Like Labor, Turnbull and the Liberal Party had so far regarded Barnaby Joyce’s relationship with former staffer Vikki Campion as a private matter. As long as everything had been done within formal regulations, it didn’t matter that jobs had been found for Campion when her presence in Joyce’s office was no longer viable. It didn’t matter that a mate had given him free accommodation in Armidale, or that he had spent 50 nights in Canberra at taxpayers expense when parliament was not sitting.
All that changed when Turnbull launched a withering attack on his morals, his judgement and his character, and went on to say that forthwith no minister will have sex with a staff member under the new ministerial code of conduct. Moreover, Joyce was sent to the naughty corner to think about his position and his future by being sent on leave, rather than act as prime minister when Turnbull is overseas next week.
It was more than a vote of no confidence. As Mark Kenny said in the SMH, the message was that Joyce’s position as Deputy PM was not viable.
Except that he didn’t say it in so many words. Phillip Coorey in the AFR probably has it about right.
Turnbull’s harsh judgement on his deputy’s behaviour and the call for him to consider his future infuriated Joyce and will cause deep harm to their working relationship and possibly within the Coalition. However, as a result of Turnbull’s intervention, Joyce has even less intention of stepping down.
Here’s the full text of what Turnbull said. It included:
- Barnaby has given me, as I said in the House, an unequivocal assurance that he has complied with the ministerial standards and with both the use and reporting of ministerial and other entitlements.
But I think we know that the real issue is the terrible hurt and humiliation that Barnaby by his conduct has visited on his wife, Natalie, and their daughters, and indeed, his new partner.
Barnaby made a shocking error of judgment in having an affair with a young woman working in his office. In doing so he has set off a world of woe for those women and appalled all of us.
Our hearts go out to them; it has been a dreadful thing for them to go through in the glare of publicity. Marriage breakups are dreadful. But to do it, to have it, to experience it, in the full glare of the spotlight, is a dreadful business.
Now, Barnaby knows he made that shocking error of judgment. He knows he let down his wife and daughters. And he has apologised for that. And to them. And he is taking leave next week.
And I’ve encouraged him to take that leave. I think he needs that leave. He needs that time to reflect. He needs that time to seek forgiveness and understanding from his wife and girls. He needs to make a new home for his partner and their baby that is coming in April.
He then goes on to criticise the “culture of this place”, that is, the parliament, talking about the need for integrity and respect. And:
- “Ministers must recognise that while they are entitled to privacy in personal matters, they occupy positions of great responsibility and public trust. The public have high expectations of them in terms of their personal conduct and decorum.
“Ministers should be very conscious that their spouses and children sacrifice a great deal so they can carry on their political career and their families deserve honour and respect.
“Ministers should also recognise that they must lead by example. Values should be lived.”
His opinion of Barnaby could hardly be more clear.
Katherine Murphy thinks that Turnbull’s sex ban has thrown petrol on a political bonfire and has abruptly altered the rules of engagement. From now on what had been considered private will very much be public, and the press will be obliged to report on it.
Newspoll comes out again next week, I think, so any move will be credited to the Joyce affair. Essential Report on Tuesday had Labor ahead 54-46 TPP. People should pause to think about the raw party vote. The Nationals with 3% come in after Labor on 37, the Liberals on 33, the Greens on 10, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation on 6 and Xenophon on 4%.
Paddy Manning in The Monthly lets fly about the preposterous influence this splinter party has.
- This shouty, angry man … has his foot on the throat of the prime minister, by virtue of a secret Coalition agreement in which the National Party constrains the Liberal Party. From water to climate change to same-sex marriage and whatever else is in there, the Coalition agreement is a hidden handbrake on this country, giving the Nationals influence out of all proportion to their constituency.
After the 2016 election, Joyce said his first aspiration was that the Coalition agreement “remains confidential … that’s aspiration number one, two, three, four, five and six.”
Other countries would not stand for it, for example New Zealand or Germany, and Gillard published the terms of her working agreement for her minority government in 2013. For two years Labor’s shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon has been campaigning to get the Coalition agreement released, without success.
Bernard Keane at Crikey says Joyce has always been a dud and should never have been Deputy PM. His basic charge is that Joyce lacks judgment and any interest in detail or consequences, and Turnbull must have lost count of the times when “Joyce’s ineptitude has inflicted serious damage on a government that wants desperately to talk about massive jobs growth, an improving budget situation and its plans for the defence industry.”
- The real point is that, both in policy and political terms, Joyce has always been a flake, and should never have even been a frontbencher, let alone the ostensibly second-most powerful man in Australia.
This contrasts with Joyce’s supporters within his own party, where Queensland Nationals Barry O’Sullivan’s advice says ‘don’t shoot your best horse’ because he jumped the fence and was found in the neighbour’s paddock.”
Andrew Clark in the AFR sees Turnbull as finally taking control and making his own running as PM. If it doesn’t work Malcolm will be in more than a muddle.
The point is that Turnbull hasn’t taken control because he can’t. Joyce may be contrite:
but as AFR cartoonist David Rowe depicts, chances are he’ll still be there:
and while he is Turnbull will be pensive, worried and ultimately powerless:
Meanwhile the story has been picked up in the New York Times – Politician’s Affair Puts Spotlight on Australia’s Crony Culture. They talked to Susan Harris Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University in Queensland, who said the whole affair will reduce the already low esteem in which Australians hold their politicians. She does seem to think there is a genuine culture problem in the operating parliament:
- “It is not a healthy place,” Professor Rimmer said. “It runs on alcohol and gossip and fumes and power.”
For Turnbull the joy with which he greeted the re-election of Joyce late last year must be a very distant memory:
However, Matthias Cormann says Turnbull and Joyce have a good relationship and can work together. That makes it official, so we can all relax.