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Coalition MPs rally around Barnaby Joyce -

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Coalition MPs rally around Barnaby Joyce

Lyndal Curtis reported this story on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: To the Federal Opposition's finance spokesman Barnaby Joyce who has a knack for
attracting attention.

While the Government has been savaging him for suggesting that Australia may not be able to repay
its debt, today several Coalition MPs were out in support.

But they were giving a range of explanations for why Senator Joyce said what he did.

And there is also some disagreement about the precise message that the Reserve Bank governor meant
to send with his comments about the effect winding back government spending and debt would have on
interest rates.

Chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis has our report.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Coalition's defence of Barnaby Joyce came in several guises this morning. There
was support with some qualifications from WA Liberal Dennis Jensen and Senator Joyce's party leader
Warren Truss.

DENNIS JENSEN: Well I'm saying immediately right now today that's probably correct, but obviously
in the longer term you will have capacity to repay debt.

WARREN TRUSS: Well it's obvious that Barnaby Joyce is getting under Labor's skin. He's telling the
truth, he's telling people that there will be serious implications of this debt binge and that
Australians will suffer for it in the long term.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion seemed to argue that it doesn't matter
if he's right, Senator Joyce is just reflecting the views of the public.

NIGEL SCULLION: If you go down the street and you talk to everyday Australians they'll say "well
Barnaby's saying exactly what I'm worried about", and in Opposition I think that has to be a
fundamental part of the role. It can't only be about the technical minutiae of the financial to-ing
and fro-ing. Somebody needs to reflect the concern of Australian citizens.

LYNDAL CURTIS: South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham was explaining what he thought Senator
Joyce meant to say.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Barnaby Joyce has highlighted and shone a big spotlight on the fact that the
Government has a big debt, a huge debt, a mounting debt and has plunged Australia into hundreds of
billions of dollars of debt. They're the points that I know Barnaby was trying to make.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Even the man himself was revising his remarks.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that Australia could risk defaulting on its debt?

BARNABY JOYCE: Not now, but if you, not now, but if we continue on this trajectory I mean how long
can this go on for?

LYNDAL CURTIS: On Radio 2GB this morning, the Opposition leader didn't agree or disagree with what
Senator Joyce says, he just likes the way he says it.

TONY ABBOTT: Barnaby Joyce has a great gift for communicating with people and sure, you know, the
Government is trying to ridicule him, but out there on the street I think people take Barnaby Joyce
a lot more seriously than they take Lindsay Tanner, who's a jumped up union official.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The shadow treasurer Joe Hockey defended Senator Joyce.

JOE HOCKEY: Barnaby has his own unique way of communicating but his concern is consistent and that
is that Australia should pay down the debt because that will take some of the upward pressure off
interest rates.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Although eventually he disagreed with him.

JOE HOCKEY: Australia can repay its debts, there's no doubt about that.

LYNDAL CURTIS: You have complete confidence in Senator Joyce being a partner in economic
portfolios?

JOE HOCKEY: I have absolutely no confidence in Lindsay Tanner who is the clear definition of a
Labor minister who has failed as finance minister.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And complete confidence in Senator Joyce?

JOE HOCKEY: I have absolute confidence in Barnaby.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Government MPs such as Victorian Mark Dreyfus wants him sacked.

MARK DREYFUS: Mr Abbott should either repudiate the comments or sack Senator Joyce today.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Treasurer Wayne Swan believes far from reflecting the public view Senator Joyce
is actually attacking Australians.

WAYNE SWAN: Now when representatives of the Opposition, the alternative government, go out and slur
our record and do that in the face of international visitors that is damaging to Australia.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Senator Joyce is confident he'll keep his job.

BARNABY JOYCE: If I am sort of a clarion call and a bell saying be careful and you know, be
cautious and I have to cop a bit of stick because of that, then I suppose I'm going to have to cop
a bit of stick because of that.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Tasmanian Liberal frontbencher Eric Abetz says it's the Finance Minister Lindsay
Tanner who should go.

ERIC ABETZ: I think he's being verballed. I've had a look at exactly what he said. What he was
doing was sending the message that he was concerned about the level of Australian Government debt
and in a lot more restrained way it would appear that the Reserve Bank governor was echoing similar
concerns.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Coalition is claiming the paper delivered by the Reserve Bank governor
vindicates its economic stance.

STUART ROBERT: The Reserve Bank governor speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Reserve Bank made
it very clear in support of what the Coalition's messages mean.

DARREN CHESTER: Now we have the Government Reserve Bank indicating that the Government really must
take control of its spending.

TONY ABBOTT: What the Reserve Bank governor said yesterday was "I can take my foot off the brake
but only if the Government takes its foot off the accelerator".

LYNDAL CURTIS: But the Treasurer points out Mr Stevens specifically highlighted that his paper
wasn't a commentary on current Australian policy.

WAYNE SWAN: Page one says this, and this is in bold, it's in bold on page one: "For local readers
we emphasise the paper is not intended to provide any particular message about current issues for
monetary policy in Australia."

LYNDAL CURTIS: Whether Mr Stevens was sending a coded message or not the paper does say that while
interest rate settings could be more accommodating if governments repaired their budgets, Mr
Stevens also says that rates would have to rise eventually and repairing budgets quickly would
inhibit growth.

The economy is emerging, as it has for most elections in recent memory, as the core issue. Without
economic credibility, the task of putting the case to the electorate is difficult and the fight for
economic credibility is underway.

ELEANOR HALL: Lyndal Curtis reporting.