VIDEO: Exclusive interview with Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce

THERE is a real chance the person elected to represent Page could be the member that allows the LNP or Labor to form government, says Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

And Mr Joyce, who was in Grafton earlier this week to amplify the message of people making their vote count, said it was more than Page being a bellwether seat.

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He said it was largely a traditional contest between the sitting member, the Nationals Kevin Hogan and the ALP's Janelle Saffin, but boundary changes have introduced some new factors.

"This election is not just a choice for Page," Mr Joyce said.

"Most definitely in this electorate you're voting for the course of the nation.

"This is going to be a tight contest in real terms. In other seats it might be slightly more rhetorical, but not here in Page. You're making a call for which way the country goes.

"When you cast your vote, do it as you see fit, but really think about it. By gosh your vote could determine who is in government."

The redistribution in Page which has added Nimbin in the north, Maclean in the Clarence Valley and Woolgoolga in the south has changed the dynamic of the electorate.

"Kevin has picked up some new areas, great areas, Nimbin. So the influence of the Greens in the electorate has picked up," Mr Joyce said.

"So you've got to go well down the south to make up for the probably more difficult territory in the north."

 

Mr Joyce said he was disappointed there were some unpleasant practices creeping into the election as polling day neared.

"What worries me is if the art of politics becomes one of telling total and utter fabrications without any proper assessment and corroboration of the facts," he said.

"Whatever they think is salacious enough to get a run, they'll pop it out.

"I would prefer a discussion about policy. About the alternate way to run the country versus our way to run the country."

Mobile blackspots

Mr Joyce said the Nationals had identified the importance of mobile phone coverage in the regions.

"A basic fundamental in this room right now that everybody believes in is mobile phones," he said.

"The Green Labor Party Independent alliance never put a mobile phone tower in. We've done over 500 of them. Even if you go to the place where we possibly don't even get a vote."

He said in out of the way places, like Drake half way between the Page electorate and his electorate, New England, a mobile tower is going in.

"At Drake we said we can't give you a university, we can't give you a new hospital you're too small," he said.

"We asked, what can we do? They said, 'give us mobile phone coverage'.

"So we've got that. We try and deliver these services out there."

Gonski hijacked

Mr Joyce said the Nationals supported the needs-based funding model of the Gonski Report for education.

But he believes it has been hijacked by unions and other interest groups to attack the government. "We believe in needs-based funding," he said. "The trouble is the Teachers Federation has said this is a ticket to ride, we're going to write a big new cheque."

Mr Joyce said money is not the major issue with improving education outcomes.

"If it was just paying more money then surely these kids would be at the same level as they were in 1988. They've actually gone down," he said.

"Compared to where we are in the OECD, compared to Germany, we're paying vastly more per student and getting less outcome."

Backpacker tax

Mr Joyce said the issue of the so-called backpacker tax will require some finessing before it became the finished article.

It was released in the Federal Budget but was withdrawn almost immediately following an outcry from the farm lobby.

"What you've got now is a six-month delay, which cost $40 million, which is serious money, to January 1," he said.

"That's a lot smaller cost than giving a group of people a big tax break, because the next group of people will say if you're giving them a big tax break, we want a big tax break and quite understandably so."

Mr Joyce said the tax levels should be the same.

"They should be on a base level. You can't give someone a tax break next to another Australian worker," he said.

"There's no reason another person should be on a higher rate or a lower rate. They should be on the same rate."

He said the history of the tax was "a peculiarity of the times".

"We were given a visa category so that people could get an Australian experience and it became a vital component of how we expand our agricultural production.

"And it's doing it. You take Mataranka picking mangoes, it's 45°C. No Australian would want to go to Mataranka to pick mangoes. People from overseas want to come into Mataranka to pick mangoes."

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