Friday, February 23, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Baklava test: Barnaby Joyce resigns
Hopefully politics will now get a little less sexy

Thank God that’s over. Barnaby Joyce has done the decent thing and resigned, joining colleagues including former PM Tony Abbott on the backbench, after news broke today that he was facing a formal complaint of sexual harassment in Western Australia. It is tempting to say good riddance, but Joyce is determined to stand again, and, assuming he wins preselection, could well be back, depending how the voters of New England see it at the next election. Given they just returned him with the biggest swing to a government member in the country’s history – and despite rumours already swirling on social media at the time – it is a pretty safe bet.

Though he was a divisive figure, it was difficult not to sympathise with Joyce in his final press conference as deputy prime minister and Nationals leader today, particularly when he bemoaned the treatment of his partner, Vikki Campion, papped while heavily pregnant and whacked on the front page by her old newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “Go after me,” he said, “I’m the public figure and that’s what I get paid for. But don’t go after private individuals.”

Joyce was apparently protected by the mediocrity of his colleagues, and with no clear favourite among the mooted contenders for the leadership – Michael McCormack, David Gillespie, Darren Chester, David Littleproud, even Matt Canavan in the upper house – the spill is not exactly a thrilling prospect. This afternoon on Radio National, Fran Kelly called it a Steven Bradbury situation.

It is often said that power is an aphrodisiac, but, for what it’s worth, how I wish it wasn’t. Politics is not sexy – it is show business for ugly people. Power is or should be a responsibility, a burden, not a turn-on. I much prefer the idea that the person who wants power is the last person that should be given it. Barnaby Joyce said his political career has been about making a difference for the people living in the weatherboard and iron homes in small country towns, but I bet he wasn’t thinking about the people in the weatherboard and iron when he was getting off on his high office.

As Greens leader Richard Di Natale said this afternoon, and as I’ve written previously in The Monthly Today, let’s hope the new Nationals leader, whoever it turns out to be, releases the secret Coalition agreement that has tied the prime minister’s hands during this whole sordid affair.

Out in the real world in Lakemba, the heart of Sydney’s Muslim community, they were over Barnaby Joyce long ago. Friday’s pub test was not a pub test at all, rather a lemon juice, mint tea and baklava test – with a mixed plate of Lebanese meats and dips thrown in. I was there to talk to the locals about Tony Abbott’s comments about immigration, but the Joyce saga overtook everything … again.

At Jasmins Restaurant, the Lebanese owner Frank thought Joyce’s looming resignation was “fair enough”. Given Joyce had campaigned on traditional family values, says Frank, “it’s pretty hypocritical to remain where he is”. Frank was a determined “No” voter in the same-sex marriage plebiscite, and his comments reflect how religious, conservative types have turned on and undermined Joyce – from the Nationals, Mia Davies and Andrew Broad, or from the Liberals, Ian Macdonald and Andrew Hastie – more than the “left-wing pile-on” that Miranda Devine imagined.

But another devout Muslim bloke I spoke to, a Labor voter who didn’t want to be named, had a lot of sympathy for Joyce, saying everyone has affairs – men and women. “I wouldn’t care if he had 20 affairs, they should leave his private life alone.”

There’s no such sympathy for Tony Abbott on Lakemba’s bustling Haldon Street, however, where hijabs and niqabs are common, the beards are long, half the signs are in Arabic, everything’s halal, and there are people from everywhere – the Middle East, Asia, Africa. Tony Abbott said nothing about Muslims when he said immigration was too high, and yet the people I spoke to in Lakemba feel targeted, given so many of the immigrants coming to Australia now are from Muslim countries. “I think he’s wrong,” said one man. “There’s plenty of potential to bring more people here.” They have no doubt Abbott is dog-whistling against them, again. “We know what his position is on Muslims.” As far as Lakemba’s concerned, Abbott and Joyce, howling at the moon, are welcome to each other.

since this morning

The Australian [$] and The Guardian are live-blogging the latest on Barnaby Joyce’s resignation, including the prime minister’s statement thanking Joyce for his service, and bets on Nationals leadership contenders.

Less than a year since the Palmer United Party was de-registered as a political party, Clive Palmer has announced [$] that he will revive the party to contest every seat at the next federal election, expected as early as later this year.

in case you missed it

In Victoria, Andrews government minister John Eren and right-wing factional chieftain Adem Somyurek have issued a joint public statement following an apology by Somyurek. The Age published a stream of abusive and bitter threats by Somyurek against federal MP Richard Marles in the lead-up to Wednesday’s alleged altercation between Somyurek and Eren in the state parliament dining room.

The Daily Telegraph reports that NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has reprimanded rising star Matt Kean. The state innovation minister’s girlfriend – who works for the prime minister – caught him sending explicit text messages to a fellow state Liberal MP.

Guardian Australia reports that there may be a class action against the Commonwealth government on behalf of 330 refugees and asylum seekers living on Nauru in tents with “highly toxic” mould.

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Paddy Manning

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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