It is likely Barnaby will be returned as New England’s MP in the next Parliament, though perhaps not as easily as the odds suggest. Investigations editor Ross Jones reports.
LAST TIME IA was in Tamworth was shortly before Member for New England Barnaby Joyce convincingly won the s44 by-election and way before Shari Markson announced Barnaby and ex-staffer Vicki Campion were to have a child.
Back then, Barnaby had his campaign office on Peel Street, Tamworth’s main CBD thoroughfare. This time around, Barnaby has his campaign office in the much less-walked Brisbane Street. Its doors are closed. You have to knock or, as IA discovered, start taking pictures through the glass, to get any attention.
BJ’s main opponent has laid claim to Peel Street.
Adam Blakester’s campaign office is smack in the middle of the most densely foot-trafficked section of Peel Street and its doors are wide open.
It is highly likely Barnaby will be returned as New England’s MP in the next Parliament. Hard polling numbers are impossible to come by – only the Nats have the resources to conduct polling and they’re not telling anyone – but, as a clue, at the time of writing, Barnaby’s odds on Sportsbet were $1.01 versus Labor at $11.00. Like Winx versus Dobbin. No contest.
In some ways, it would be nice to think the bookies are right because, at the same time, in the Federal arena Labor was $1.14 to the Coalition’s $6.00.
Of course, if the bookie’s New England and national odds translate to reality, Barnaby will be returned as an MP in a seriously reduced Coalition. What he would do then is anyone’s guess. Roll McCormack for starters probably, just for fun.
But there is a distinct mood in New England that things may not be as rosy for Barnaby as the odds suggest.
There are seven candidates standing against Barnaby – United Australia Party’s Cindy Duncan, Christian Democrat (see Fred Nile) Julie Collins, Labor‘s Yvonne Langenberg, Green Tony Loneragan and Independents Natasha Ledger, Rob Taber and Adam Blakester.
IA recently attended the Armidale City Bowling Club for a "meet the candidates" function, one of several held across the electorate during May.
All eight candidates turned up. Six of the candidates present no problem to Barnaby and will be easily brushed aside. The seventh, however, could pose a problem.
Adam Blakester, the candidate with the office in Peel street, is definitely enjoying a growing groundswell of support and this was evident during the Armidale meeting.
Blakester clearly outdid Barnaby and won the crowd of around 300 hundred with his easy, intelligent speaking style.
In the first round of questions, ‘why I should be elected’, Barnaby rattled off a whole lot of Nationals stuff and was greeted with genuine, though not overwhelming, applause.
Blakester began with an Acknowledgement of Country. His pitch focused on the problems the region will face from environmental threats and the need to have a New England representative who understood these, and who would work to mitigate their adverse impacts. He wanted to work more closely with First Nations people in this regard.
Blakester received applause at least three times louder than Barnaby and from there, things only went downhill for the incumbent.
Blakester’s statement that Australian democracy needed an upgrade was greeted by sustained applause broken only by a few "woo hoos".
When Barnaby next spoke, he too made a belated Acknowledgment of Country but it was clear he was only following Blakester’s lead because he’d eventually noticed there were some Indigenous folk in the room.
According to the Armidale Express:
‘Barnaby Joyce was not the popular choice at Armidale's Meet the Candidates Forum held at The Armidale City Bowling Club on Thursday night, and Adam Blakester certainly presented as a credible Independent candidate to an audience that gave him the large majority of their applause.'
A few nights before the Armidale function, Sky News ran its own "meet the candidates" forum at West Tamworth League Club, hosted by Paul Murray.
Only five candidates were presented at this function — Barnaby, Langenberg, Collins, Loneragan and Blakester.
Earlier that evening, all the candidates, with the exception of Barnaby, had been to another forum scheduled to start at 6 pm in Murrurundi, 90 or so kilometres south of Tamworth down the New England Highway. Barnaby had ducked this forum on the pretext he had to attend another function in Willow Tree, about ten kilometres north of Murrurundi.
Apparently, Sky wasn’t pleased the candidates would be 90km away on the evening of their planned forum, which presumably had a TV schedule to adhere to. A Sky representative attended the Murrurundi meeting and began hassling the organisers to wind up the meeting before its scheduled 8.30pm finish so they could put them all on a bus and get them back to Tamworth in time for the 9.30pm scheduled start.
In addition to the candidates, there were a few others on the bus, at least two of whom reckon it was possible the speed limit might have been broken a few times to get the candidates to Tamworth in time for make-up.
To everyone’s surprise, Barnaby was already there and made up when they arrived. Also to everyone’s surprise, three of the bused candidates – Ledger, Taber and Duncan – were then told there weren’t enough microphones and they were to be excluded. Some dummy spitting ensued.
It was supposed to be a forum where registered audience members could ask questions of the candidates. But IA spoke with several people who noted the vast majority audience members who got to ask a question were Nationals members and, for that matter, so were most of the audience.
That is, the forum was stacked.
Only the last person to ask a question, a lady IA was told was a pharmacist, took Barnaby to task for wanting to ban Gardasil. Barnaby went ballistic.
Despite the overt stacking, the Northern Daily Leader reported an exit poll showed,
‘Incumbent Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce led the survey, with 46.4 per cent of people saying they would vote for him, with Independent Adam Blakester trailing right behind him with 43.1 per cent.’
The big unknown in New England is the female vote. IA understands from hanging around Peel Street that a lot of women are totally over Barnaby and his antics.
Natalie Joyce has moved out of Tamworth and is believed to be living in Sydney.
Barnaby’s daughters have also left town, leaving Barnaby and Vikki, who is about to have her second child, living on a rural property owned by his mate, Greg Maguire.
Barnaby is giving every impression of being bored and totally over the whole thing. Vikki is never seen in town and is apparently living in rural isolation, which must be pretty tough when you’re not from "around here".
So, while Blakester might not really be in with a chance, he deserves a lot better than the $16 offered by Sportsbet.
He will give Barnaby a run.
Investigations editor Ross Jones is a licensed private enquiry agent the author of 'Ashbygate: The Plot to Destroy Australia's Speaker'. You can follow Ross on Twitter @RPZJones.
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