Barnaby digs for coal on the moral high ground. How did we get here?


These podcasts are the political equivalent of the emerging Hollywood fashion of stars “interviewing” other stars, instead of allowing a proper journalist to ask questions that haven’t been written by a PR team.

This week Interview magazine features a grilling of actress Jennifer Aniston by a close friend, actress Sandra Bullock. We learn both of them once dated actor Tate Donovan. Their readers may not walk away satisfied, but their publicists sure do.

You will have noticed Joyce’s podcast mirrors the name of his book, an example of the kind of cross-marketing self-promotion we have come to expect from the former deputy prime minister. This is a man who so missed the spotlight afforded him by his leadership role that last year he involved himself in a NSW state-government debate over an organ – the uterus – that he does not possess.

Illustration: Reg Lynch.Credit:

A quick check of the Booktopia website shows Weatherboard and Iron has a 4.2-star rating, although on closer inspection it seems the high vote may be statistically iffy, as only five readers have reviewed it.

A person called Avid Reader, from Sydney, gave it five stars, as did Vonnie, of Hervey Bay. But scroll down to Emelle of northern NSW and things get a little more spicy. “Self-indulgent waffle,” she writes. “Want my money back.” And: “No wonder the regions are struggling if that is the quality of political leadership.”

If Emelle had a podcast, I would listen.

But instead, we have Joyce and Canavan, who seem to be using their podcast to project a vision of what their alternative, pro-coal leadership of the National Party might look like. Canavan positions the Nats as the true party of the worker. He references research that he says shows Nationals voters have the lowest average incomes of any of the parties’ supporters.

Joyce describes Sydney as “really just a miserable piece of coastline” that only scrubs up because “trillions of dollars have been spent on it”.

They discuss the Nationals’ recent spill and how guilelessly it came about. Neither of them called for it, both were surprised by it, and it was done with no malice.

It’s that kind of real talk politicians’ podcasts are so great for.

This week the ABC travelled to Collinsville, in northern Queensland, where the government has just put $4 million towards funding a feasibility study for a coal-fired power station. The Collinsville residents interviewed, proud of their coal-mining history, were cautiously hopeful the project might get up and bring some life back to their town, which, like many in the regions, is in decline.

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It is hard not to look at the government in question time, using the Collinsville project as a talking point, a pawn in a wider ideological fight, and and not feel bad for those people. Their hopes are being toyed with, because the project is highly unlikely to get any financing or insurance.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was pilloried for calling climate change “the great moral challenge of our generation”, and then spectacularly abandoning the challenge himself. Now Labor, under Anthony Albanese, is trying to frame climate change as less of an abstract moral challenge and more of an economic one. This is a much better sell, and more tangible to the voters directly affected – the 50,000 Australians employed by the coal industry.

Meanwhile, it is the pro-coal Nationals, led by Joyce and Canavan, who have fled to the high moral ground on climate change. They can take no refuge in science, reason, or economics for their position. But they can fall back on what they frame as a moral division between the city and country folk.

On one side are the so-called urban elites, who are full of empty moral vanity, who lecture others about the need to reduce carbon footprints while taking none of the economic or lifestyle hits themselves. (As with all stereotypes, there is truth to this – many of the most strident environmentalists I know are not about to give up plane travel, for example.)

On the other side are regional Australians – honest and hard-working, the type who trim their own roses, according to Joyce’s podcast. Who are “proud of their vehicles, proud of their country”.

Joyce fashions himself as a version of this stereotype, glossing over the fact that he had one of the most expensive private school educations available in Australia, nestled on some of the best of Sydney’s “miserable” waterfront. Also unmentioned is the fact he has spent much of his adult life in the bosom of the greatest elite of them all – the political elite.

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The simplistic nature of the stereotype of regional Australians is insulting to the Nationals’ constituents, and will do nothing to prepare the people of Collinsville, or their children, for the inevitability of the decline of the industry they rely upon for their livelihoods.

A decent political party would see it as its duty to lead people through profound economic transitions, not give them false hope.

If there is any place for morality in the climate change debate, that’s where it should be.

Twitter: @JacquelineMaley

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