The National Party’s “you can change your world” advertising campaign started on television last night. Its message is: you do not have to live in the big cities to be heard. The Nationals claim credit for changing the Liberal Party’s position on Rudd Labor’s proposed emissions trading scheme, leading to its defeat in the Senate.
Barnaby Joyce, the Nationals’ leader in the Senate, led the political attack. Warren Truss is the parliamentary leader of the Nationals. He is a politician of some ability but little charisma. In other words, if the National Party cannot market Joyce they will make little progress in rural and regional areas.
The Joyce phenomenon is little understood. On ABC Radio 702 last week, the self-proclaimed spin doctor Peter Wilkinson referred to Joyce as a product of Queensland. Not so. Joyce was born in Tamworth and brought up in nearby Danglemah. His parents were successful farmers and he was sent to board at St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, run by the Jesuit order. Joyce studied commerce at the University of New England and became an accountant, eventually settling in St George in southern Queensland.
These days he likes to ham it up as your average Queenslander. But he is not quite like that. Then there is the matter of the Queensland senator’s political views.
In The Weekend Australian in December, the journalist Andrew Fraser attempted to link Joyce to the extreme-right Citizens Electoral Council. This is a lunar-right group in the US which believes the Queen and her family are drug runners and the West is under threat from an international conspiracy involving Jewish interests. The council advocates economic protectionism. Fraser’s evidence for a Joyce link was that the senator had been placed on its mailing list.
On the final Saturday Extra last year on Radio National, Geraldine Doogue invited the comedian Guy Rundle, the journalist Mungo MacCallum and the cartoonist Fiona Katauskas to discuss Australian politics over the previous year. The debate was essentially a chorus – everyone agreed with everyone else, in a left-of-centre way.
One of the few disagreements turned on Joyce. Rundle declared Joyce comes from “deep rural Queensland” and he says today “exactly what the League of Rights was saying about economics and the global perspective in 1965”. The League of Rights was an anti-Semitic organisation which embraced weird philosophies such as social credit.
When Doogue pointed out that Joyce had rejected the League of Rights, Rundle ploughed on. Then MacCallum asserted that Joyce believes “the world is run by an international conspiracy of Jewish bankers, or possibly Masonic bankers, or possibly Martian bankers”. At least Rundle rejected the assertion that Barnaby Joyce is anti-Semitic.
All this is nonsense. Joyce’s background is Catholic and he lists the St Vincent de Paul Society among his recreations in his Who’s Who In Australia entry. There is no tradition of anti-Semitism within Australian Catholicism. Moreover, the League of Rights was essentially Protestant.
If Joyce has been influenced by a political culture in Australia, it is that of the National Civil Council founded by the late B.A. Santamaria. Today, Joyce’s economic views share certain similarities to Pat Byrne, who gained some prominence after Santamaria’s death.
Joyce is his own man. But he does reflect certain Santamaria positions, much more so than Tony Abbott. Joyce is no fan of free enterprise or globalisation and believes in a degree of protectionism. He is a patriot and has a genuine concern about the communist regime in China. What’s more, Joyce has empathy for the down and out, and expresses traditional Catholic views on such issues as abortion.
He does not appear to be able to say “no” to a media appearance and is yet to constrain his language when a microphone is present. Yet his problem is not language or occasional bad taste but a lack of policy depth and a tendency to exaggerate. And he has been in national politics for only five years.
The National Party is never likely to again dominate the Coalition. However, there should be room for Joyce’s economic and social philosophy and his message is likely to have some appeal to regional and rural Australia. Hence the Nationals’ advertising campaign some six months out from the election.