NEW England MP Barnaby Joyce has admitted to feeling the pressure of juggling a senior position in the Abbott government with his responsibilities as a local member.
Speaking in Armidale yesterday, just hours after returning from the Middle East, Mr Joyce said he had spent only two nights at home in the last 45 days.
While the federal Agriculture Minister promised to be a fixture in the electorate over the parliament’s six-week Easter break, he strongly denied he had neglected his local constituents. “The pressure on me in this job comes from every section because the Australian people want to make sure that you do your job as the minister,” he said. “I do spend a lot of time in the New England region ... what I should do is be more public in letting people know that we’re here and what we’re doing.”
Mr Joyce successfully completed a switch from the Senate to the House of Representatives at the 2013 election, comprehensively winning the seat of New England.
In a bid to increase his presence in the electorate, Mr Joyce has decided to close his ministerial office in Sydney and reopen it in Armidale by the middle of the year.
But even that gesture might not be enough to placate critics accustomed to Tony Windsor’s seemingly ever-present status in New England.
Tamworth man Jeff Bartlett took to Mr Joyce’s own Facebook page recently to warn: “Don’t forget about your electorate, or we might forget about you next election.”
Fellow local Mary Ryan expressed her concern that Mr Joyce was putting his party ahead of the electorate’s interests.
“We used to have (a) New England (representative), now we have a National Party rep. One or the other,” she said.
Dianne Gillan posted recently on his page that she was “Glad you are our member here in Tamworth.”
If Mr Joyce does spend more time in New England, then he might be wise to avoid Tamworth resident Rhonda Keegan, who made her feelings quite clear on Facebook yesterday.
“Don’t like him, don’t trust him, didn’t vote for him,” she said. “(He) only moved back here to get elected.”
But after playing pivotal roles in stopping the take-over of GrainCorp, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in drought assistance,
kick-starting the live animal export industry and getting the Chaffey Dam upgrade back on track, Mr Joyce now has plenty of supporters in the New England area.