AS far as government ministries go, infrastructure and transport is about as metropolitan-based as it gets – but New England MP Barnaby Joyce promises the portfolio will have a more regional focus under his leadership.
Mr Joyce will directly oversee his pet project, the $10 billion Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail, which he admits was a big drawcard.
“We need this vital piece of infrastructure, we’ve been talking about it since 1894,” Mr Joyce said.
“It’ll create a corridor of commerce from Melbourne to Brisbane, to revitalise the economies of inland areas and connect them to markets around the globe.
“I’m going to be absolutely certain it gets build. We fought for the money on the table and I am going to purse it to the enth degree.”
Mr Joyce’s previous agriculture and water portfolio had a clear benefit to the farming stronghold of New England. But the Deputy Prime Minister says his new role as Infrastructure and Transport Minister would also advantage his electorate.
He’ll retain oversight into the nation’s dam infrastructure and have input into the country’s highways, including the New England.
“I’ve already been looking at the portfolio, looking at how we can deal with some of the roads in our nation that probably haven’t been worked on since the Great Depression,” he said.
The recent cabinet reshuffle which saw Mr Joyce gain his new portfolio came with controversy – former Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester was dumped, despite no criticism for his performance.
Some claimed the sacking was due to Nationals in-party politics – Mr Chester supported Senator Bridget McKenzie’s successful deputy leadership bid, against Mr Joyce’s preferred pick of Senator Matt Canavan.
Mr Joyce denied the dumping was revenge, insisting the decision was made to create equal geographic representation within the Nationals’ cabinet positions.
However, Senator McKenzie contradicted him, saying the “argument about geography is ridiculous”.
She pointed out the Northern Territory had just one senator, Nigel Scullion, and he had remained in cabinet.
“It’s about merit,” she said.
Mr Joyce has since said the decision was based on both “geography and merit”.
“You always need to have a process of renewal, but this is determined by merit,” he said.
“But in ascertaining that, you’ve got to look at geographic representation.”