Barnaby Joyce beleaguered
With accusations flying, there will be no let-up now for the deputy PM
A questionable revelation over a consensual affair between two adults, albeit employer and employee, is morphing from an exposé of predictable hypocrisy into a rather more grave #MeToo moment for Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, and there would seem only one way this can end.
Today The Daily Telegraph’s Sharri Markson reported that Joyce pinched a woman on the bottom at a Canberra function in 2011. The woman, who does not wish to be identified, told the Tele on Monday she had approached Joyce worried about his drunken behaviour towards another woman: “I went over to the bar and he was very, very drunk and nearly falling over. I said ‘Barnaby, I think you should go home. You’re very drunk.’ He leant over and he pinched my bottom.” Joyce furiously denies the allegations and this morning said, “It is not the truth. No such thing happened. This and similar nonsense has been retailed in the past by embittered political opponents.” He also said he was reserving his rights to take action against the Tele.
Just before nine this morning, RN Breakfast’s political editor Alison Carabine said she had spoken to another woman, a professional in her 50s who was on a since-disbanded federal government council, who met Joyce at a cocktail party at Parliament House in Canberra in 2010. According to Carabine, the woman says Joyce, then in Opposition, gave her his business card with his personal mobile number handwritten on it and, as she turned to leave, “grabbed her buttock and squeezed”. Carabine reported that the woman was so shocked that she said nothing, but when she got back to her hotel she called her husband. So far there has been no reaction from Joyce’s office.
Joyce’s belated apology to his former wife, daughters, Vikki Campion and his electorate this morning will not be the end of it. If Joyce passed the pub test on Friday, by Tuesday he has certainly failed it. It’s a media pile-on now, with journalists crawling over everything from the history of Joyce’s relationship with New England businessman Greg Maguire (who has provided Joyce and Campion with an apartment rent-free), to the long string of gaffes and policy disasters that led Crikey’s Bernard Keane to label him [$] a serial dud who should never have been deputy PM.
The worst problem with Joyce, in my book, is that as Nationals leader he is dictating terms to the rest of us. This shouty, angry man represents a little over six per cent of the country – way less than the Greens, for example – but gets more than 10 per cent of lower house seats, and 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 wouldn’t stand for it. The May and Ardern minority governments in the UK and New Zealand have released their coalition agreements. When former prime minister Julia Gillard was in minority government, she released Labor’s deal with the Greens and cross-benchers. For the past two years, Labor’s shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon has been campaigning to get the Coalition agreement released, first by lodging a freedom of information request for the original 2015 deal that enabled Turnbull to take the prime ministership, then by going to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, where proceedings are still underway, despite an adverse decision in the Federal Court last August. (Fitzgibbon has so far failed to overturn a tribunal ruling that the Coalition agreement was not an “official document of a Minister” and therefore not subject to the FOI laws.)
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus this morning lamented that on the 10th anniversary of the historic apology to the Stolen Generations, we should be talking about closing the gap, not ministerial standards. Dreyfus said, however, that “it’s now clear that Mr Turnbull has to explain what he knew and when he knew it about the circumstances of Mr Joyce’s conduct.”
In Question Time today, Turnbull distanced himself from yesterday’s botched attempt to distance himself from Joyce. Statements from the PMO yesterday – that the ministerial standards did not apply to Joyce, because Vikki Campion was “not his partner” – were “not authorised by me”, Turnbull said, and compliance with the ministerial standards was a matter for Joyce.
The questions are coming thick and fast, and the hardest are not for the abject Joyce but for the PM himself. On our deadline, Sky News is reporting that the PM has been calling Nationals to test support for Joyce’s leadership. Asked in parliament about those reports, Turnbull did not deny them, and asked if he retained confidence in his deputy prime minister, Turnbull batted it away with one curt word, “yes”. We all know what that means.
since this morning
Breaking: Fairfax Media reports in an exclusive that Barnaby Joyce claimed travel allowance for 50 nights in Canberra when parliament was not sitting.
Members of the Stolen Generations gathered at Parliament House today to mark 10 years since the national apology to the Stolen Generations, a period in which Indigenous leaders say “we have gone backwards.”
in case you missed it
ABC Science reports that 25 years of satellite data has confirmed that the rate at which the sea level is rising is speeding up.
The Australian reports [$] that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is under threat, with NSW and Victoria threatening to walk away.
Alleged Melbourne sex offender Malka Leifer, formerly principal of the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel school, has been arrested and accused of faking mental illness to avoid extradition from Israel.
Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and the Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.
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