Barnaby Joyce is ready to pounce
POLITICIANS love to put on photo opportunities because they know pictures trump words when it comes to getting a message across.
Even if you have to talk about the latest awful poll, ministerial scandal or an inconvenient economic result, you'll be saved to some extent because you're doing it in a voter friendly situation.
If you're lucky you might even get away with it.
Tomorrow morning Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is having a photo op at Parkes which is in the northern part of his electorate and most famous for being the central location in the moon landing film, The Dish.
McCormack will be there to turn a sod. There's a chance he might be accompanied by his boss, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The sod they'll be turning will be said to be connected to the long-awaited and much supported inland railway from Melbourne to Brisbane.
The problem is there's no point in turning a sod at Parkes.
The inland railway that passes through Parkes has been there for 100 years and this section of track was given a complete upgrade over the past 20 years.
Why a sod? The answer is politics - both internal Nationals politics and hunting-for-votes politics.
Like so much in modern politics this is a con. It's another politician who is rolling out a stunt that has no substance or meaning.
In the trade this is known as Junk Politics.
McCormack is keen to promote himself for two reasons - his seat of Riverina might have a 16 per cent margin but in rural and provincial New South Wales electoral politics is not as simple as it seems.
In September, a state by-election in the seat of Wagga was lost by the Liberals to an independent after they suffered a 28 per cent primary vote swing. The Liberals had held Wagga for more than 60 years.
No Coalition seat is safe in rural and provincial New South Wales right now.
The other reason McCormack is keen to have a photo op which makes him look like he's doing something is that his predecessor as Nationals leader - and deputy prime minister - Barnaby Joyce is breathing down his neck.
Joyce reckons he's paid the price for his indulgent and selfish personal behaviour - hiding an affair with a staffer and trying to hide the love child pregnancy which resulted from it - and he should get his old job back.
He was ready to pounce in the final weeks of parliament but wiser heads prevailed. He still might spring a challenge when parliament resumes in February. McCormack is nervous.
This is why we're going to see a pointless photo op turning a sod at a spot where a railway line is not being built and where no work for the inland railway is planned at any time before the whole thing is finished.
In fact, the beginning of the inland railway was marked by the unveiling of a plaque on a big stone beside the Macintyre River outside Goondiwindi on the Queensland/New South Wales border.
That was where former Nationals leader and deputy prime minister John Anderson drove a spike into the ground in 2001, in the company of the man behind the inland railway Queenslander Everald Compton.
Compton was invited to this week's photo op but politely declined, pointing out to McCormack's office nothing was happening at Parkes and there was a 17-year-old plaque commemorating the real start of the railway.
Compton tells his side of this story in a post he put up on Facebook last night in which he expresses his bewilderment as to why this event is happening at all.
"It will be good if something positive comes out of the politics of the Parkes ceremony as I am told that the Prime Minister will try to be there," writes Compton.
"I declined an invitation to attend, but I do hope they invite (former Queensland Liberal minister) Mal Brough and (former deputy PM) Tim Fischer as they have spent many days helping me through the enormous web of political and bureaucratic intrigue that delays every infrastructure project in Australia."
As Compton points out in his succinct Facebook post, there are other places a sod turning might have meaning "such as the new track from Narromine to Narrabri or the one from North Star to Toowoomba".
However, this might invite some voter unrest because farmers in those corridors have been treated badly on the proposed route and compensation.
Compton describes this treatment by the Commonwealth's Australian Rail Track Corporation as "pure thuggery".
No wonder they are hiding out in Parkes where nothing is happening. Hopefully the picture will be nice.
Dennis Atkins is national political editor for The Courier-Mail