Politics

Barnaby Joyce’s Affair Isn’t The Problem, It’s The Gross Hypocrisy

You don't get to defend the sanctity of marriage while having an affair.

The fact that Barnaby Joyce is expecting a baby with his former staffer, and has subsequently split from his wife of 24 years, is not in itself particularly newsworthy.

His private life is just that — private — and unless it starts to really affect his work as Deputy Prime Minister, we don’t have a right to know what’s going on behind closed doors.

But today, after months of rumour and innuendo, the story was splashed on the front page of The Daily Telegraph

The same journalist who wrote today’s story also wrote a story in the lead up to last year’s crucial New England by-election in which the Deputy Prime Minister was re-contesting his seat and hoping to save the government’s slim majority in parliament.

That story referred to Joyce’s “deeply personal crisis” and claimed a “vicious innuendo” campaign was being deployed in order to keep him out of his seat.

It’s been clear for some time that almost every single journalist in the Canberra press gallery, and likely several other high profile commentators, radio hosts and journalists, all knew the details of Joyce’s “crisis” — that his relationship with his wife and four children had broken down following an affair with a younger staffer.

On Sunrise this morning, host Samantha Armytage called it the “worst kept secret” in Canberra.

The Double Standards At Play

So why now, with the New England by-election safely out of the way, are we only just hearing the full details of the Joyce’s affair? If the story is in the public interest now, why wasn’t it before? And why was the Deputy Prime Minister given lighter treatment then, say, Julia Gillard?

Let’s just look at some of the ways the former Prime Minister’s personal life was considered fair game by the press and fellow politicians:

Long before she became PM, Gillard was criticised for her apparent lack of homemaking skills — her crime was to have an empty fruit bowl in her home. Two years later, she was called “deliberately barren” by Senator Bill Heffernan for daring to choose not to have children. Her relationship was constantly scrutinised (her partner, a hairdresser, just had to be gay), as were her outfits. Even her dead father wasn’t off-limits.

Yet for some reason, a horde of journalists and commentators all appear to have signed up to some kind of silent bargain in which Barnaby Joyce’s affair was off-limits. We don’t get to know the details of that bargain, because the participants themselves set the terms and acted as the gatekeepers of information that has only now been dubbed in the public interest.

Predictably, now that the story has broken, every other major outlet (including Junkee) has rushed to cover it themselves, using the logic that once the dam wall bursts there’s no holding the flood of information back.

So how was the decision made to publicise Joyce’s affair now? We may never know. The only thing that seems to have changed is that the Tele got a photo of Joyce’s new partner.

What we do know is that Joyce was given a lot more leeway than others might have been in his situation. We also know that we’re only finding out now because the gatekeepers in Canberra decided we needed to be let in on their secret.

Let’s Not Forget Barnaby’s Hypocrisy

Speaking in opposition to Dean Smith’s marriage equality bill at the end of 2017, Joyce quietly acknowledged that his marriage had broken down.

“The current definition of marriage has stood the test of time — half of them fail, I acknowledge that,” he told parliament. “I’ll acknowledge that I’m currently separated, so that’s on the record.”

In all the excitement of the big day, Joyce possibly thought that his quiet admission would go relatively unnoticed. He was then one of a handful of MPs too cowardly to vote on the bill that was presented following the postal survey he demanded be held. Instead, he chose to flee the chamber.

At the same time Joyce was fighting tooth and nail to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage, his own relationship was crumbling because of his actions.

It takes a particular kind of gall to, in a single speech, defend the sanctity of marriage while also acknowledging that your own marriage has ended because you had an affair with a staffer who is now pregnant.

It’s wasn’t the first time Joyce, who has always presented himself as a salt of the earth, conservative, family values Catholic from the bush, spoke out against marriage equality. In 2015 he warned that our Asian neighbours may see us as “decadent” if we embraced marriage equality.

How decadent is it then to conduct an affair with a staffer while in Canberra, supposedly representing the interests of your constituents?

One of the few times it’s acceptable to talk about the private life of a politician is when their private actions fail to live up to their public statements — when a politician’s hypocrisy is so clear and egregious that it can no longer be ignored.

Under that logic, the time to discuss Barnaby Joyce’s affair passed long ago.

Rob Stott is the Managing Editor of Junkee. Follow him @Rob_Stott

Feature images by Troy Constable and Apple and Pear Australia used under CC BY 2.0