The view from Billinudgel

The Barnaby Joyce sideshow
Joyce is merely the most prominent of many embarrassments for the government


The Barnaby Joyce slapstick soap opera came to yet another climax on Sunday night with the $150,000 television extravaganza.

Or at least I assume it did: for a moment I was piqued by the kind of morbid curiosity that attracts gawkers to car crashes, but decided that life was too short.

We have had enough of Barnaby, and it is obvious that his own colleagues have too. The sooner he retires to his love nest the better.

His latest rationale for his egregious hypocrisy and greed apparently goes back to his days in Bible class: he didn’t blame the beguiling serpent in his private Eden – Channel 7, which offered him the cash – but his already long-suffering partner Vikki Campion.

That is the same woman who, he implied in March, may have been carrying another man’s child. Even then, it had to be feared that this may not be a union made in heaven.

Joyce is clearly incorrigible and an ongoing embarrassment to the government of which he was deputy leader. But although he is currently the most prominent embarrassment, he is far from the only one.

In the past fortnight we have seen undisciplined and reckless behaviour from Andrew Hastie, Michaelia Cash, Greg Hunt and Craig Kelly to name but the most publicised. And there is the constant background static surrounding Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrews, and their coterie, not to mention the ongoing distraction of serial disrupters like George Christensen.

These are only the more obvious: there is still the Labor Party and the minors and independents to consider. A full rollcall of the offenders may well suggest that the majority of parliament is verging on the anarchic.

This is obviously an exaggeration – parliament still has its rational moments. But the public perception of chaos and dysfunction, in which the decision-making is confined to short-term party advantage and debate is no more than schoolyard abuse and bullying, is the impression that increasingly persists.

And for that, like so much, the buck stops at the top. Malcolm Turnbull has failed to instil discipline in his own party, and as a result the politics of fear and loathing have trickled down through the ministry, the backbench, the media and finally the voters.

What is worse, the prime minister seems resigned to the idea: he has long given up his pledge to respect the intelligence of the electorate and is now opting for little more than survival, in the hope that he will be seen as marginally less horrible than Bill Shorten.

It might even work, but he and his fellow MPs have ensured that the polity has already been severely damaged in the process. Barnaby Joyce is merely the most obvious pratfaller to exemplify Turnbull’s failure of leadership.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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