WHEN analysing Barnaby Joyce’s performance as Agriculture Minister in 2014 it’s impossible to overlook his many unforgettable quotes.
Following his entry into parliament in 2005 as a Senator for Queensland, the popular National party politician has repeatedly produced metaphoric manipulations which have left audiences dazzled and dazed.
And there's been more than just the odd clanger, hence the coining of the modern Australian political phrase: “doing a Barnaby”.
Since becoming a senior cabinet minister in 2013, as he eyes off the potential National party leadership and deputy prime ministership, the once-maverick politician seems to be polishing some of his rough edges.
However, he still brandishes one of the sharpest tongues in Canberra, fuelled by a probing intellect and unrivalled passion for the bush, evidenced by this list of his best quotes for 2014, as judged by Fairfax Agricultural Media national political writer Colin Bettles:
Number 1: Beatlemania
Who else could link the likes of iconic musicians John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney to the pesky Asian longhorn beetle, the brown mulberry longhorn beetle and the Japanese sawyer beetle?
Barnaby pulled off this feat of Beatlemania when speaking in June about the value of agricultural biosecurity - something he pestered the media about with typical vigour throughout the year.
“This is not the Fab Four, this is the terrible three, so let’s try and track them down and kill them,” he said, with a look of intent, noting the three beetles have the potential to devastate Australia’s hardwood, pine and horticultural industries. Number 2: I heard a rumour
In June, Barnaby finally got asked his first question in the House of Representatives and his answer was one the ALP would prefer to forget.
It came after controversial reports surfaced suggested the Nationals were “played” by their Liberal colleagues in pre-budget negotiations, manipulated into supporting a fuel tax increase under the veiled threat of changing the Diesel Fuel Rebate.
Mr Joyce said his first question after 260 days in the Lower House could have focused on the 585,000 head of cattle exported in the live cattle trade, something Labor was “responsible for shutting down”, or the government’s drought package.
But he said instead, he was asked “a question about a rumour”.
“Here's a rumour - I have heard that the member for Sydney wants the Leader of the Opposition's job,” he said sparking a spontaneous outcry.
“There's a rumour. Here's another rumour. I have heard that someone from the NSW Right got convicted by the ICAC for corruption. But hang on - that's not a rumour; that's the truth - Eddie Obeid. We hear lots of rumours around here but we never get any questions about policy.” Number 3: Prickly response
Barnaby spent a prolific amount of time talking about drought during 2014 – much more than he and many other industry stakeholders and politicians would have liked.
But in late November, as media pushed the minister into declaring when his latest drought package would be delivered for farmers in NSW and Queensland facing severe ongoing dry conditions, he slightly lost his cool.
“I’ve always said before the year’s out, and it’s going to happen before the year’s out - and if it doesn’t you can have another press conference and drag me backwards and forth through the prickles and kick the crap out of me,” he said
Number 4: Dog in fog
When asked in December how the Coalition had performed in its first full calendar year in government, Barnaby ensured his colourful quote about the opaque nature of bedding down a new government would feature prominently in most journalists’ annual analysis.
He likened the first year of any new government to a “dog fight in a fog; where it's loud, noisy and furious and the targets are shadowy”.
Number 5: Ma and pa farmers
It may not have been the most memorable quote of the year but it was certainly one of Barnaby’s most genuine and heartfelt statements relating to the International Year of the Family Farm.
He said family farms are the cornerstone of Australian agriculture and “emblematic as to how we see ourselves as a nation”.
Number 6: Holding banks to account
In recent weeks Barnaby has talked tough to the banks and given them a public caution over their activities around farm foreclosures, as political pressure escalates over lingering drought in NSW and Queensland.
“I’ll watch that space particularly closely,” he said.
“There is more we can do if we need to. I don’t particularly want to. I want the banks to manage it themselves and the signs I’ve been getting from them is that’s precisely what they’re going to do.
"But everybody knows the long-term future of agriculture is strong and therefore removing someone purely because of the drought would be a bad move.”
Number 7: And counting ...
Barnaby has displayed a rare penchant for quoting figures in 2014, like drought concessional loan numbers (430 at last count), or the number of people receiving Farm Household Allowance support (4400 based on his most recent quote), or number of live export markets his government has opened (six at last count in the past year), percentage increases in trade to certain markets (like 12,660 per cent boost for live sheep sales into China), the price of beef or dairy into various markets at any given time (way too many to recall), agricultural job increases (38,000) and many other so called statistical achievements.
The Minister’s repetition has been, for most observers, akin to Chinese water torture at times (378 at last count) - but what else would you expect form a humble old bush accountant?
Number 8: Vigilantes
Barnaby’s apt description of animal rights activists as “vigilantes”, for trespassing on farms to gather video footage in attempts to shut down intensive livestock farming and question the ethics of meat consumption, was picked up on quite extensively.
The quote pricked a few ears again when he repeated it at the NSW Nationals conference in Queanbeyan in June, when promising to support new farm raid laws amid concerns about the biosecurity risks caused by illegal on-farm surveillance.
Mr Joyce said he had no problems with whistleblowers, “whatsoever”.
“But the fact that you would break into someone’s shed or break into their farm or put a drone over their farm or basically break into someone’s house without the proper authority of a court, just take it upon yourself - there’s a word for that, it’s called vigilantes,” he said.
Number 9: Economic palliative care
More than most others, Barnaby was able to describe why the May budget was unpopular but necessary given the debt trajectory and $1 billion per month interest repayment inherited from the former Labor government.
“We knew from the start that if we didn’t do something about the budget now we’d just be going back to the Australian people in five years’ time - only this time the discussion would be about what hospitals you close and what schools you close and what drugs come off the pharmaceuticals benefits scheme and how we can actually defend ourselves,” he said in May.
“We were borrowing the money to pay for our interest - and as a little old bush accountant, that’s called economic palliative care."
Number 10: Cult appeal
Around budget time, Barnaby warned voters against parking protest votes with minor parties like the Palmer United Party (PUP) or independents, because those political groups are “not so much philosophies, they’re cults”.
Number 11: Bringing PUP to heel
Clive Palmer’s appearance in the recently broadcast ABC series angered the Nationals due to his snide remarks about Barnaby’s weight and red-faced complexion.
But Barnaby responded to the PUP leader’s disparaging remarks by giving Fairfax Agricultural Media a quote to remember.
The New England MP said he’d seen more of Mr Palmer during the ABC documentary then he did during parliamentary question time in Canberra.
“Clive’s first responsibility as an MP should be to turn up to work - it’s a job not a pedicure,” he said.
Number 12: Good as gold
Barnaby also pulled a nugget from nowhere in responding to ongoing criticism of his ministerial performance by his Labor counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon.
“It wouldn’t matter if I managed to turn water into wine and bricks into gold - Joel will always say I’ve had a pretty poor year because he’s paid a lot of money to say I’ve had a pretty poor year,” Mr Joyce told Fairfax Agricultural Media.
In the same interview, Barnaby also used the wise words of a local policeman to try and arrest any criticism of his agricultural delivery efforts in 2014.
“Even the copper (policeman) who pulled us over for a random breath test today said to me, after all of the formalities were over, ‘Mr Joyce you’re doing a bloody fantastic job for the farmers of Australia’,” he said.
Number 13: Muddling the message
At the ABARES Outlook 2014 Conference in March, some observers weren’t sure if Barnaby was coming or going - or trying to say something else other than what he was saying - as he delivered a ministerial address that attacked criticism of the government’s recently announced drought package.
“The Australian Financial Review’s Alan Mitchell is one of the spear throwers who aired his views about my proclamations and any form of government regulation or intervention, or whatever he believes is harmful no matter what the circumstances,” he said.
“Only last weekend he used his column to criticise the drought package the Abbott government had drawn up, for allegedly slowing Australia’s ability to meet the food demands of Asia.
“It always amazes me when we have so many experts, and we go back through their CV, the one thing they all have in common is they’ve never actually been on the land.”
Number 14: Dignified response
Just like his use of statistical repetitions, Barnaby’s capacity to reproduce the word “dignity” to describe why farming families need better farmgate returns or drought support measures, was also akin to torture.
His special love of the word dignity may have also reached the same dizzy heights as his infatuation with the Booroolong frog, in depicting his quintessential distaste for the way the Greens use environmental laws to block economic and social progress on initiatives like the construction of dams.
Number 15: Crop that
When South Australian Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell decided to stand alongside Green groups at an anti-Monsanto rally in May following the SA election, Barnaby dropped one of his best quotes of the year, in reference to the science underpinning genetically modified crops.
“If you don’t believe in genetic modification then you do believe in spraying cotton crops 17 times with (the toxic chemical) endosulfan,” he said while urging the debate to move on from the religious to the scientific.