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How Barnaby and the Coalition make hay when it doesn’t rain

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Barnaby Joyce and the coal-loving Morrison Government’s "jobs for the boys" and inaction on climate are only exacerbating the circumstances that lead to drought and other disasters, writes executive editor Michelle Pini.

ANOTHER DAY, another embarrassing and shameful example of Government incompetence.

The latest domestic disaster (an international one involving our PM and impeachment of the U.S. President is still unfolding as this goes to publication) involves a crippling drought. And a certain “drought envoy”. Oh, and an assorted array of Government ministers charged with managing our environment.

BARNABY'S UNFUNDED EMPATHY

But let’s start with the former Special Envoy for Drought Assistance Barnaby Joyce. Joyce was stripped of his role as Deputy Prime Minister when multifarious rorts and hypocrisies involving his mistress finally became impossible to hide, following her pregnancy and his estrangement from his family. For reasons that appear to be known only to the PM, Joyce was then handed the pretend role of “envoy”. Some have suggested this was intended to placate Joyce after he cried poor and compared himself to people on Newstart, who receive $14,454 per annum.

To be fair, after losing the Deputy PM gig, which paid a base salary of around $433,000 per annum (or 30 times the Newstart payment) – plus staff, plus expenses –Joyce was only receiving $211,000 (or 14 times the Newstart payment) – plus expenses – as a backbencher. It was tough on the guy, who declared himself Australia’s “elected deputy prime minister” and then proceeded to share details of his hardships — which included living without a dishwasher and being forced to only indulge in one purchased cup of coffee per day!

In the new envoy role, Barnaby’s salary didn’t actually increase but the perks, well they sky-rocketed to $875,000 ($675,000 in personal expenses plus two allocated staff members at a cost of $200,000). So, now on a total package of $211,000 in salary and $875,000 in expenses (for the nine-month period as Envoy), Joyce was finally able to throw himself into his new haute couture function and possibly even buy two cups of coffee per day. Crisis averted!

Given it was newly created and given the position presumably involved drought-related issues during an unprecedented drought, one might reasonably assume there would be some accountability? That documentation of what was being done might be required and, possibly, at least one report on the whole effort might be produced? Well, one would be wrong. You see, the clue is in the title: “envoy”. What is an envoy? What is an envoy expected to do? Since it is a made-up position with a made-up title … make it up, of course!

WHEN IS AN ENVOY NOT AN ENVOY?

And Barnaby did not disappoint. After reports that his nine months in the role produced not a skerrick of paperwork, Joyce claimed he sent “an awful lot of reports” to the PM, by text:

"If you say a report is a written segment to the Prime Minister … then they definitely went to him, I definitely sent them, I sent them by SMS to him and they were read.”

He added that some were even as long as 1,500 words — imagine!

Leaving aside whether SMS messages are acceptable modes of business reporting by members of parliament, some people were dubious as to how these “reports” could have been sent by SMS (given texts cannot be longer than 160 characters).

Barnaby went on the attack, posting a video of himself walking around his office (our taxes at work) treating viewers to a portrait of Joh Bjelke Peterson, which holds pride of place on the wall, and pointing to bits of paper.

The former Drought Envoy then advised he had received correspondence from the PM, even! Reading a few lines from a couple of these letters out loud – quickly and without indication that they confirmed anything much – before suddenly referring to “Fitzgibbon”, calling him a “goose”. Presumably, this was directed at Labor Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon, who has criticised Barnaby’s efficacy.

And still no evidence of Barnaby’s own reporting, letter-writing or SMS prowess was produced.

ON WATER MATTERS

But presuming Joyce was telling the truth and a lot of textin’ and talkin’ did transpire, can the taxpayers see the results? We are just so presumptuous!

Releasing reports is apparently above Barnaby’s paygrade:

"I can't — it's for the people who receive the reports to release them, not those who sent them."

Right. And his boss?

“I didn’t ask him to write a book,” said the PM. And anyway, a ‘written report was never part of the terms of reference surrounding Joyce’s appointment'.

How can a taxpayer-funded position, custom made for a disgraced politician, ostensibly to deal with and report on drought-affected areas, which cost an estimated $1,086,000, in the middle of the worst drought on record, be a secret? Is the drought now officially classified as an “on-water” matter? (Or should that be a water-off matter?)

No sooner had the PM disembarked from mixing it with the big boys in the U.S. – during which he spurned the UN Climate Change Summit – before he ordered his assortment of fellow climate-science denying ministers to go forth and visit the drought-affected areas too. Though this would probably involve just looking at stuff, not actually writing anything. Morrison also announced $100 million dollars in drought assistance, for, well, those who need it, okay? And no, it’s not unfunded empathy!

This is only half the story! Read on for more Coalition ministers making hay through the drought in the IA members-only area. It takes less a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a small sum for superb journalism and lots of extras.

You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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