IIt was one of the election surprises Barnaby Joyce not only kept his place, but also increased his margin in 2016 after an unprecedented period of personal and professional turmoil.
Retired New England farmers Brian and Cynthia Tomlin attributed this to the fact that in smaller communities, people rarely have their political views challenged. Brian calls it dog theory.
"As farmers, we are very insular," he says. "We spend all day alone, usually with no one to talk to except our dogs.
"And if we're lucky, we'll go to the pub on Friday and talk to our mates and find out their dogs have the same opinion as our dogs. Ideas are never challenged. "
New England voters gave Joyce nearly 55 percent of the primary vote. Although it was a 1% drop compared to the result of the 2017 citizenship election, there was a slight increase (2.5%) in the general elections of 2016.
Andrew Coventry, of Armidale Outdoor, grew up in the area, as did his partner Dee, and both voted as independents. They attribute Joyce's victory to her high visibility and the sense that he was being targeted by outside media.
"It was a surprise to us," says Coventry. "Australians generally love an underdog. They love a local boy story. We kind of fell for that larrikin, or a villain. Many people here feel that it has been poorly done by the media and maybe crucified a little.
"He still did the wrong thing and you can not escape it, but many people do not like the idea of him getting upset as much as he does."
Rusted-on Coalition voters and swing voters offer a similar explanation. Rob Richardson is very typical of conservative voters in the district. His family ran the department store on Armidale's main street. He was also a counselor and worked in employment services, and is now semi-retired.
He describes Joyce as "extravagant," a parliamentarian who caters to the needs of the community and draws attention to New England.
"He's a doer. He does things. He's a dissident and there are not many left over in politics today, "says Richardson.
"I thought he was a good deputy prime minister, a great character, a great personality. He is a local fellow from Woolbrook. He's a guy that people can relate to. You see, there are many people who do not like him passionately. "
Asked to name what Joyce did for the electorate, Richardson highlights the highly contentious decision to move the Australian Authority of Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines from Canberra to Armidale. He watched the outrage in Canberra with surprise.
"[It was] how dare a regional city steal one of the government departments? ", he says.
"To do this was remarkable, there have been controversies around that too … It seems to just blossom in all this pressure and controversy."
This is the riddle between local and national politics. Out of her seat, Joyce faced fierce criticism for her personal conduct and her management of agriculture and water portfolios. Still inside the seat, the controversy feeds much of its support.
The APVMA movement was haunted by controversy from 2016 – when Joyce announced without cabinet approval, under pressure from a Tony Windsor challenge – for this month when it opened its doors at 91 Beardy Street.
There was critical and cost-effective review discarded, site specs changed, reports the staff was filing at McDonalds to access the wi-fi, a criminal fire at the Armidale Club at 91 Beardy Street while the department of agriculture was looking information. , an investigator's investigation into the fire and a subsequent suicide, police investigations and numerous attempts in parliament to get to the bottom of the case.
Meanwhile, there is still no national drought policy. Joyce presided over large and regular funding cuts for Landcare. The live export industry, which he defended, is in tatters – an independent review blamed the former Agriculture Minister for a chronic regulatory failure. Water management in the Murray Darling Basin reached a critical point, not helped by the controversial water buy-back agreed upon under its command, which had southern NSW seething and created challenges for Coalition MPs in Farrer and Mallee chairs during the elections federal
But Joyce takes any questions with simple solutions.
"If more water has to be allocated for socioeconomic purposes, it should be," he says in Armidale. "Drought, when it reaches a certain point, is a national emergency."
And the choice of 91 Beardy Street for APVMA?
"In politics, you get conspiracy theories," says Joyce. "I do not choose the site where they put the building …
"It's up there with the man landing on the moon happened in a basement in Los Angeles."
An independent streak
After the election, New England returned to its rhythm. Our visit coincides with a blanket of snow on the seat parts of 66,000 square kilometers. Joyce has performed since 2013 after he moved from the Queensland Senate to make a run for the lower house to fulfill his leadership ambitions.
He contested New England after the violent 43rd parliament in which Windsor and his independent colleague Rob Oakeshott agreed to support Julia Gillard. The seat includes Woolbrook (population 185, including 18% indigenous), the town where Joyce's parents still work.
His victory returned New England to the national fold, although the electorate had been virtually gold-plated after Windsor represented the state and federal level area in two parliaments.
The Gillard government's list of demands included Armidale's choice for the first rollout of the national broadband network, funding for the Chaffey Dam and the modernization of Tamworth Hospital, as well as broader political work on climate change and integrity.
But for some in New England, none of this compensated for support for the Labor government. While the area housed independent conservatives like Windsor and former independent state Richard Torbay, who disappeared from public life in dubious circumstances, it has been rusted with National since the early days of the federation.
Everyone we spoke to, including Windsor, agreed that his decision to work with the Labor Party affected future prospects for New England independents, particularly this year's pioneer Adam Blakester.
Add to the ambitious Labor Party platform and the low personal support of Bill Shorten, and it was a long walk in a short campaign for a center independent such as Blakester, who worked for Greenpeace and is on the board of Lock the Gate.
"Many people in the country did not particularly like Bill Shorten and saw something different from the Coalition as a potential Bill Shorten," says Windsor. "Part of this would be a turnaround from my involvement in parliament back in 2010-13, where some people would still see an independent as possibly going to the Labor side in a weakened parliament.
"Many people are tending to go back to the side of the tennis court where they were born and not look at the issues that were being represented."
Richardson agrees. "I think I'm a bit pragmatic, and out of it. [Armidale] I have the NBN … which Tamworth [council] he did not take it out of pure anger for what Tony Windsor had done, "he says." But I kind of think it really hurt him, there's no doubt about it.He was in a really difficult position. "
The Tomlins agree that Windsor's choice has created a major obstacle, though they support his decision, since the alternative was a Tony Abbott government.
"If it were not for Tony Windsor, the Chaffey Dam would not have been upgraded, though Barnaby Joyce got the credit because it was completed after Tony left," says Brian.
"We have a new hospital … he brought a lot because of the agreements he got with the government that benefited the electorate."
Fierce attacks on Facebook
Colin Gadd, a retired director, former Armidale advisor and perennial volunteer, describes himself as a voter who supported Windsor in the past. He watched Joyce's Facebook page during the election, which drew constant attacks from people who seemed to live outside the area.
"He's a drunk, he's a misogynist, he's a thief, he was accused of firing on the Armidale Club so they could build the APVMA on it. This is absolute rubbish, "says Gadd.
"All these accusations are a bit like Nazi propaganda in the 1930s, they tell a lie big enough, they count a lot and people believe that. People here, as evidenced by their vote, ignored and voted for him in any way. "
Coventry uses APVMA as an example of a Joyce achievement that has fallen well in the electorate, providing jobs that could "pay off a mortgage and a new car every five years." When these high profile examples are combined with national unique name recognition, he believes that he works at the polls.
"Many people here do not know how to vote differently," he says. "They would not have thought about who else or where to put that vote. The fact that he was on the news probably helped him."
The public's own collapse of his MP's marriage, his relationship with his clerk and his subsequent children were not mentioned by New England voters, although they were still quite involved in conversations about Joyce out of the seat.
Joyce says that although people did not give him a "golden star" for their relationships, as long as he did not put it on people's faces, voters treated him as "personal business."
"To be frank, in some sections of the media, they overplayed, overflowed," he says.
"The nature of Australians in general is that if they see someone on the ground, they wonder how they got there. If they see someone on the floor stuffing the slipper inside … they ask other questions and they have an empathy, they say it could be me and I would not like that. "
Joyce says New Englanders identify strongly with their local region rather than with the state, and all they want from their parliamentarians is "parochial representation."
"They also saw me as maybe a problem, but their problem, not someone else's, and I recognize it. The main thing they wanted from me was the job."
"Does not follow the logic"
Blakester is shocked by Joyce's positive balance in 2016 given his ministerial record.
"The voters have mathematically rewarded Joyce for his conduct over the last two years, so it does not follow the logic," he says.
The widely accepted view is that Joyce is good at delivering things like APVMA, but also the usual government business, such as roads, bridges and towers, he says.
He believes that the video that emerged during the campaign, which showed Joyce bragging about the looting of agriculture department head Paul Grimes, may actually have helped the MP.
"There is a perception that he is able to deliver in a certain way because of his optimistic nature and a vision that is what is needed in Canberra," says Blakester. "You have to be an individual of willpower to get results."
Blakester's team interviewed more than 1,000 voters to ask about their priorities – a decision that Windsor thinks will go down well.
"People always say you're not listening, you're not doing what we say," says Windsor. "[Blakester] did this, but he was not rewarded for it. The sloganism with which Joyce continues to be rewarded, so I shake my head as much as anyone.
Blakester is not sure whether he will return to racing, although his defenders are willing to continue their commitment to the seat. Independent campaigns in places like the Indi show that continued involvement throughout the parliamentary mandate is essential to build support in large and very conservative constituencies.
Gadd says that if someone starts campaigning next week, he will watch them closely. Richardson acknowledges that Joyce appealed to the "Howard fighters" rather than the "intelligentsia," although such support might change.
"[Joyce] would have many rusty voters, he picked me up like a rusty voter, but I would have been a minority, "says Richardson.
"He would have many voters like Colin who, if someone shows up and can offer great things, most voters will go that way. And Barnaby knows that.