Contrarian Who Takes Counsel With Angels

27 Aug

Ever wondered what it would be like to share a long dinner with Senator Joyce, and gain a deeper insight into the life and thinking of a great contrarian?

Wonder no more.

A wonder-ful article by Jacqueline Maley in the Bendigo Advertiser, reproduced in full below.

Enjoy getting to know The Man:

No one within a 100-kilometre radius of Barnaby Joyce will ever die wondering what he thinks. The Queensland Nationals’ senator is happy to give his opinion on everything and will answer whatever question he is asked. Loudly and expansively.

During dinner he holds forth on a range of topics, including men in Parliament (too politically correct); life on the road (lonely); government debt (too big); Coalition leaders, past and present (loquacious and kind, respectively); Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (moving); gay marriage (strongly opposed) and the biological clock of his interviewer (ticking).

Some opinions were solicited, others weren’t. All were given in a spirit of warmth and honesty.

Joyce wanted to have lunch in his home town of St George, Queensland, 500 kilometres inland from Brisbane, but the distance and scheduling proved too difficult.

Instead, we end up – during a parliamentary sitting week – at l’Unico in Kingston, south Canberra, a family-run Italian restaurant where Joyce comes to ”chill out”, often eating alone, when he’s working in Canberra. He knows the proprietor by name and has a favourite table.

”I don’t like it,” he says of the amount of time he spends away from his wife and four daughters, aged between nine and 15.

”I worked out last year I spent 200 days on the road and in Parliament. I spent more days on the road than anyone else in the Coalition … it’s not a natural life.”

The reason, he says, is that he is so often asked to appear at rallies, fund-raisers and sundry political events.

People know he can pull a crowd. His peculiar mix of down-home country blokedom, combined with his lively intelligence and tub-thumping oratory, never fails to entertain, even if his logic can be difficult to follow at times.

Conversation with Joyce jumps from topic to topic. He speaks quickly and his mind moves fast. While trying to make a point he will pepper you with questions about your own opinions and he can be confrontational. But once his point is made, he moves on swiftly.

We order a calabrese pizza to start, and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. For main course, we share another pizza, a capricciosa.

Joyce says he puts up with the difficulties of life on the road because he is driven by the kind of issues where he thinks people are ”going to get ripped off”, such as the rights of farmers versus coal seam gas miners; the proposed carbon tax; the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, and foreign ownership of Australian companies.

Joyce always wanted to be a politician. At primary school he told classmates he wanted to be prime minister (”I’ve lowered my sights a bit since then”) and at secondary school he recorded his aspiration to be a ”grazier/politician”.

He attributes this early interest in politics to his childhood in rural NSW. His parents were well-educated and opinionated, as were his four brothers and sister.

”You weren’t surrounded by fools, so your debate had to stand on legs or you would fail miserably,” he says.

”I was growing up on the land and you’re very affected by politics. How wool was classed, it’s a government decision. Services that were provided to you, it’s a government decision. If industrial relations’ provisions meant people were on strike all day so you couldn’t move your produce, it’s all government policy.

”So the discussion around the dinner table is a charged political discussion. From a very young age you’re inspired by it. If all the problems are political, than a good place to be would be in politics, so you can change it.”

Joyce, a commerce graduate from the University of New England, was working for a bank in Charleville in south-west Queensland when he walked next door to join the National Party in 1994. He became active at branch level, eventually rising to acting treasurer of the Queensland Nationals, and had three cracks at a Senate seat before winning at the 2004 election – reclaiming the seat the Nationals lost to One Nation in 1998.

Once elected, Joyce was far from docile. He soon established a reputation for being independent or recalcitrant, depending on your point of view. He crossed the floor ”about 28” times, by his own count, on issues as diverse as voluntary student unionism and trade practices’ legislation. He fought with the former prime minister John Howard over the government’s treatment of accused terrorist David Hicks.

His independence made him deeply unpopular with some in the Coalition. How did he cope? ”Anger,” he says, ”and you try to just say, ‘I don’t give a shit’. You have dinner by yourself and lunch by yourself.”

Many conservative politicians deride the independent rural MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor for forming minority government with Labor, despite what they say are the wishes of their electorates.

How did Joyce justify crossing the floor so many times, given he was elected to represent the Nationals? ”You’ve got two angels that sit on your shoulder,” he says of his decision-making process. One says, ‘It’s not about you, you’ve got to play the team game’. The other angel says, ‘You know what is right, you’re being a coward. Stand up for yourself and say what you really think.’ Twenty-eight times, that’s the angel that won the argument.”

He says he would cross the floor again, although he would resign his shadow portfolio if he did (he is spokesman for regional development, infrastructure and water, having lost the shadow finance portfolio in a reshuffle in 2010).

This is less likely under a Tony Abbott-led opposition. ”Tony is a very decent human being,” he says. ”Sometimes I get annoyed that the general public don’t actually see what I think are the qualities of the person. He is genuinely a kind person … he’s a fighter, he’s disciplined but he’s not a nasty person.”

Asked his opinion of the former Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, Joyce becomes uncharacteristically careful. ”I don’t talk about people’s bad sides. I talk about their good,” he says. ”Malcolm is loquacious, is charming, he’s intelligent and he’s strong.”

Not kind? ”No. It’s not an attribute he has. There’s no point endowing a person with an attribute they don’t have, otherwise you make a mockery of all the attributes you just gave them.”

Joyce’s honesty extends to himself. He wants to lead the Nationals but says he would never challenge the incumbent, Warren Truss.

He plans to run for a lower house seat at the next election, either in his adopted home state of Queensland, or against Windsor in New England, where he grew up and attended university.

As a former accountant Joyce holds strong opinions on debt and gets very exercised when it is suggested Australia’s deficit is (globally) a comparatively low percentage of its gross domestic product.

He pulls out his smartphone to access the Office of Financial Management’s website and shows the ”big black number” that represents federal government debt. He delivers a long speech about the sorts of people who used to come to his office when he was a humble rural accountant, who were about to lose their shirts because of onerous debts, side-tracking to talk about the sorts of people who think an Amway scheme is going to make them rich.

”People are suckers,” he says emphatically when asked how this relates to Labor’s deficit, ”especially when you get people who listen to the spin and believe it. The only way you can see it is to rise above the issue and really think about it.”

As much as he disbelieves Labor’s promise to return the budget to surplus in 2013, and no matter how idiotic he considers many of their policies, not least the carbon tax, he still likes the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, as a person.

”Oh yeah, I’d be only too happy to sit next to her on a plane and have a yarn,” he says. ”I find her warm and engaging. I’ve got her phone number [but] … I think she’s struggling in finding her soul. Now she’s isolated and under the pump.

”My job in the political arena – not in the personal arena, but in the political arena – is to bring her down. She knows that.

”You play a hard game on the field; you’re out to win. But you don’t play football in the change rooms. As soon as you walk out the door you treat people civilly.”

When not metaphorically tackling his political opponents, Joyce likes to bushwalk. He loves botany and becomes rapt and quasi-spiritual when talking about nature, or the way the English landscape artist John Constable painted clouds. He listens to the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Buckley.

He loves to spend time with his family, and reading. He has just read Empire by the British historian Niall Ferguson; he loves T.E. Lawrence and poetry (he singles out Alfred Tennyson and Sylvia Plath).

He finds fiction ”frustrating” but recently read Wuthering Heights.

Did he like it? ”I couldn’t stop crying. I was hopeless,” he says.

It’s impossible to know if he’s joking or not.

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5 Responses to “Contrarian Who Takes Counsel With Angels”

  1. Oliver K. Manuel August 27, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Thanks for sharing the information on Senator Barnaby Joyce.

    We need him here in the States too!

    Our US Senator Ron Paul is getting old, but he now seems to be the only presidential candidate here who has a chance to end the credit-card way of life that is leading us all into servitude.

    Please convey my regards and best wishes to Barnaby!

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

    • The Blissful Ignoramus August 27, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Yes, we need many more fine men such as Senator Joyce … and yourself, Mr Manuel. Thank you for continuing to post your invaluable information and links here, for the benefit of Aussie readers.

  2. JMD August 27, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    I’m reading a book you might find interesting TBI, called Breaking the Sheep’s Back – The ‘shocking’ true story of the decline & fall of the Australian wool industry. Written by Charles Massy.

    I’m only at page 60 so not that shocked yet but it does have some very interesting historical information on the precursor to the National Party – the Country Party.

    • The Blissful Ignoramus August 27, 2011 at 11:50 am #

      Thanks for the tip JMD … sounds just like the kind of book I’d enjoy. Will hunt myself down a copy.

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