Nationals want bigger say on ABC [. . . and Small Business]

The Australian, July 11, 2016

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says he gets on well with Malcolm Turnbull.

The communications portfolio, including more say over the ABC, is among a list of potential demands by the Nationals as they push for a greater role in a re-elected Turnbull government.

The Nationals are also eyeing the small business ministry held by Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has made passing the effects test, which is aimed at preventing big businesses acting in a way that damages small businesses, a key priority of the next parliament as well as cracking down on $1 milk offers by major supermarkets.

Nationals MPs will meet in Canberra tomorrow ahead of ­negotiations between Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Joyce.

With the Nationals increasing their representation from 21 to 22 members — assuming that leads in the marginal Queensland seats of Flynn and Capricornia are maintained and Queensland senator Barry O’Sullivan is returned — the junior Coalition partner looks to be in a position to demand another cabinet post.

Given Queensland is without a Nationals cabinet minister, Senator Matt Canavan, who is Minister for Northern Australia, would be the favourite to be elevated to ­cabinet.

While the Nationals have considered a push to reclaim the trade portfolio which was handed to the Liberals during Warren Truss’s leadership, some are arguing against reclaiming the role ­because it requires the incumbent to be absent from Australia for long periods at trade negotiations.

The new minister is also faced with the task of following Andrew Robb who signed three free-trade agreements in the last term of government before handing the portfolio to Steven Ciobo.

Nationals MPs are keen to play a more central role in regional health, education development and infrastructure delivery.

The communications portfolio is attractive to the party because the National Broadband Network represents a key potential ­opportunity for rural and regional service delivery and business opportunities, and there is disgruntlement about ABC management’s changes to regional media services.

Some Nationals see strong arguments to expand deputy leader Fiona Nash’s regional communications role, which has responsibilities for broadband and mobile phone tower rollouts.

The Prime Minister would be likely to resist appointing a ­Nationals MP as communications minister, given the incumbent Mitch Fifield was appointed only in September and is seen as a strong performer.

In claiming victory yesterday, Mr Turnbull said there would not be “large-scale changes’’ but there would be some changes because some ministers had lost their seats.

Mr Turnbull will be pushed to streamline infrastructure responsibilities within the ministry with authority being spread between Paul Fletcher, who holds Territories, Local Government and Major projects, Darren Chester Infrastructure and Transport and Fiona Nash, who holds Regional Development, Rural Health and Regional Communications.

Mr Joyce told Sky News’s Australian Agenda yesterday he did not want to pre-empt counting in key seats but the number of ­Nationals in the ministry and in Cabinet was “ruthlessly determined by mathematics’’.

Mr Joyce said he got on very well with Mr Turnbull. “We do have a cordial relationship. In the past we had differences. It was on policy, never on personalities. On a personal level I get along very well with him.’’