The metropolitan media tried last week to make a fuss over a charter flight made by Barnaby Joyce to the village of Drake, located in far-northern NSW in the ranges above the headwaters of the Clarence River. There’s no airstrip in town, and it’s a nine hour return trip by car from Barnaby’s home base in Tamworth.
Here at The Nationals we think the residents of towns like Drake should have access to their local MP. And it riles us that one of our own would be judged for using part of a modest parliamentary charter allowance to provide his constituents with what any Sydneysider can achieve by walking down the street to their local electorate office – a meeting with their representative in our nation’s parliament.
MPs in rural electorates are given a charter allowance for exactly this reason – to reach small, isolated communities who might otherwise miss out. It’s not an especially large sum of money, in Barnaby’s case a little over $20,000 to cover an electorate of almost 60,000 square kilometres for a year.
As they drive back across Lake Burley Griffin tonight these same journalists might want to reflect on how they might deal with a nine hour commute to work tomorrow.
Flying has become so much a way of life for country politicians that a number of them have actually obtained pilot’s licenses to help them get around their electorates. Former NSW Nationals’ MP John Williams (Murray-Darling) was one of them. As he puts it:
"For me to drive from Broken Hill to Deniliquin it’s about a seven hour and a half hour drive - I can fly there in an hour and three quarters."
"We can visit three locations in a day, whereas with driving you only visit one."
Other MPs with a ticket to fly include Liberals Rowan Ramsey and Sussan Ley, as well as our own Andrew Broad.
Somewhat ironically, Andrew was featured less than three years ago in the Sydney Morning Herald for his aeronautical prowess, put to good use traversing his electorate of Mallee in western Victoria. On Friday the same newspaper gave column inches to criticism of Barnaby over what is essentially the same issue. Although, to be fair, to the best of our knowledge Barnaby isn’t licensed to actually pilot the helicopter.
We’re sure he has other things on his mind.