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    « The quest for perfect sentences | Main | Choo-Choo: the trains stay on track »
    Monday
    Feb192018

    Imperilled by the Barnababy

    What's an embarrassing clown like Barnaby Joyce doing as deputy prime minister of Australia? ... This sort of regressive, oafish, politician is well past his use-by date ... Artemus Jones looks at the mess the government has made of the Joyce affair and Turnbull's limited options to save himself from more ruin 

    The current condition of the Turnbull government ...

    AS the political crisis embroiling Barnaby Joyce deepens it is difficult to say who has exercised the poorer judgment - "Beetrooter" Joyce or Malcolm Turnbull.

    Joyce's current problems do not arise from his having an affair with a younger staffer and subsequently leaving his wife. In the hothouse atmosphere of Canberra politics, such affairs and separations have long been commonplace. 

    The Beetrooter's woes are a product of his own duplicity. He deceived his wife and family. He deceived his New England electorate. He deceived his National Party colleagues, and he (at least initially) deceived Turnbull. Joyce also improperly used his influence to arrange a series of well-paid jobs for his new partner.

    Only a buffoon like Joyce could have thought he could get away with acting in this fashion.

    Of course, his affair could have been handled very differently. He could have been honest with his wife. He could have publicly announced that he was leaving her for another woman, and he could have advised his new partner to seek employment outside federal politics.

    But Joyce, foolishly, did none of these things. 

    As with most contemporary politicians, his arrogance, sense of entitlement and deep-rooted stupidity overrode principle and common sense. The resulting scandal was inevitable, and his recent ham-fisted attempts to defuse it only made things worse. It is not as though Joyce's attempt to save his skin has brought any benefit to the country.  

    Turnbull's judgment has been no better. 

    Portrait of a selfish, self-pitying, politician

    Joyce's affair has been common knowledge in political circles since the middle of last year. Fairfax's Tamworth based Northern Daily Leader, published throughout the electorate of New England, was stonewalled when it put questions during the by-election to the Deputy Prime Minister about his affair and his marriage.  

    Even after Joyce was re-elected, full disclosure was not made. Remember how Turnbull warmly embraced his "friend and partner" after the by-election victory and his cringe worthy "the band is back together" speech in a Tamworth pub.

    Turnbull mounted a spurious defence that Joyce had not breached his ministerial guidelines - on the grounds that the Beetrooter's new partner was not really a "partner", and that her appointment to a number of jobs involved no impropriety. 

    The defence was so lacking in credibility that it did nothing to allay the mounting pressure. 

    On Thursday (Feb. 15) Turnbull launched a blistering personal attack on Joyce, accusing him of "a shocking error of judgment in having an affair". The prime minister made no mention of Joyce's duplicity or the jobs he organised for his partner or his dubious travel claims. 

    At the same time Turnbull announced an amendment to the ministerial guidelines, after taking advice from his wife, the so- called "no bonking" rule. "Sexual relations" (shades of Bill Clinton) - even if consensual - between ministers and their staff now constitute a sackable offence.

    This was a calculated political manoeuvre by Turnbull - designed to appeal to politically correct voters and to cause wavering National Party politicians to dump Joyce as their leader. 

    The "no-bonking" rule is flawed and unworkable

    Unfortunately, Turnbull's ploy backfired on all counts.

    In criticising Joyce only for having had an affair - and not for his duplicity - Turnbull failed to deal with the real concerns that ordinary voters have about the government's deputy leader.

    Politically, Turnbull managed to shore-up National Party support for Joyce, at least for now, and to temporarily stave off his resignation. leaving the government to bleed support. 

    The latest Newspoll shows that 65 percent of respondents think that Joyce should no longer be DPM. 

    On Friday Joyce responded by branding Turnbull's comments as "inept", "unnecessary", and designed to "cause him further harm". He also accused Turnbull of "interfering" in National Party affairs. And this from a politician who was so inept that he forgot he was a New Zealand citizen and constitutionally ineligible to be a member of the Commonwealth parliament. 

    Despite a public show to try and patch the rift, relations between the prime minister and his number two are a festering mess. Such is the nature of the Coalition agreement that the problem cannot be fixed by Turnbull unilaterally sacking Joyce from the government.

    It would even be messier to have a deputy prime minister without a portfolio. The only way the government can have a chance of being rescued from this shambles is by Joyce's resignation or his party dumping him. 

    Turnbull's "no bonking" rule is flawed in principle, unworkable in practice and will have seriously adverse consequences. It is doctrine borrowed in part from the #MeToo movement. 

    The climate is now one where the mere fact that a man in a position of power had sex with a younger employee is sufficient be ensnare him in a crusade that has taken on a decidedly puritanical tone. 

    Never mind that the sex was consensual and that Joyce and the young woman who is pregnant are now living together, rent free, courtesy of a wealthy donor and friend. 

    Turnbull, who embraces political correctness when convenient (and discards it when it is not - ask Noel Pearson and the other Uluru Statement leaders) eagerly rode the wave of the #MeToo movement to issue his moral denunciation of Barnaby Joyce. 

    Ordinary voters do not subscribe to extreme forms of political correctness. In the real world co-workers have affairs, and they do not think that this should be a sackable offence - even non-exploitative affairs involving an unequal power relationship. 

    It would be a surprise if most Australian voters didn't view the "no bonking" rule as heavy handed, unnecessary and intrusive. Put simply, it does not pass the pub test. 

    It's also a rule that is plainly unworkable. Who is to enforce it? Will a special branch of the Federal Police be created to monitor ministers and their staff around the clock? How are breaches to be proved?  Will photographic evidence be necessary? 

    The rule also has undesirable side effects. It implicitly authorises tabloid surveillance of politicians on a scale previously unimaginable. The Canberra press gallery will double in size overnight - and there is an exquisite irony here, given that members of the gallery and federal politicians have had tangled sexual and personal relationships for years.

    It will not be long before political careers start being destroyed by the rule. After the recent dual citizenship debacle, do citizens really want more political ineptitude?

    All in all, the collective lack of judgment recently shown by the Beetrooter and Turnbull is staggering.

    If good judgment is a prerequisite for holding political office, both of them should resign immediately.

    Artemus Jones 

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