Abbott dominates the year's headlines

30 Dec, 2015 01:00 AM
Former prime minister Tony Abbott spent most of the year under pressure.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott spent most of the year under pressure.

FEDERAL politics blasted-off in early 2015 when Tony Abbott's deep unpopularity with voters dominated headlines and sparked a spill motion over his prime ministership.

That move was defeated 61 votes to 39 in a specially convened Liberal party room meeting in Canberra but the spectre of the embattled PM continued to cloud the national political landscape, including for agricultural matters.

A turbulent journey over the next six months saw Mr Abbott capture big ticket policy items such as the Agricultural and Competitiveness White Paper's final formulation and release, to fuel an agenda aimed at recapturing voter popularity.

But by mid-September, the previously unfathomable outcome of changing leaders mid-term became a reality for the Coalition.

The Liberal party room moved with swift precision to dump Mr Abbott in favour of the man he deposed in 2009, Malcolm Turnbull, and in doing so overcame an extended period of political inertia.

The change produced immediate benefits for the agricultural portfolio when water policy was transferred from the environment department into agriculture, via a new Coalition agreement negotiated the day after the Liberal spill vote.

Barnaby Joyce was subsequently sworn in as the new Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and handed greater powers to energise the farm sector's priorities; including oversight of the Murray Darling Basin Plan's implementation.

Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media about the 2015 political year, Mr Joyce said Mr Turnbull "obviously" believed the agriculture portfolio was performing well because he promoted it from seven to five in order of importance for the new-look cabinet.

But he said shifting water policy into the agriculture portfolio had more to do with the Nationals' actions securing the new Coalition agreement, rather than Mr Turnbull's independent will.

That outcome was further highlighted by the fact a motion was passed supporting the portfolio change at the party's national conference in Canberra two days before Mr Abbott was dumped.

Mr Joyce said returning water policy to the agriculture portfolio was "a huge fight but we got there" in 2015.

"That's seen a refurbishment of the agricultural portfolio and a promotion of its position within cabinet," he said.

"Now everybody talks about agriculture, no matter where they are, as if it's front and centre of the political discussion.

"If you talk about innovation you also talk about agriculture."

Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said when the Liberal leader changed and water policy was moved into agriculture, Mr Joyce wasn't granted all the powers he'd hoped for, including oversight of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

Subsequent to the portfolio change, Labor warned it would reverse that policy decision if it won the next federal election believing environment is a better fit for sustainable water policy than agriculture.

Mr Fitzgibbon said Labor's Country Caucus had evolved in 2015 with its plans to win seats in regional Australia to try and change the government at the next election.

He said that forum was "alive and energetic" and intended to continue developing strategies to target seats.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


4/01/2016 6:03:46 PM, on Farm Weekly

Abbott & co were respected by many. They were unpopular in the polls because they actually took concrete steps to have the country live within its means - reducing handouts and cutting gravy trains always promotes a backlash. That and the fact he was personally socially conservative - a hanging offence to the ABC & Fairfax elite who would criticise him for anything. He did make mistakes and had weaknesses, but what has his highly praised successor achieved? Seems to just waffle on about innovation and charm mainly non-coalition voters with hints of his 'progressive' credentials.


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