Voters have to make decisions in favour of one set of politicians over others at election time (and it is an impertinence that they are asked to do so well before actual elections, or that rope statistical models enable your opinions to be imputed based on the responses of random strangers - but don't get me started). To do that, we need information; journalists like to think that they are in the business of providing that information, indeed the only ones who can be trusted to do so.
Michelle Grattan offers advocacy instead with this:
Now [Barnaby Joyce's] push for the seat of Maranoa, where he lives, has been thwarted - a major setback for his ambition to one day lead the Nationals and be deputy PM.As with Abbott, the people who know Joyce best seem those most determined to block his ambitions. t is interesting that two men who strut around Parliament House like they own it can barely win a trick once they cross Lake Burley Griffin. That's the story here and Grattan has no excuse for not writing it.
Sitting member Bruce Scott would have done the right thing if he had stepped aside for Joyce. Assuming there is a Coalition government next year, Scott will not be a minister in it. In contrast, Joyce has a bright future.
Joyce is on the opposition frontbench and would clearly be forgiven much in an Abbott ministry, but this does not mean his future is "bright". Can we discount the possibility that Minister Joyce might be prone to outbursts that disrupt the smooth functioning of government and investor confidence in Australia?
If Joyce were thrust into government, is it possible that he might prove to be a floundering blowhard out of his depth? Is Australia really just a life-support system for Cubbie Station? In the past, people who were expected to have a bright future in politics proved not to; Grattan has experience of this and should bring it to bear here.
Like everyone, Barnaby Joyce has strengths and weaknesses, and there will always be those who focus on the former while others on the latter. While Grattan has her own views she should nonetheless help us form ours with a clear view of both. It is not clear why (even if you believe there will be a Coalition government after the next election) Joyce couldn't serve as a minister from the Senate, and prove his case to an extent that obviously hasn't been enough so far.
Bruce Scott may be an old man hanging on past his prime (is Grattan, more a contemporary of Scott than Joyce, in a position to judge that?). Scott may also know that no good can come from having Joyce in the House at this stage, posing less of a help than a hindrance to to Truss. Maybe one needs skills and qualities that Joyce does not have, and perhaps will never have; what might they be, Michelle? Can you bear to face them?
Barnaby Joyce is clearly thought highly of by many people, including Michelle Grattan. Why, then, does this not extend to a majority of NSW Nationals preselectors in New England, or a majority of LNP preselectors in Maranoa? Can a man who devoted his life to "the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal" understand the bush as well as Grattan might assume (nor does he understand economic and budgetary matters particularly well)? It is not only Scott who has thwarted Joyce; Grattan must know that and is wrong to present her story as though Joyce has been stymied by a lesser man in Scott.
Joyce's aim has been to move at this election, so he would be in a good position to go for the leadership when Warren Truss had had [sic] enough. Truss, a steady and popular hand, is impregnable and Joyce knew he might have to wait quite a long time.If Warren Truss is as secure in his position as Grattan claims, and a man of sound judgment, then does he not share the belief that Scott and Joyce should remain where they are? Is he not going to the next election hoping to become Deputy Prime Minister with his conception of the best team behind him?
What makes Grattan think that Joyce would wait happily and patiently for Truss to give over? Remember him as a Senator-elect, telling the Howard government what to do; has he really mellowed since then?
Grattan was one of the main perpetrators who insisted over many years that the dead sheep that was Peter Costello was actually a wolf at the door (if not the throat) of John Howard. She either doesn't know or she is trying to whip up a story which isn't there, and either way this is not helpful to our understanding of this development and what is going on more generally.
By ramping up the hype Grattan isn't succeeding at being a journalist; she's failing at it.
Again, it's significant that Truss didn't exactly demand the LNP find Joyce a lower house seat. Grattan should have noted that; you can bet that Joyce has, an that his attitude towards Truss and other LNP heavyweights has been adjusted accordingly.
But he would have a chance to learn in the big House and display his skills.Let's leave aside the fact that "the big House" is a film-noir euphemism for prison. There is a record of leading Senators who faded in the House of Representatives: John Gorton, Fred Chaney, Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot come to mind. Robert Hill could have posed the threat to Howard that Costello didn't had he won Liberal preselection for the seat of Boothby in his native South Australia; Hill was thwarted by Andrew Southcott (if Bruce Scott was a generation younger and based in Adelaide, he'd be Andrew Southcott) and Nick Minchin. Michelle Grattan should be aware of this phenomenon and reported accordingly as part of setting the context for this political development.
Instead, she laments for what could have been and fears for might might happen:
If he doesn't find some other seat, he has to look to the following election, and who knows what leadership competitors would have emerged by then?We'd need an experienced political correspondent to tell us that. Where would we find one?
Joyce could have chanced his arm against Bob Katter, or Labor MPs in rural Queensland like Kirsten Livermore or Shayne Neumann, and the fact that he hasn't is worthy of reporting and analysis. He doesn't live in those electorates but he wouldn't be the first ambitious politician to move house. "Some other seat" indeed!
While some Nationals are disappointed, there will be a few Liberals quietly clapping Scott's decision.In Queensland, where Joyce and the Maranoa preselectors come from, there is no difference between Liberals and Nationals. They seem to be handling both disappointment and applause well; maybe they're just stoic, or maybe it's hard to tell from this distance.
Tony Abbott, though, might feel for him - the two are quite close.Closer than Abbott is to the Nationals leader he actually has to work with? And yet Truss is anchored firmly into place. How interesting.
Grattan vouched for Tony Abbott when evidence emerged that he was a bully. She has repeatedly written off Julia Gillard, not least because Grattan, like others, missed the story that she was becoming Prime Minister in the first place: these predictions were without value when first released and have since proven worthless. It is not her job to engage in advocacy or prognostications, but to tell us what is going on and what these developments might mean.
It used to be the case that Canberra was "the national stage" in terms of politics, and that if it didn't happen in Canberra then it probably wasn't political (and if it was, a reaction in Canberra would bestow upon an issue its political element). It isn't Michelle Grattan's job to react with puzzlement at developments beyond Canberra, or to insist that any developments at variance with Canberra conventional wisdom must be resolved in favour of the latter (and no, actually, I don't really care about Alan Reid). What happens in the country beyond Canberra is not non-politics, or anti-politics. If a political story lies beyond Canberra, then go beyond Canberra to get it - even if there isn't an organised photo-op with accompanying bus and/or plane.
Grattan isn't helping us understand what is going on in Canberra. What is the value in continuing to run her offerings to the wider public? Why has she been retained when so many other journalists have been let go (let us avoid unkind speculation about Grattan's accumulated entitlements and Fairfax's solvency)? What are all those years of experience worth in helping us understand issues that affect us all? Is Fairfax retaining Grattan to offer continuity in an age of discontinuity - in Canberra, in their own ranks, and beyond - or do they just not understand what their value proposition should be?