No sooner had Bonerby promised us all he’d grown into a better man during his long, bitter, underpaid, undeserved, no good terrible very bad years in exile, than he threw a headlock on his own gubbermint to drag them round the back of the woolshed. It was quite the Parliamentary omnishambles; the Nats ratfucking their new best frenemies, the Libs, accidentally hooking up with Labor, only to realise too late what they’d done, forcing the Beetrooter to chew his own arm off to escape.
So, what just happened?
Briefly, the Nationals tried a bit of amateur stand-up, and immediately stepped on their own dicks. The issue was the Murray Darling Basin Plan, which they hate, despite voting for it back in 2012.
(In fact everyone voted for it back in 2012 because it was the least worst solution to an environmental catastrophe, the accelerating death spiral of the vast river catchment sprawling over most of eastern Australia).
The Plan and the tweaks—basically taking water meant for the environment and giving it to irrigators—are less important than the Nats performative tea-bagging of their senior Coalition partners. It was a deliberate shitshow, not just for Morrison, trapped in home quarantine like some sort of billionaire or a movie star, but also for those punters in the ever-dwindling number of National Party seats, who’ve been asking themselves, as we all do, why anybody but Gina votes for these arseclowns anymore.
The party still fashions itself as the champion of the bush and the farm, but that fashion statement is less a threadbare pair of King Gees with the arse hanging out, than shiny orange Hi-Vis. The party dumped the bumpkin vote a long time before they hooked up with coal miners and gas frackers. They started losing the bush when they gave up agrarian socialism for neo-liberal economics in the 1980s and 90s.
Previously the Nats, and the old Country Party before them had run a shake down racket for the outback, delivering enough seats to the Liberals to form government in return for massive transfer payments from the city to the bush.
They’re still running a shakedown racket, but now it’s on behalf of the mining industry, especially coal. The China-funded mining boom which protected Australia from the Great Recession, also protected the National Party from collapse and negation, or at least it seemed to. Millions of dollars in donations couldn’t actually make up for the loss of generational support from farmers and regional towns.
How good are millions of dollarydoos?
One simple metric of the stranglehold that mining interests have over the National Party is the post-parliamentary careers of its former leaders. (Tip o’ the lid to Paddy Manning for this).
John Anderson, leader from 1999 to 2005, went on to chair Eastern Star Gas and make out like bandit from its sale to energy megacorp Santos.
Mark Vaile, leader from 2005 to 2007 trousered a multimillion-dollar payday from the float of coalminer Aston Resources and is currently the chairman and a non-executive director of Whitehaven Coal, which merged with Aston in 2012. A five billion dollar deal.
Larry Anthony, son of the legendary Doug, a federal member from 1996 to 2004, and now the president of the National Party, made a small wedge of his considerable cheddar lobbying for the Chinese government owned coal miner, Shenhua, which wanted to gouge a massive open cut mine out of the Liverpool Plains.
As Paddy Manning, pointed out in The Monthly in April 2020:
The connections are deep and ongoing. The current federal director of the National Party, Jonathan Hawkes, was at one time in a public affairs role at the Minerals Council of Australia. Matt Canavan’s brother John runs Winfield Energy, which last year made an unsuccessful $435 million bid for Queensland coking-coal miner Stanmore Coal.
None of these blokes ever really go back to the farm, if they even came from one in the first place. Joyce is an accountant, educated at the exclusive Riverview School. MicMac, who he fucked like a hot young ministerial advisor this week, was a journalist who built up a successful media company, MSS Media Services and Solutions.
Matt ‘Sooty’ Canavan, despite the Hi-Vis and chimney sweep makeup, is even less of a horny-handed son of the soil. His grew up in suburban Brisbane, picked up Arts and Economics degrees from the University of Queensland, and moved straight to Canberra to take up a job with the Productivity Commission, the natural enemy of humble farming folk and their incessant demands for transfer payments everywhere.
Michael McCormack was famously unable to tell Waleed Aly when the Nationals had ever backed small farmers over multinational mining corporations because…
… they haven’t and they won’t.
Once you put all these ducks in a row, you start to understand why the National Party is haemorrhaging votes to independents, to the Shooters, Fishers and Famers Party, to Bob Katter’s traveling goat rodeo, and even to the Q-adjacent mass delusion formally known as whatever Pauline Hanson’s doing now. You can also see why they’re trying to reinvent themselves as a Hi Vis cult. When the party was born just over a hundred years ago, one in five voters was a farmer or farm worker. Now its one in fifty.
Regionally, mining is way more important. Nationally too. It’s worth about $50B a quarter to GDP. Farming usually tops out just over $12B. Mining employs about a quarter of a million people on an average weekly wage of $2325.00. Farming employs more, about 326 000, but half of them are part time or casual and the wages are much, much lower.
When their interests clash, as they increasingly do over land use, water and climate change, the Nationals will back the miners… but-but-but…
They still need the votes of the farmers and farm workers.
That’s why they corn-holed the Libs this week, and why they’ll do it again the first chance they get. Partly to show Morrison that they can, as they head into climate change negotiations, but mostly as a tribal war dance to distract from the ruin they’ve brought upon their own voters.
The tragedy is, if they had half a fucking brain between them, they could use their position as the guarantor of Smoko’s reign to negotiate a climate deal that put their tribe, their first peoples, in a place to profit massively from the solutions that are coming, one way or another.
Prolly won’t though, eh.