Say what you like about Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce, because chances are he got to the juicy stuff before you. In six months he’s staked a position as National Party iconoclast, party room rebel, constitutional defender and friend of the farmer.
But what does it all mean?
Joyce has been brutally honest in talking about the party system. He hasn’t shied away from criticising it. In some respects he’s a latter day Don Chip, a politer Mark Latham.
I must admit that on the one hand, I admire his honesty: it is refreshing. On the other hand, he opposes VSU, for which I consider him a blockheaded traitor to student freedom.
I think that the problem with Joyce is that he misrepresented himself to the voters of Queensland. He ran as a Nationals candidate. Research suggests that voters vote for leaders and parties, not candidates. The rebellious Joyce did not appear until after his sinecure was secured.
To put it otherwise: if Joyce wanted a mandate to stick it to the coalition on a personal basis, he should not have joined the National Party, should not have sought preselection for the Senate, and should have stood as an independent.
Voters rely on party discipline to aggregate choices for them. Very few people will read any one issue closely enough to make a rational decision, and almost nobody outside of the political class can do it over a spread of issues. Voters must find useful and generally helpful short cuts when deciding who to vote for. Parties perform this service admirably well.
Indeed voters punish parties which do not maintain order, which cannot provide a single voice to vote for.
In short, they voted for the National Party, not Barnaby Joyce. They voted for the coalition, not for a Queensland Independent. Joyce either knew this, and says what benefits Joyce; or he did not, and does not belong in a political party.
Thus I fear that in the long run he may do more ill than good to the coalition and his pet causes. I also imagine that he might lose preselection at the next cast of his die. Once deprived of a noteworthy soapbox he will slip quickly into obscurity, like Meg Lees or Greg Barnes.
Either way it is a tragedy. As an independent Joyce would make an excellent Senator, apparently devoted as he is to state’s rights and questioning coalition status quo from within the “broad church”.