Warren Truss is out, Barnaby Joyce is in, and yet another minister might be headed for the departure lounge. A Government that was determined to talk “jobs, jobs, jobs” is ending this week doing exactly that; as in, who’s getting what, and when, writes Annabel Crabb.
To a turbulent global geopolitical scene currently adjusting to a US presidential race being led by Donald Trump and a retired hippie from Vermont is – as of last night – added a fascinating new variable; Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
There is a lot of potential in this new development, not least for a workable Coalition of the Willing against Johnny Depp, who yesterday released a savage mockumentary of Trump and has of course had celebrated small-animal husbandry differences with Joyce.
The long-feared elevation of Mr Joyce came very suddenly in the end. Warren Truss popped off with a smile late on Wednesday, and a rumoured rival leadership bid from Thingummybob, the Member for Riverina, was dead by midday yesterday.
Which left only a mad scramble for the powerful deputy position.
During a lengthy live commentary stint on the Nationals’ leadership vote last night (spill coverage doesn’t get tougher than this), the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann fondly recalled Senator Ron Boswell’s one-time explanation of how he managed to remain Nationals leader in the Senate for so long.
“In the National Party, everybody votes for themselves,” Boswell explained. “I only ever had to find one other person to vote for me.”
Indeed, no fewer than seven Nats put themselves forward in the ballot for the deputy leadership; Fiona Nash, who won, and others like Darren Chester and Luke Hartsuyker, who didn’t. Was there a bait-and-switch strategy? Was Chester the fall guy? Was there a Hartsuyker Proxy? We shall never know, as the Nats make a practice of burning their ballot papers after the event. Given the number of candidates, it’s no wonder the party has a Yeti-sized carbon footprint.
The net effect of the day, however, was the spectacular comedy double of Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce in charge and deputy-charge of the nation; two men with a dreadful tendency to niggle each other.
Mr Joyce played a substantial pitchfork-carrying role in the mob that ran Mr Turnbull out of office as Coalition leader in 2009.
If you’ve got a few spare quid, put the lot on a record low number of prime ministerial RDOs this year; the PM may be a new and relaxed Malcolm, but if there’s anything that could perturb that serene brow, it’s the phrase, “Acting Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce”.
Both Joyce and Turnbull are superb “retail politicians”; it’s just that they keep shop in different postcodes. And their techniques are different, too; Joyce invariably pretends to be dumber than he is, while Turnbull’s “smartest guy in the room” chair bears the rich patina of regular use.
This week has become something it may not have intended to be when it set out whistling on Monday; a landmark of generational change.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who in 2009 was the plunger of the pitchfork between the shoulder blades of Mr Turnbull, quietly drew the curtain on his political career this week, taking with him the no-less-important-for-being-imaginary medal for being, probably, the most successful minister of the brief and troubled Abbott government.
The immortal Philip Ruddock also decided to walk out into the snow, after 43 years of parliamentary service.
He is well overdue for the gold watch; perhaps he should see the human services minister, Stuart Robert, whose daily rollcall of horror yesterday included the revelation that Chinese squillionaire Li Ruipeng had staged a meeting in his office a few years back and, over dinner, handed out Rolex timepieces worth a total of $250,000 to attendees, who included former PM Tony Abbott, Mr Robert himself and his friend, the Liberal donor Paul Marks, the diabolical web of whose Chinese operations are exactly what is currently causing Mr Robert such heartburn.
The watches, which Mr Li had doled out of a plastic bag, were returned when everyone realised they weren’t actually fake, as assumed.
The ABC’s Uhlmann, meanwhile, reported that the classic footage of former prime ministerial chief of staff Peta Credlin tearing Mr Robert a new one actually depicted a spat provoked by Mr Robert’s demands that the then-PM sign a souvenir tie for Mr Marks.
Raising our voices over the increasingly insistent Benny Hill soundtrack of the week, it seems a good bet that Mr Robert is edging towards the departure lounge, where he would join Jamie “This Bar Is Surprisingly Crowded” Briggs and Mal “What Diary?” Brough as potential vacancies – beside Messrs Truss and Robb – in the federal ministry.
All of which means that a new and enthusiastic Government that was determined to talk about “jobs, jobs, jobs” is ending this week doing exactly that; as in, who’s getting what, and when.