Barnaby Joyce as National Party warrior and Deputy PM has flamed out, and to mix metaphors is politically washed up for now, perhaps forever. The one certainty is that his pay will be sliced by about $200k. However, there is no easy agreement as to what has really happened and what it all means.
Phillip Coorey in the AFR said it was the end of the Barnaby Joyce experiment and his exit shows politics has changed:
- Politics has changed. People used to survive much worse. Not any more.
He cites Sam Dastayari and Bob Hawke. Well, Dastayari didn’t survive, and generally speaking people did not know about what Bob Hawke was up to until his time was over.
Mark said on Facebook:
Let’s be clear. The reason Joyce had to go was not “because he committed adultery”. What’s at stake here is hypocrisy, arrogance and malfeasance.
Paul Bongiorno in The Saturday Paper finds a better analogy in Keating’s attempt to support Carmen Lawrence, which failed after a year of bad headlines, and Julia Gillard taking two years to shed Craig Thompson. He tells the Joyce story well:
- More than enough has happened in the week since parliament previously sat to fan the flames first lit when The Daily Telegraph broke the story of Barnaby’s pregnant girlfriend, presenting him with a “Bundle of Joyce”. But what gave this story traction, beyond tabloid salaciousness, was the high-paid jobs offered to his new partner and the $400,000-a-year politician asking a rich mate to find him somewhere to live rent free in defiance of the ministerial code. Sure, Joyce told parliament businessman Greg Maguire made the offer unsolicited. The Australian and The Tele quoted Maguire telling them the opposite.
The Joyce story is no media beat-up. It surfaced because the dysfunction and disruption in his office, caused by his affair, spilled out into the Nationals party room. Party sources confirm that Joyce’s performance as leader became more and more erratic. He refused to take advice and in the December reshuffle served notice that rivals and critics would not be tolerated.
In the end there was a complete breakdown of relations between the Turnbull and Joyce:
In an interview with the Fairfax papers while he spent the week on leave, Joyce said his version of the private meeting with the prime minister last weekend was that he pulled Turnbull into line for publicly attacking him. Turnbull’s office later briefed out that the “warm and frank meeting” resolved nothing because Joyce “just doesn’t get it”.
What Joyce simply didn’t get, according to Turnbull, was that you can’t have sex with your staff. The other jiggery-pokery apparently was OK.
However, almost everyone except his fellow National Party politicians said he must go. There are 20 other than Joyce in the party room. Neither his supporters nor those who said he should step down had the majority. And the swing group plus most of his supporters said that if anything else came to light, he was gone.
Then last week we heard that a sexual harassment complaint had been made about him in confidence to the National Party. That turned out to be Catherine Marriott, a Shire of Broome councillor, a WA project manager with the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia and a former West Australian Rural Woman of the Year. It may not have been much, and possibly Joyce was too drunk to remember, but Ms Marriott is a highly credible person, unlikely to make a spurious complaint.
Finally, this sank Barnaby and Barnaby understood he was gone.
Dennis Shanahan says Barnaby Joyce was blind to a drama that was always going to end in tragedy (pay-walled):
- Barnaby Joyce has bowed to the inevitable but the pain for the Coalition, the Nationals and Malcolm Turnbull will continue from bleeding political wounds, fractured trust and poor judgment. The body politic, public discourse and social values have also undergone permanent change for the worse.
The last sentence probably overcooks things a bit, Joyce in the broad scheme of things is more symptom than cause. As I see it there are three main residual issues.
First, will Joyce keep his head down? Bongiorno says that some of Joyce’s party room supporters realised that to tip him out unwillingly would cause a ruckus bigger by far than Abbott could ever mount. Joyce says, no sniping, but by nature is not a quiet person so Turnbull must be worried. Chris Kenny, Associate Editor of the Oz, regrets that two of the best spokesmen for the right in politics are now on the back bench. In Kenny’s universe, Turnbull is too far to the left, almost indistinguishable from Bill Shorten, who, although right of centre, is a dangerous socialist.
We’ll have to wait and see how all that works out, but writing a book is what you do after your political career is over. If the book is interesting, it would hardly be a path back into the top position.
The second issue is the future of the Coalition Agreement, the document that gave Turnbull the top job, but gave Joyce virtually the power of veto. For decades the Nationals have disappointed many of their followers by not leveraging the power the Coalition gave them. Joyce was the first national leader to fully exploit that leverage.
The Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie says the Coalition agreement does not need renegotiation. However, Michael McCormack does not strike me as having the same force of personality.
The third, and I think the most important issue, is the impact of Turnbull’s changes to the Ministerial Code of Conduct.
At ABC RN’s The Minefield Scott Stevens put a cogent case in favour of Turnbull’s banning of sexual relations.
Michelle Grattan in a competent piece (as usual) says
- Joyce was brought down by his own behaviour, relentless media disclosures, and the reality that the government could not stand the damage being done to it.
No argument there, but Stevens absolves everyone other than Joyce of any responsibility at all. He says that in hierarchical workplaces where power is distributed unequally women are subject to immense injury and humiliation. They become casualties and are in no way complicit. Astonishingly, he says that women’s very survival in the workplace depends their cultivating on a sense of sexual availability. Here is a photo that was splashed on the front page of the Courier Mail. I googled and found it on a pay-walled Newscorp site, but it’s an AAP photo taken at a farmers conference in 2016:
Clearly Vikki Campion had choices as to how she presented herself. My personal opinion is that she could have toned down sexual attraction several notches without putting her career in danger. And I find it hard to think of her as a complete victim, without any agency.
James Massola of the SMH after interviewing the couple last week reported on the 7.30 Report that they are very much in love.
Nevertheless, Scott Stevens is right in thinking that interpersonal relations always have a sexual dimension and since women don’t generally wear burkas in our society it will be in the mix. Stevens says that Turnbull has “radically simplified” the issue in a way that attempts to take sexual relations out of ministerial offices, where in any case ministers should be outwardly focussed towards what they can do for the greater good.
Waleed Aly says he can see all that, but Turnbull’s injunction was the single most stupid and kack-handed action taken by a prime minister in recent times. In his opinion the decision is all very well, but is in effect not policeable except by the media, who now have a duty to interest themselves in the private lives of politicians, and to use all means possible including long-range telephoto lenses. In effect, at one stroke Malclom Turnbull has reconfigured the shape of political coverage by the media.
Stevens and Aly were joined by Paula McDonald, Professor of Work and Organisation, QUT, who wrote the Conversation piece Banning workplace romances won’t solve the problem of sexual misconduct in the office. She agreed with Aly, pointing out that such an action would have negative unintended consequences. She was also concerned about infantalising women. In this case what happened was clearly consensual, she said.
Stevens could see their argument, but still was inclined to hang out for politics as an exemplary place, where if anything standards should be higher than elsewhere.
Our politics is, I think, becoming fractious and broken. However, Barnaby Joyce is but one episode along the way. Turnbull’s action, however, may create real change for the worse.