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Greens could learn a thing or two from larrikin Nationals

  • 31 October 2016


The Nationals, led by the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, are still the under-rated story within the Turnbull government.

From the moment the party negotiated its binding agreement with Malcolm Turnbull when he took over last September to its continuing influence over contemporary Australian politics, it has stood strong and determined.

It has had the Liberals in a vice-like grip. That agreement laid down a range of commitments that Turnbull undertook, with some, like the same sex marriage plebiscite, against his better judgement.

There should be greater focus on these Coalition arrangements and agreements for this reason, rather than worrying so much about internal Liberal Party politics, conservative Liberals and Tony Abbott's continuing profile. A focus on the Nationals gives greater insights into what the government stands for.

The Nationals are tough and rough competitors and have lots of sharp edges to their personality. Their influence extends over both economic policy, where they are influential on matters like taxation and competition policy, and social policy, where they have resisted reform on matters like same sex marriage.

They are not afraid to speak out boldly or to threaten to draw a line in the sand, such as crossing the floor, to hold their privileged place within the Coalition. They even hold a licence to be outrageous.

The Nationals' power and style are put into context by a comparison with the party at the other end of the continuum, the Greens. The two junior parties are equivalent in many ways, including each having the support of about ten per cent of the electorate (the Greens are actually larger), one part largely rural and the other largely urban, but they are also very different in terms of influence and behaviour.

The difference between the parties applies to many of their parliamentarians but is perhaps best illustrated by the striking difference in style between their leaders.


"The Greens are still regarded in some quarters as extremists yet this belies their style which is very domesticated and responsible. Yet this mild exterior does them little good."


Joyce, with his tomato-red complexion and bush hat, gets away with being rough and outspoken, often appealingly direct yet sometimes close to incoherent. He is largely tolerated by the electorate but engenders some real affection. Greens leader Richard di Natale, the man with the studious looking glasses, is on the other hand the very model of the measured, well-mannered, thoughtful and quietly spoken politician — everything that Joyce isn't.