BARNABY Joyce was officially declared the member for New England yesterday, but if you ask him he’ll tell you there’s already plenty of work being done behind the scenes.
Mr Joyce was handed the keys to former New England member Tony Windsor’s office, with staff working hard to get the office sorted and ready for action.
Since being elected, the Agriculture Minister has had a flurry of meetings, briefings and appointments in Canberra, but he’s made a promise to be in the electorate as much as possible.
“For two days I had meeting after meeting, everyone from the biosecurity people to the budgetary people,” Mr Joyce said.
“As a senator I spent most of my time on the road, but it’s much different in the lower house, so I’ll be in my electorate.
“I genuinely enjoy being home, not on a plane. If you spend too much time away, there’s no one to see when you get home.”
Mr Joyce said being a member of the Coalition’s leadership team would be a huge benefit to the New England electorate.
He speaks to Prime Minister Tony Abbott at least three times a week.
“The New England has got a phone call to the top and Tony understands the issues important to this area,” he said.
Between three offices he’s got 17 staff, including three based in Tamworth and two in Tenterfield, but some appointments are yet to be made.
Former Tony Windsor and Noel Park staffer Leigh Tschirpig will be Barnaby’s right-hand man while Lee Cale from the department will temporarily fill the ministerial chief of staff position.
NSW Irrigators’ Council chief executive officer Andrew Gregson was to lead the ministerial team but that plan fell through.
Mr Joyce’s agriculture focus since the election has centred around trade, with China’s ban on Australian chilled beef and northern Australia’s live export trade to Indonesia at the top of his to do list.
“My approach is to quietly deal with issues behind closed doors,” he said.
“I’m trying to get the chilled beef going again, just like the live exports to Indonesia.
“I had a meeting with the Indonesian ambassador this week and I’ll be leading a delegation to Indonesia in about two months’ time.”
Many key agriculture meetings are to be held in Tamworth, with Mr Joyce’s ministerial staff expected to include at least one, possibly several, representatives from the New England region.
“I want to do as much of the ministerial work as possible from Tamworth,” he said.
Becoming a minister and a key member of Mr Abbott’s leadership team won’t change his Canberra digs, with Mr Joyce continuing to board with Mrs Primrose, a retired Latin teacher.
“I saw a note with her number in the cafeteria about five years and I’ve stayed with her ever since,” Mr Joyce said.
“She likes having someone in the house and I like being there because it’s nice and quiet and it’s near work – I could walk to work if I wanted to.”