Politics is part of every country show. There is the tongue-in-cheek variety between Jersey and Friesian dairy farmers, between sheep and goat graziers, and between dressage horses and motorbike clubs, but room is always made for the “more serious” variety, the politics that normally takes place in a parliament house or council chamber.
In fact, country shows provide one of the few unfiltered opportunities to speak directly to our leaders.
January, February, March is show season in South East New South Wales and has been for 145 years, from Moruya Show to Bega and Cooma, the region’s politicians make a point of attending, an army of party faithful at their side with marques and billboards marked in party colours and slogans.
The Bega Show last weekend offered some respite for the region’s federal representatives, who seemed happy to be free of Canberra and were looking forward to a week were their own sex lives were a talking point.
“It was like a bowl of sweet and sour Chinese,” Labor’s Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro says.
“On one hand we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations, and on the other we had the other business [Barnaby Joyce affair] going on,” Dr Kelly says.
The Turnbull Government was represented at the show by new NSW Liberal Senator Jim Molan, who has just completed his first two-week parliamentary sitting.
Senator Molan has been described as the Stephen Bradbury of politics. Listed as the seventh candidate on the NSW Coalition Senate ticket at the last election, the former Army General finds himself in parliament as a result of the Section 44 citizenship saga that claimed Nationals Senator Fiona Nash.
Like Dr Kelly, Mr Molan did not want to offer direct comment on the Barnaby Joyce affair or his own recent brush with the media where he was criticised for sharing a Facebook post from the far-right group Britain First.
“What may surprise everyone is that the Government is getting on and doing its job,” Mr Molan says.
“For example, the Minister for Veterans Affairs introduced a Bill last week which he called Veteran Centric Reform,” Mr Molan says.
The Government’s Veterans Affairs website says, “Veteran Centric Reform [is] to provide the veteran community with a greater standard of service through reform of business processes and culture.”
Reflecting on the work of parliament and other matters that might have been missed in the buzz around Barnaby, Dr Kelly points to the work of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
Last week, the Committee handed down its Review of the listing of Islamic State Khorasan Province and the re-listing of al-Murabitun as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code.
In a nutshell, their report concluded: “Islamic State Khorasan Province and al-Murabitun continue to meet the definition of a terrorist organisation.”
Perhaps not a front-of-mind issue for showgoers over the weekend, but Dr Kelly who sits on the Committee insists that it demonstrates that politics is more than the scandal and combat we see presented in the media.
“It’s [the Joint Committee] a very bipartisan mechanism, we really do focus on the interests of the country, keeping our people safe and defeating terrorists. There is no politics there,” he says.
The red of the Labor tent sat side by side with the blue of the Liberal tent over the three days of the Bega Show.
Often the different party members could be seen standing on neutral ground discussing the issues of the day or their show winning dahlias.
Passers-by were invited to raise concerns and issues, offer a view on parliament’s current agenda, or find out what’s going on for themselves.
“That’s what we are here for,” Dr Kelly says.
“Sometimes it’s good for people to just get things off their chest, I’ve learned as a Member there’s a lot of therapy you can provide by just being a decent listener.”
This grassroots demonstration of our democracy survives in a political landscape that thrives on extremes and conflict, and one that highlights difference rather than similarity. It’s a style of politics that sits comfortably alongside the giant pumpkins, decorated Arrowroots, and chainsaw racing of the show.
“And I am only new, I am not across the local issues, I am here to learn,” Senator Molan says.
Show season rolls on this weekend with the Canberra Show, followed by Delegate, Dalgety, Cooma, and Bemboka on March 11.
Head along not just for the sideshow clowns or a pony ride, but ready to see your local politician – the invitation is there to talk to them.
*This article first appeared on RiotACT