – David Williamson’s Rupert – a bio about News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch.

CREATING A STIR Cate Blanchett in the controversial 2011 Carbon Tax ad campaign.
CREATING A STIR Cate Blanchett in the controversial 2011 Carbon Tax ad campaign.

Which brings us neatly back to Carbon Cate’s record of direct action on climate change.

In 2010, Blanchett and Andrew Upton, her co-artistic director and husband, oversaw the conversion of STC’s power supply to solar.

By the time they flicked the symbolic switch, which would light the company stages with energy from the sun, Blanchett’s appearance in the “Say ‘Yes’ to the Carbon Tax” commercial was still months away.

Her appearance in the commercial has undoubtedly been blown out of proportion over time. Michael Caton (who could easily have been dubbed ‘Carbon Caton’ but missed out on any ire from the Coalition) took the main role.

Blanchett was the last of the actors to appear, and her only line was simply: “And finally, doing something about climate change.”

In the light of STC’s conversion to solar, at the time one of this country’s largest solar capture operations, and the steps she and Upton had taken to ‘green’ their own home, Blanchett had earned the right to claim to have done something about climate change.

PLUCK COVER copyThe irony is, her actions were as close to the Coalition’s ‘direct action’ as it gets, which only proves that many in Australia are not ready for an artist to show the way, even one at the top of her game internationally, with her feet, and her creative heart, firmly planted in home soil.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

This article appears in Michael’s eBook Pluck: Exploits of the single-minded

Free-range free-for-all

FREE AND EASY My own chooks.
FREE AND EASY My own chooks.

A Writer makes an omelette out of egg politics.

WHAT is it about free-range eggs that ruffles so many feathers, sets governments against corporations, farmers against consumers, and treats ethical producers as the lowest member of the economic pecking order?

Every year there is another squabble in the mainstream media, blaming one sector of the egg industry for upsetting the economic balance of the whole, followed by another crow for clear production standards regulated fairly by government.

Last year, freshly-laid Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, expressed his fears about bird flu destroying the egg industry, all supposedly because of free-range chicken flocks!

Understandably, free-range egg producers are crying ‘fowl’…

It’s probably wildly inappropriate to make light of the issue, especially while animals are suffering as we fail to overcome the obstacles; it’s just that the politics of egg production match the terminology of the chicken coop so well.

The facts at the moment are this: if you buy eggs labelled “free-range” at a supermarket, you’ll be paying a premium, and there seems no way of telling, whilst standing at the overwhelming display of product, whether the eggs are truly free-range, or the expensive result of bending the rules.

If you really want free-range eggs, it’s probably best to have your own chooks. Most Australians live in areas where produce stores will sell you everything you need to set-up and maintain a backyard flock, including the birds themselves.

You’ll have to feed, nurture and care for your birds extremely vigilantly, and wait a while before you get eggs; but when they come, you’ll soon have enough to feed your household and the neighbours’. The eggs will be delicious.

“Open the egg carton before you pop it in your trolley.”

By that stage, you might be left feeling like you put a lot of time, energy, and pricy chook feed into the venture, and may come to understand why paying more for truly free-range eggs is completely justifiable for the producers who do it within the voluntary ethical codes of practice.

If building (or buying) a predator-proof chicken house, and allowing the birds to roam a bit every day, is not for you, the next best thing you can do is to find a local free-range egg producer.

Your fruit and veg shop probably stocks their products. The best way to check their free-range credentials is to pay them a visit. If they’re a bit cagey (sorry), then they may be using the term “free-range” a little loosely.

But there is also the growing phenomenon of the farm-gate, akin to the cellar-door movement amongst wineries, allowing consumers to see what we’re getting for our dollar.Farmers in Australia are getting increasingly wary of visitors. It’s a combination of activist intrusions, on top of the traditional “Get orf moi land!” emotions.

You might only be exposed to the friendly face of the farming operations, not the behind-the-scenes realities, but a farm visit will give you an idea of the people and the practices you are paying for.

For me, the best way to cut through the marketing spin of “free to roam” (yes, with 20 birds per square metre, PR people), and “barn laid” (give me a break), is to open the egg carton before you pop it in your trolley.

The sight of a range of slightly different eggs – some a little misshapen, some with a patina of the farmyard, even a trace of chook poo and feather – will see me place that carton very carefully where the milk cannot crush it, because I know my $7.00 is going towards birds who are truly liberated.

I have been an egg producer in my own backyard, and I can spot a real free-range egg from a fake.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.