AFTER a week marred with controversy, there is still no word on when Barnaby Joyce will return to his electorate.
For much of this week, The Northern Daily Leader has sought an interview with the embattled Deputy Prime Minister, who has been largely absent from the New England since Christmas.
The Leader asked Mr Joyce’s office when he would be back in the electorate and what local events he would be attending in the coming weeks.
Instead, Mr Joyce’s spokesperson sent through a statement, which said the MP was “powering ahead on projects across the electorate”.
While Mr Joyce has yet to say publicly where he is living, in January he updated his register of interests to declare he had been gifted “post-election residual of six-month tenancy on Armidale premises”.
However, reports this week suggest Mr Joyce is living in Canberra with former staffer Vikki Campion, who he is in a relationship with, after separating from his wife of 24-years, Natalie, in October 2017.
Ms Campion is expected to give birth to Mr Joyce’s child in April.
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Nationals New England chair Russell Webb defended his party leader, pointing out Mr Joyce had been busy getting up to scratch on his new infrastructure and transport portfolio.
“For a minister who wants to do his job justice, there is a lot of work to do to get your head around the issues you’re going to be confronted with, and that does take some time,” Mr Webb said.
“Now that parliament is sitting again, it would be our expectation to see more of him in the next parliamentary break.
“We expect him to be focused as he has always been in the past.”
Mr Webb wants to take full advantage of Mr Joyce’s new portfolio, and hopes the MP can give wings to the idea of upgrading Tamworth airport becoming an international freight destination.
“That would really make our economy grow,” he said.
Full state from Barnaby Joyce’s spokesperson
The New England is powering ahead on projects across the electorate and none more relevant to people in rural areas like our own, than roads.
We rely on our road network for many purposes and having adequate infrastructure in place to meet those needs is vitally important.
Already, we’re making good progress on major road projects like the Willow Tree-Merriwa Road heavy stock transport route, the Tenterfield bypass which we just recently announced a successful tender for planning work, as well as the Bolivia Hill realignment and Scone bypass, where construction will start shortly.
Still in the Upper Hunter, we’re looking forward to seeing progress at Scone Regional Livestock Selling Centre with new yards to be built this year which the Government has provided $2.8 million through the Building Better Regions Fund.
This year we also want to push for better access to the coast through the upgrade of Thunderbolts Way and Port Stephens cutting which has been a cause of frustration for many motorists and heavy vehicle operators in the New England. Our state colleague, Kevin Anderson indicated this road is high on his priority list too, so together we hope to get some traction on this.
There’s also a multitude of smaller but no less significant road improvements in local neighbourhoods and village streets which we’re funding in conjunction with New England councils through the Roads to Recovery Programme.
Water will remain a big priority, especially Dungowan Dam where we already have $75 million on the table to secure Tamworth’s future water supply.
We have more mobile base stations going live in the New England this year, part of our 37-tower rollout for the electorate under the Mobile Black Spot Program, which will provide increased coverage to farmers, residents and travellers.
We’re also approaching significant milestones at the Coalition Government-backed, Northern Inland Centre of Sporting Excellence at the AELEC precinct, which this week hosted the 2018 Landmark Campdraft and Sale.
There will be many more funding opportunities we’ll be considering this year and there’s a list stretching out the door.
Rest assured the Government is committed to creating more jobs in regional Australia, and the transition of the APVMA from Canberra to Armidale is a big part of that.
We are also working to put more money in people’s pockets by cutting taxes, providing affordable childcare and implementing a serious and effective energy policy.
The Government set out a clear blueprint to Australians at the last election and we’re knuckling down to deliver on those commitments.