The Nationals are using their multi-billion dollar concessions for signing up to net zero emissions to springboard their election campaign in the regions.
The budget outlined a “record” regional spend, including almost $18 billion worth of new land transport infrastructure investment.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has been traversing rural NSW and Queensland, plus the NT, turning sod on coal mines and launching major regional infrastructure projects.
Mr Joyce’s re-election proclamation has been to “make Australia as strong as possible as quickly as possible” in the face of global uncertainty by boosting exports in sectors like mining and minerals.
“Our number one priority is the security of our nation which must be underpinned by our capacity to pay for it,” Mr Joyce said as he turned the sod on a central Queensland coal mine.
“And we pay for it with iron ore, we pay for it with coal, we pay for it with gas, we pay for it with live cattle, live sheep, irrigated cotton, irrigated wheat.
“We’re going to have an epiphany about how we earn money because if we don’t earn money we’re poor and if we’re poor, we’re weak.”
The focus on energy security through coal is how the Nationals think they’re going to take back the NSW division of Hunter from Labor, after the retirement of incumbent and pro-coal MP Joel Fitzgibbon.
“Joel Fitzgibbon, who was the last line of defence for common sense in the Hunter, is gone,” Nationals deputy leader and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said.
“The reality is, unfortunately once (Labor) get into government … no one else will be standing there for those jobs, those coal jobs and what those coal jobs look like in the future.
“We’ve got a 2050 (net-zero) plan that uses a thing called common sense, making sure we protect those jobs – and give a pathway into new jobs where possible – but not panicking into making a knee-jerk reaction.”
The Nationals are sandbagging some otherwise safe seats in Queensland and NSW after a series of natural disasters turned public sentiment against the federal government.
Kevin Hogan, whose northern NSW electorate of Page encompasses Lismore – the region worst hit by recent flooding – would normally consider his seat safe for the Nats on a 9.5 per cent margin.
But with NSW state Liberal MP Catherine Cusack accusing the prime minister of politicising the devastating floods, publicly stating she wouldn’t vote for him, and anger bubbling at delayed government responses, some in Labor believe the seat could prove to be their dark horse.
The adjacent seat of Cowper held by Nationals MP Pat Conaghan on a slimmer 6.8 per cent margin, will also need reinforcements.
A three-cornered contest is also brewing in the northern Victorian seat of Nicholls, being vacated by retiring Nationals MP Damian Drum, who held it with a margin of more than 20 per cent.
But the Nationals are facing a challenge from Greater Shepparton councillor and independent candidate Rob Priestly, as well as a contender from the Liberal Party which didn’t contest the seat in 2019.
While Queensland seats like Flynn and Dawson are also held on comfortable margins, retiring MPs in both electorates also mean more resources need to be poured in to stop swings against the Nationals.
The Nationals also have their foot in the Top End, believing they may be able to pick up the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari – which spans almost the entire territory.
Labor’s Warren Snowdon is stepping down after holding Lingiari since its inception in 2001, and the division of the NT before that.
Former Alice Springs mayor Damien Ryan had put his hand up to contest the seat for the Country Liberal Party, which generally sits under the Nationals parliamentary banner.