Politics

Barnaby Joyce Getting $150,000 For An Interview Is Gross Hypocrisy On Every Level

But then, Barnaby has never had much self-awareness.

For a man who purports to represent Australia’s forgotten “weatherboard and iron” families, Barnaby Joyce’s time sure does come with a hefty price tag. In case you missed it, the former Deputy PM is going to receive $150,000 from Channel 7 for an exclusive interview about his affair and the birth of his son, Sebastian.

Joyce’s decision to sell his story to the highest bidder raises a heap of moral ethical issues.

He’s Still An MP

One big problem is that Joyce has signed the deal as he continues sit in Parliament as one of the most influential politicians in the country. That’s not normal, and should never be normal. It’s dangerous for sitting politicians to strike cosy deals with major media organisations while they still have a say on our country’s most important issues.

Politicians have long cashed in on public life, and some cause more backlash than others when they do. Writing a memoir after leaving Parliament is fair game. Writing one while still in office is seen as simply a way of putting your policies forward and introducing yourself to voters. Similarly, regular newspaper columns or TV appearances are considered to be part of the job (although you start to get into dicey territory if those columns or appearances are paid for).

Hillary Clinton famously profited off speeches given to trade groups and finance corporations. Her price was around $200,000 a pop, and she made upwards of $20 million out of it. She delivered these speeches after leaving public office and before she began her failed run for President, when she nothing more than a private citizen with out to make some money — but the speeches still became a major headache when she returned to the campaign trail.

Bob Hawke and wife his new wife, Blanche d’Alpuget, earned around $200,000 back in 1995 for an interview with Woman’s Day, which included an infamous front cover of the two of them posing in bathrobes. But that was three years after Hawke had left office, and four years after he wrapped up as PM. To have a current, senior MP strike such a lucrative deal is a gamechanger.

 

To Pay Or Not To Pay

Joyce is in a much, much different situation. For two years, he held the second highest political office in the country, and was leader of our third largest party. He’s still in Parliament, and has enough allies and experience to significantly shape government policy.

And by all measures, his pay-to-play approach is questionable. The Statement of Ministerial Standards provides a good roadmap for the ethics of sitting parliamentarians, even though Joyce, now a backbencher, is no longer held to the same standards as a minister.

One section of the standards says that ministers “may not receive any significant income other than as provided for”. Another states that ministers must not “seek or accept any kind of benefit or other valuable consideration either for themselves or for others in connection with performing or not performing any element of their official duties”.

The idea is that politicians serve the public, and so should try and limit their ability to be bought off. It’s the reason why Australian politicians are already some of the highest paid in the world. As Deputy PM, Joyce was paid $400,000 a year. As a backbencher, he earns $200,000. The theory goes that if we pay them generously, there’s no need for politicians to earn cash through other interests or media appearances.

There’s no suggestion that Joyce’s payday has compromised his ethics, but it does set a new standard for what’s acceptable from our MPs. When asked today whether Joyce’s deal could lead to other politicians asking for paid interviews, Fairfax’s chief political correspondent David Crowe feared the worst.

“I think technically they could. This has exposed a big gap in the rules.”

Joyce’s deal sets a frighteningly low new bar for the relationship between politicians and the media. What if Joyce asked Channel 7 not to ask questions on certain topics in exchange for a lower selling price? Do we want to create a norm where politicians expect to be paid for media interviews, and can sell themselves at lower price points in exchange for more favourable treatment? We don’t know that that has happened with Joyce, but the precedent is set.

Joyce’s choice to cash in on his public profile while he still influences policy — and may even become deputy PM again one day — weakens the ethical standards that were only tightened after Joyce’s affair with a staffer was revealed.

There’s really only one comparable situation in recent political history. In 2015, less than a year after she was elected as a senator, it was revealed that Pauline Hanson was a paid contributor on Sunrise. The revelation was rightly met with outrage and disgust. How could Sunrise hold Hanson to account if it was also paying her to provide ratings? The same question can now be asked of Joyce and (again) Channel 7.

It’s The Hypocrisy, Stupid

Last month, Campion lodged a complaint with the Australian Press Council about the Daily Telegraph story that first kicked off the scandal. Campion, a private citizen, is perfectly entitled to take a complaint to the press council. But we can assume that Joyce, as Campion’s partner, was aware of the complaint as well. Joyce has also repeatedly begged for privacy since news of his lovechild broke in January.

It’s pretty galling for the couple to now ask for $150,000 to tell their story in prime time, but self-awareness hasn’t really been Joyce’s strong suit in this whole affair.

The Channel 7 interview will be a ratings hit. For the network, the interview has come at a pretty high price. But for the public, the interview could cost us a whole lot more.