There’s a huge advantage for politicians trying to get their message out in the digital age.
If you build your own social media following you can pump talking points straight into the public’s veins, bypassing the occasionally pesky gatekeepers in the media and reaching people directly.
There’s a slight catch though – sometimes you get a little splashback.
That’s exactly what happened to Member for New England, defender of the bush, and terrier terroriser Barnaby Joyce yesterday evening after the Minister for Agriculture shared his reaction to approval of the controversial Shenhua mine.
The mine falls within Joyce’s electorate, but its approval by the Coalition government has angered farming groups, who say it could wreck some of the best agricultural land in the world.
"It's literally blowing up a 35-square-kilometre hole in the heart of Australian agriculture,” the President of NSW Farmers told Fairfax.
Joyce opposed the mine but was unable to convince Environment Minister Greg Hunt not to sign off on it. Clearly sensing community anger, he issued a statement from his Facebook page.
“I've never supported the Shenhua mine. I think it is ridiculous that you would have a major mine in the midst of Australia’s best agricultural land,” the Minister said.
“I've done everything in my power to try and stop the mine. We brought about further investigations; we had an independent expert scientific review.”
The good news for Joyce is that he got his message out there. The post reached over 125,000 people, according to his office, and notched up over 1,300 ‘likes’ and 625 responses.
The bad news is, most of them were like this:
Not content with venting on the actual post, people shared their outrage all over the MP’s page.
Joyce’s office, however, don’t seem too fussed by the response.
“He’s often been the lightning rod for protests on Facebook,” a spokesperson told New Matilda. “Live cattle exports, the bio-security risk by Johnny Depp smuggling his two pet Yorkshire terriers into the country earlier this year, and the perception that all Australian farmland is being bought by Chinese investors.”
The spokesperson conceded their office had also received 105 phone calls about the matter as of 11:30am this morning, which had been “mostly negative”. But they said just four had come from people actually living in Joyce’s electorate.
Team Joyce will certainly be hoping not too many more come in from closer to the Liverpool Plains, where the mine is to be dug.
Also picking up on community dissatisfaction this morning was former Independent member for New England Tony Windsor.
The man who used his vote in Parliament to help Julia Gillard form government in 2010 hinted at a return to federal politics, telling Radio National the mine had pushed him towards another run.
Given the great rivalry between the pair, we can only hope he does.
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