“Tony seems to treat Barnaby with kid gloves,” says one senior Liberal. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Coalition leader Tony Abbott applies different rules of shadow cabinet solidarity to his regional development spokesman Barnaby Joyce, according to Coalition MPs, angry at the outspoken National senator’s campaign against the sale of Cubbie Station.
The Coalition’s position is to accept decisions of the Foreign Investment Review Board.
Asked on Friday about the board’s decision to approve the sale of Cubbie Station to a company majority owned by a Chinese textile company, Mr Abbott said the board “would have looked at the national interest issues”.
But Senator Joyce has continued to call for the sale to be stopped, and for the federal government instead to buy back the station and break it into smaller farms.Advertisement
Several opposition sources noted it was not Mr Abbott, but shadow treasurer Joe Hockey who tried to pull Senator Joyce into line.
“Some people are freelancing … they do not speak for the Coalition. They don’t even speak for the National Party or the Liberal Party,” a frustrated Mr Hockey said this week, pointedly adding that frontbenchers had a “responsibility” to be part of the team.
But Mr Abbott today said Mr Joyce was “a local” who lived very near to Cubbie Station.
“I can understand why Barnaby and local people feel strongly about this,” Mr Abbott said.
One senior Liberal said there was a lot of frustration about the special rules for Mr Joyce.
“Everyone is talking about it … no one can understand how he gets away with it. But he always does.”
“Tony seems to treat Barnaby with kid gloves,” another said.
One senior Liberal insisted Mr Abbott had “repeatedly” spoken to Mr Joyce, “but he just ignores him”.
Asked if Mr Abbott had tried to pull Mr Joyce into line, his spokesman said the Coalition leader “talked to his colleagues all of the time”.
Normal rules of shadow cabinet solidarity rules still apply to other Coalition frontbenchers.
Malcolm Turnbull, for instance, was condemned for even implicit criticism of the opposition’s climate change policy.
Several frontbenchers will be forced to vote against the gay marriage bills now before the Parliament, and against their privately held views, because Mr Abbott has refused a conscience vote.