I WONDER how many other ABC viewers with an interest in ongoing events in Canberra shared my disappointment at the newly-elected Nationals leader, Michael McCormack’s non-appearance on 7.30 Report on Monday night?
Mind you, I’d personally prefer to take a stroll in the lions’ enclosure at Dubbo Western Plains Zoo than face five minutes of questioning from Leigh Sales, but then, I’m not a little-known rural pollie who’s suddenly been catapulted into the deputy prime ministership.
Presenter Sales told us the program had invited McCormack along to introduce himself to a national viewing audience, but “he declined”.
He’ll have to do better than that, if he’s to fill the spacious elastic-sides left behind by his larger-than-life predecessor.
In our increasingly urbanised society, Nationals leaders owe it to their constituents – and to rural Australia at large – to be highly visible, and to seize every opportunity to beat the rural “drum”.
Interviewed following his election to the leadership on Monday, McCormack pledged to be a “team player” and work towards restoring “stability” in the traumatised party.
While there are both noble aims, he must also keep the Nats, and the issues vital to the bush, on the political radar.
As a former newspaper editor, he should know all about what makes news, and how to get a message across, but like other journalists-turned-pollies before him, he might find himself less comfortable “being the news” than reporting it.
McCormack’s meteoric rise to the Nationals’ leadership and deputy prime ministership after just eight years in parliament speaks volumes about the dearth of talent today on all sides of federal politics.
For most of their history, the Nats would always have had two or three “spare” potential leaders in their ranks – men or women with the parliamentary experience and the public profile once considered prerequisites for the job.
Notwithstanding all that, it was undoubtedly necessary for Barnaby Joyce to step down; the tragedy of it was that he didn’t do it sooner, to minimise the damage to the Coalition “brand”.
Some have argued that what Barnaby (or any other politician) gets up to in the bedroom is nobody else’s business and should not compromise a parliamentary career, and perhaps in some political spheres that argument might wash.
But with the Nats, it’s different. Their members, and voters, are overwhelmingly social conservatives, and they expect a high standard of moral behaviour from their leaders. But that said, after a term in the parliamentary “sin bin” it’s to be hoped Barnaby can be allowed back into frontline service in time to deploy his formidable campaigning skills before the next election.
- Peter Austin