OPINION: Now that Barnaby Joyce has finally resigned as Australia’s deputy prime minister four months after True Crime News Weekly broke the news about the various serious scandals surrounding him, our correspondent Gary Johnston reflects on why Barnaby’s “private business” should be a continuing concern to the public at large.
Probably the most talented – certainly the most wayward – footballer of the 1990’s, Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne, was once collared by a journalist from unlamented British scandal rag, The News of the World.
“Gazza,” said the blathering hack, “Is it true you were recently involved in a 3 in a bed sex romp?”
“Haddaway ya boogerman,” came the response in Gascoigne’s distinctive Geordie twang, “there were at least 5 of we shaggin’ in there…”
I realise that comparing Barnaby Joyce to an ex footballer whose post career life has been a seemingly endless catalogue of personal disasters might be stretching the point – if only slightly – but at least Gazza was honest.
Barnaby, whose entire political schtick has been based on the assumption that he was a straight talking, straight shooting, rooting-tooting, (with the emphasis on the former) country bloke who called a spade a bloody shovel, has been anything but.
Barnaby, has, in fact, been and been seen to be, and let’s be frank about this, a hypocrite.
Guilty of deceit.
Barnaby is a humbug. A cant. (And yes, I have spelt that right).
During his slow-motion response to the story originally aired by True Crime News Weekly last October – as Barnaby desperately fumbled in his desk for the revolver Malcolm Turnbull had specially delivered a week hence – a certain amount of public sympathy emerged.
How much sympathy is difficult to judge but according to BJ himself, admittedly hardly the most credible source, “numerous ordinary” people actually crossed the street to offer him commiserations and condolences whilst wishing his ever burgeoning family all best wishes for the future.
And if the believability of these Barnaby bulletins are questionable, it is nevertheless a fact that, amongst the media and beyond, there continues to be a significant body of support, kindly souls who still consider the matter to be “private business”, with the fallout affecting ‘innocent victims who do not deserve the intrusion’.
This, of course, may well be true, and were Barnaby Joyce not a politician, never mind the Deputy Prime Minister, the clamour surrounding him and his family(ies) would indeed be unacceptable. But he is a politician, paid from the public purse, answerable to the electorate.
And, far from ‘fessing up’ to the change in his personal circumstances, providing an admission that almost every commentator agrees would almost certainly not have cost him the by-election, he chose instead to rely on his friends on the media sitting on the story for as long as possible. It was a disastrous strategy, based on ostrich like thinking and, as such, certain to fail.
In fact, as someone pointed out, if the mainstream media had waited any longer to publish, the famed Daily Telegraph telephoto lens shot would have been of Vikki Campion in the maternity suite, legs akimbo, with BJ down the non-business end, muttering unheeded words of encouragement and advice.
No one’s life is perfect. Nobody, politician, sportsman, journalist or everyday punter, is beyond reproach. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want them to be. Like the rest of us, politicians are human, fallible and potentially flawed. I accept that.
I don’t, however, think it’s too much to expect them to be honest. Particularly on issues that go straight to the heart of their character.
And herein, lies the problem. Barnaby’s business is our business too, not just because we’re paying for it, but because as Turnbull pointed out last week, his behaviour and subsequent head-in-the-sand response is a clear indictor of poor judgment. That doesn’t necessarily make him unelectable – but regardless of personal views – (I’ve always considered him unelectable) – it’s plainly a matter for the voters in his constituency to consider.
People who put candidates into Parliament deserve to know who they are and what they stand for – otherwise what’s the point? And for BJ to claim otherwise is empty-headed, naive and wrong. He was, at the time, living a lie. He didn’t want the public to know the truth, so he refused to talk about it. Bought himself some time. And as a result, a victory.
Why didn’t the mainstream media report on Barnaby’s situation during the by-election? Well, I’m sure you can make up your own mind about that. True Crime News Weekly’s original story, in the public domain and – as has been subsequently proved – legitimate, accurate and integral to the situation, was not a moral condemnation or a political comment, but a straight representation of the facts.
Any interpretation of those facts, was, in the first instance at any rate, the prerogative of the voters of New England, manifestly entitled to go to the polls in full possession of who their candidates were, what they stood, how they behaved and how honest was their character. The voters and then the country, had a right to know what was, after all, news.
If they had known.
If Barnaby had been honest.
And despite the continued self-serving pity, he can’t blame anyone for that, but himself.
The other stuff? The allegations of ‘inappropriate’ behaviour – of the rorts, the sweet deals, the rumoured corruption, must now be allowed to be reported in detail.
People need to know. It’s not private business, it – all of it, no matter how seedy, no matter how distasteful, is a demonstration of who the man is.
His values, attitudes, discernment, acumen. Or, indeed, the lack of them.
It’s not private. And the fact BJ wants it to remain so, seems to me at least, to be wholly significant. It’s not private, it’s news.
Barnaby thinks we should feel sorry for him, he’s made that clear. And, clearly some benign individuals do so. The rest of us? Reactions are mixed. I believe there is far less schadenfreude than you might imagine. I genuinely believe that even people who have written or spoken about the story, take limited pleasure in Joyce’s oh-so-public demise. I certainly do. It’s nothing to be happy about. If anything, given the worldwide media interest in the story and the subsequent credibility gap it inflicts on the Australian political and media scene, it’s embarrassing.
But it is news.
Barnaby Joyce resigned as Deputy PM last Friday – four months after True Crime News Weekly’s original reporting and about two weeks after the mainstream media pack finally stopped covering up the story earlier this month. He didn’t, as it transpired, have much choice. He made some big blunders, and with blunders come consequences; he must have known that and if he didn’t, he’s more deluded and out of touch than anyone could have possibly imagined.
That’s politics. That’s life. That’s news.
However, nobody died.
BJ is still a serving Member of Parliament. Still in a position of authority and influence. Still earning a significant wage, still living in rent free accommodation, with powerful friends and associates and the ever present potential to make an eventual return.
Like Paul Gascoigne before him, Barnaby is, I’m sure, a survivor.
The difference is, Gazza, for all his faults – and there were – are – many, wasn’t a liar.