Even on this solemn day, Barnaby could not shake the virus of ambition


Nationals leader Michael McCormack (described ominously by TV commentators during the morning as “the current leader”) reached for the Old Testament to declare, “There’s a time to tear down and there’s a time to build. Now is a time to build”.

Joyce countered by suggesting he wasn’t about the Old Testament, but was instead offering a new start.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce during a condolence motion for the Australian bushfires on Tuesday.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

McCormack and his Old Testament, it turned out, endured. For now.

Meanwhile, the Greens showed it was possible to behave with some decorum, even if they had chosen this day of honouring bushfire victims to undertake their housework. They quietly changed leaders – Richard Di Natale to Adam Bandt – with barely a peep.

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit:

The more spectacularly contested leadership challenges are like viruses. They need an incubation period to do their worst. It has been thus ever since the two-strike strategy over six months required by Paul Keating to bring down Bob Hawke in 1991.

Barnaby Joyce leapt opportunistically only two days after the forced resignation of Senator Bridget McKenzie to mount his provocation.

The incubation period had not been served, even if Joyce has been hankering for a return for the two years since his spectacular love life took him away.

Meanwhile, those with memories might recall a previous example of such witlessness.

Seven years earlier, parents and children who had spent a lifetime waiting for acknowledgement of the agony that came with being ripped apart, found themselves consigned to the shadows by political madness.

On March 21, 2013, Prime Minister Julia Gillard stood in the Great Hall of Parliament House to apologise, on behalf of the nation, to massed families that had been broken by forced adoption.

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Parents of children from whom they had been separated, and children who had grown to adulthood not knowing their parents, wept as Gillard declared “you were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many ways, illegal”.

Beyond the Great Hall, however, Gillard’s colleagues were brewing up a concoction of cut-throat ambition and old hatreds that would consign the historic apology to the inside pages of newspapers.

Kevin Rudd’s circling of Gillard’s leadership was about to reach a weird zenith.

Within a couple of hours of Gillard’s emotional apology, Simon Crean, once a Labor leader himself, called for a spill of leadership, declaring he would support Kevin Rudd for leader and would stand himself for deputy.

Gillard sacked Crean from her ministry and complied with the request for a spill.

The challenger did not turn up. Ten minutes before the ballot was due, Rudd announced he was not standing. A furiously embarrassed Crean, up to then Minister for Regional Australia and the Arts, was left with, you might say, his arts on a platter.

Those victims of forced adoption who imagined their moment had finally come drifted back to the shadows.

Rudd allowed his ambition to stew through a three-month incubation period after the Crean debacle. He won a ballot on June 26, 2013, to regain the prime ministership. At the subsequent September 7 election, voters swept him and the Labor Party out of power.

Those hundreds who came from bushfire-struck districts on Tuesday expecting their grieving and the bravery of those who had laboured to save them would be the total focus of the politicians who had invited them to Canberra would know, now, that political ambition comes with such venom it can blind some of its practitioners to what the rest of us might consider propriety.

Meanwhile, there remains a question outstanding.

How long might the incubation period fester within the Nationals following this first ill-timed spill?

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