As Nationals Federal leader, Barnaby Joyce had a knack of putting his foot in it.
That may be good for journalists — but generally not good for the Federal Nationals and the Federal Coalition.
I remember last year, when the former Federal Nationals leader did an interview with me ahead of the WA Nationals’ State conference in Northam.
The interview delivered the Barnaby Joyce “Hermit Kingdom” classic, where the deputy prime minister compared WA to North Korea, sparking civil war with the wild, wild, west ahead of a Federal election.
Joyce decided to attack McGowan on his then COVID hard-border policy.
“Ultimately, unless you are going to really turn yourself into a hermit kingdom, like we’ll have North Korea and a kind of hermit kingdom on the west coast of Australia, then COVID is going to arrive. It’s everywhere else in the world. It’s how you manage it,” Joyce said.
As you can imagine, Joyce’s comments went down like a lead balloon not just with McGowan and WA voters, but with former PM Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party, which was trying hard to bury the ghosts of that dumb decision to join Clive Palmer in the Federal Court to fight WA’s hard border policy.
Yesterday, there was no Joyce at the WA Nationals 2022 State conference.
This time, it was new Nats Federal leader David Littleproud.
The arrival of Littleproud as leader changes the dynamic between the Federal and WA Nats.
That relationship had to get better.
It is well known that WA National Party leader Mia Davies and Joyce didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye.
In 2018, Davies publicly called on Joyce to resign as leader, saying he had lost the support of his party.
Davies’ comments came in the wake of the collapse of Joyce’s marriage and the pending arrival of a new baby with his former adviser, Vicky Campion.
“It is the view of the Parliamentary National Party of Western Australia that Mr Joyce’s position as Federal leader is no longer tenable,” Davies said in a statement in 2018.
The fractured relationship between the WA Nationals and their Federal counterparts was further highlighted when Davies encouraged her colleagues not to run WA candidates in the May 2021 Federal election.
She was overruled by the party’s executive and ultimately State council — but even so, the WA Nationals decided to run just one candidate in that election, and that was in Durack.
Not one WA National contested a Federal senate seat at last year’s Federal election.
Clearly, there is some work to be done in restoring a troubled relationship between the WA Nationals and their Federal colleagues.
The fact that Canberra does not have one National Party representative from WA is appalling.
Littleproud spent this week in WA, ahead of yesterday’s State conference.
The importance of a better relationship with the WA Nationals — and a need to field more candidates from WA at the 2025 Federal election was not lost on him.
“Mia and myself have a really good working relationship,” Littleproud told The Sunday Times.
“That’s why I came over, to help her and her team in the (North West Central) by-election.
“We want to be one team, and we want to invest in making sure that we can put candidates here — both State and Federal.”
In recent times, the penny has dropped in Canberra that WA actually matters in Federal elections.
WA delivered Anthony Albanese a majority government just a few months ago.
Sunny WA is now not just a State that Federal leaders come to when they need to talk politics — they even holiday here.
Albanese post-election holidayed up north and is preparing to bring the Cabinet to WA next month.
Federal Opposition leader Peter Dutton has also brought his shadow cabinet to WA.
And now Littleproud has done the same.
“We can only show how genuine we are as a Federal team by coming over (to WA), Littleproud said.
“And I’ve got five, of my six front bench here this week.
“We will continue to come back.”
Don’t expect Littleproud to compare WA to North Korea any time soon.