In the Loop

It came as a shock ousting. Although it was no incident in isolation. In Canberra there was a new Deputy Prime Minister who doubled as the Minister for Transport.

Only the new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport was the old one. Which is to say the former minister was now the current and the current was the former. Let us recap.

A spill motion initiated in the Nationals party room by Queensland Senator Matt Canavan, unseated Michael McCormack, from the nation’s second highest office.

The National Party Leader was at the time, ironically, occupying the highest office as Acting Prime Minister, with Scott Morrison quarantined at home after a trip to the G7 summit in the United Kingdom where, presumably, he received his talking points regarding net-zero carbon emissions, the same issue, in another cruel irony, that had apparently removed his 2IC.

Just as Barnaby Joyce assumes the key portfolios of Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, (still technically correct since the August magazine was published) his sudden ascension comes as the Nationals push back against a sharp pivot to net zero emissions policy made by the Prime Minister, who himself first took office by supplanting Malcolm Turnbull who had usurped Tony Abbott, who was really unpopular with the media but was voted in by taxpayers in a landslide.

You need not have read Friedrich Dürrenmatt for all of this to seem so recently familiar.

The net zero emissions stratagem by 2050, however, could not be adopted by Morrison without the support of the Nationals according to Resources Minister Keith Pitt, who had declared as much to foretell the spill to come.

For his part in the gambit, Joyce, who had launched an unsuccessful challenge to McCormack last year, returns after regional Australia suffered through a sustained period of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 restrictions.

As new Nationals leader, Joyce’s rhetoric is very much rooted in local affairs and unlike that of Morrison, whose advisory has found it near impossible of late to navigate the optics of a 24-hour news cycle, harder to ignore.

Joyce indeed spoke about fires, droughts, cyclones and addressed the men, women and children, who had helped elect his colleagues to govern, in some cases, many of the departments that directly impact the commercial road transport industry.

But when pressed on the policies his leadership would invoke, he proved evasive referring to “a different suite of attributes.”

Even so, he announced it was time to give Aussie battlers a fair go, a time-honoured Australian axiom that sounds good in a performative sense as it can attract votes but, serves, more shrewdly in the body politic as a mechanism to buy more time.

Since the Coalition came to power in 2013, the minister for transport has changed four times, with Warren Truss, Darren Chester and the outgoing McCormack all serving in the role.

In that period the issues perhaps most relevant to the ministry like road pricing reform, the launch of a new national freight and supply chain strategy and the National Road Safety Strategy have made negligible progress.

The National Land Transport Network, for one example, has authorised spending on 33 projects which were categorised as “inter-modal transfer facilities,” but delivered instead, a handful of commuter carparks with many more cancelled or yet to be assessed. Let us count the ways to run out the clock.

Such inactivity, objectionable as it is, will pale into insignificance once concerned industry stakeholders are besieged again by the campaign pledges of the next, do or die, election.

Political power differs from trucking in that the former insists on embracing solutions to problems whose cause must, for the sake of narrative, be too often ignored.

Were it a rarity that these heightened accords of activism to have seized government as a kind of moral lodestar — all of the cyclical and endless stagnation, might not appear, even to the casually invested, so fatally incurable.

Under this “habit of promiscuous commitments” to borrow a phrase from Angelo Codevilla, in which the ruling class achieves little, but looks busy as it shuffles the deck chairs on the sinking ship, there is always a lesson of sorts for people that industry is captured by politicians who will use any means to exclude them from the political process.

Yet it may still beguile some of us as to why no live minutes are recorded at the National Cabinet, we are free, at present, to reflect on it while breathing in our own noxious carbon dioxide owing to mask mandates compelled by the same governments, who are arguing about invisible trace gases and the many experts, fictional and otherwise, they have decreed to save us from them.

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