AS the nation’s Deputy-Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce no longer needs to sit around contemplating what life looks like at the centre of the political power circle.
The man who cut his political teeth and forged a reputation as a maverick Senator from Queensland, inciting controversy on politically sensitive issues like foreign investment, the Murray Darling Basin Plan and live exports, is now standing on the inside looking out.
And the National Party leader says holding onto the Agriculture and Water Resources Portfolio, while being in the pivot of the Australian government, presents greater opportunity to influence decisions that can benefit the nation’s farmers.
“It’s good for agriculture because we now have a greater capacity to be heard,” the National Party leader said of his recent elevation.
Mr Joyce said agriculture was now on the government’s high level Expenditure Review Committee or ‘razor gang’ which scrutinises spending and budgets and includes the PM, Treasurer, Finance Minister and other key memebers.
He said; agriculture was also now on the National Security Committee; in the weekly one on one meeting between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister; it remains in the leadership meeting; and agriculture remains in the number two position in cabinet.
Overall, he said “that obviously gives you greater impetus to pursue issues of importance to agriculture”.
Mr Joyce told last week’s ABARES conference that being Deputy Prime Minister also opened up a working relationship with Malcolm Turnbull that gave him the capacity to land on issues, “in a collegiate way”.
He said that meant no longer having to endure the “combinations and permutations of political gymnastics” like a backbencher does after first arriving into politics, “when you’re trying your very best to influence the people at the centre of the circle”.
Mr Joyce said there was little point in him going outside, immediately after his ABARES address, to conduct a media door stop interview to try and “bring the show down; because I’d be bringing it down on my own head”.
“We are now at the centre of the circle,” he said.
But having only just been appointed Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Joyce wasn’t about to declare to Fairfax Media if he would retain his portfolio or not, with any changes that may occur, after this year’s election.
He said rather than pre-empting any portfolio roles post-election, “How about you win the election first otherwise you’ll just be criticised for hubris and talking about an election that we haven’t even won yet”.
“All I can say is; I’m happy with the job this government is doing and the results we’re getting and I’m very enthusiastic about the program in front of us,” he said.
“I want to keep working to do my part in getting the prices we’re getting for soft commodities and I want to make sure the dams that I’ve always dreamed about building, get built.”
Mr Joyce said he was comfortable with the recent transition to leader and Deputy Prime Minister; given he’s served as National Party deputy-leader since the 2013 election and was already within the government’s leadership group and in cabinet.
He said he was also pleased to have retained his agriculture and water policy responsibilities and had great faith in his Department and office working together “like a well-oiled machine”.
“I work on dung-heap management and everyone knows their dung-heap so we keep moving along,” he said.
Mr Joyce is still waiting for the ministerial charter letters to be returned from Mr Turnbull to confirm exactly what Queensland MP Keith Pitt’s role will involve, as his Assisting Minister.
But the Deputy Prime Minister said Mr Pitt’s primary job would be to assist with easing his huge work-load, in his leadership and portfolio roles.
“You get invited to many, many events and it’s just not possible to do everything,” he said.
“There’s also so much work now that keeps you tied to a desk and I also have my electorate that’s incredibly important.
“Keith’s role will be an arm of the deputy Prime Minister’s office and he’ll do a lot of travel and he’ll assist with issues of animal husbandry but not live trade; that remains mine.
“Mostly his role will be determined by the ministerial charter letter and I don’t want to pre-empt anything but you can say with a degree of certainty he will be very, very busy.”
Mr Joyce said he was looking forward to holding talks with Australian Farm Institute Executive Director Mick Keogh and new Agriculture Commissioner Mick Keogh – who he declared was respected by both sides of parliament - about potential legislative changes to assist his work at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
He said other work advancing co-operatives so farmers can “reach further into the supply chain to return profits” would also remain a priority and new country of origin labelling laws are reaching a point of completion.
“That’s about having transparency and honesty of where your product is from and the only people who fought against it are the people who didn’t want to be transparent,” he said.