Barnaby bunny blinks in the spotlight centre stage in our national political show, this week, as our Deputy PM shrewdly plays the victim in his marriage break-up while he muffs his special pleading self-defence for begging his Tamworth mogul pal, Greg Maguire, to be allowed to crash for six months at his millionaire mate’s luxury pad at mates’ rates.
So wrong; so unfair, Joyce pleads, leading his supporters in hand-wringing over how his private life is his own business, hoping the rest of us will miss bigger issues such as alleged abuses of public funds for travel and accommodation. He’s also punting on our confusing workplace exploitation and his abuse of power with an innocent, mutual, private affair.
It’s a captivating performance which helps divert the nation from the Turnbull government’s response to the Closing the Gap steering committee’s finding that the programme, launched after Kevin Rudd’s apology was effectively killed when Abbott ripped over half a billion in funding out of it in 2004- and cancelled an Aboriginal housing programme.
The policy, they report, has been “effectively abandoned” by extensive budget cuts since 2014. Turnbull’s response echoes his initial response to Don Dale; he fobs off the nation with another select joint committee inquiry which will seek how to “refresh the policy”; while holding a new inquiry into the issue of constitutional recognition.
As Jack Waterford, former editor of The Canberra Times writes, “The government has never narrowed the gap. At present rates, Aboriginals will remain the poorest, sickest, least employed and least educated group in the community 80 years from now – and still without a plan, as opposed to a vague hope and intention, to make it different.”
Happily for the PM, there is a distraction. Poor, rich, white, boy, Barnaby, a lad who enjoyed a privileged upbringing, a St Ignatius College Riverview private school boy, – one of Sydney’s most expensive schools – who at home could roam Rutherglen an 1821 hectare farm estate, a New England University accountancy graduate who loves to play the battler from the bush is now acting hard done by. It’s all about soliciting free accommodation; favours from a mate.
Not only is BJ the victim of a marriage break-up, he hasn’t broken any rules, he wails. He didn’t ask to be put up free, he claims, contradicting the story his millionaire mate Greg has given The Daily Telegraph and put about the town.
Ex-wife Natalie dents BJ’s victimhood a tad revealing to Miranda Devine that her former husband is a serial philanderer. Whilst he may be “a hard pooch to keep on the porch“, to quote Hillary Clinton, he “always comes back”. Worse, he told the nation of his separation four days before he could face his wife. And he has to tell her Vikki is expecting a boy.
Not all of Joyce’s mail is from fans either. “Somebody sent this letter to my office today,” he guffaws to Fairfax’s David Robson last year. “It ran like this: ‘I don’t know who’s a bigger c…, you or Trump. But I think you win.’ And that was it!”
Nat’s no longer a fan either. Neither are many Nationals, including Veteran Affairs Minister, Michael McCormack who may have a crack at the leadership himself at Monday week’s party room meeting. Iain Macdonald, The Nationals’ attack dog, in senate committees an easy rival for Joyce’s fan mail award, tells Barnaby to take a back-bench seat.
Liberals call for Joyce to resign, while Labor’s leader, Bill Shorten, says neither Joyce nor Turnbull are fit to hold power.
“One way or another, Barnaby’s cactus. It’s just a matter of when.” says a senior National who tells The Saturday Paper‘s Karen Middleton that traditional National Party supporters are likely to be “extremely unhappy” – especially women.
A third of those who backed Joyce in December’s by-election no longer support him, according to a ReachTel poll last Tuesday night; fifty per cent believe that he should resign either from parliament or go to the back bench. A petition to demand his removal from his New England seat has received almost 7000 votes in five days, says The Herald Sun.
Happily, despite polls which suggest his electoral popularity is now down from 65% of the primary vote to 43%, a quarter say they’d be more likely to support him after his affair. Clearly, Barnaby still has a few mates left around the place.
Mates? ‘Mates don’t pay for things when they’re helping other mates out,’ Barney gargles in Question time. And they return favours. In a moving mateship tribute, the nation learns that Greg also does very well out of putting up public servants as Pork-barrel Barnaby moves a whole government department to New England to boost his local vote.
In true Nationals’ fashion, a mob of rugged if not roughshod individuals, whose contempt for bureaucracy matches its war with science and the environment, Barnaby decided to relocate the Australian Pests and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Tamworth. It’s a cheap pork-barrel at a mere $26 million when you compare it with $10 billion for Joyce’s Inland Rail boondoggle which will never turn a profit either but which is also a nifty source of pork.
Joyce’s plan lacks cost-benefit analysis and is entirely off his own bat. Most of his work is like that. The Inland Rail, is really not that much of an exception. It’s all going brilliantly, of course, apart from those who work in the APVMA, including scientists who can’t or won’t leave Canberra. One in five positions are still unfilled.
Twenty regulatory scientists plus 28 staff members, with a total of 204 years’ service, left the agency between July and February, Fairfax reports in a staff exodus which has halved the authority’s approval rate for new products meeting. “Required timeframes” plummeted from 83 per cent in the September quarter to 42 per cent in March 2017.
It’s the worst rate in history says Monsanto pesticide industry leader, CropLife’s CEO, Matthew Cossey who warns of billions of dollars of lost farming revenue. He urges a return to Canberra. But he’s just a key corporate stake-holder.
At least APVMA boffins can count on food and shelter. Enter Barney’s flash mate Greg with his modestly named Quality Hotel Powerhouse, a pub which gratefully receives $14,700 spent by the APVMA relocation fund, money it controls to accommodate the wayfaring strangers whose business will help turn Tamworth’s (and Greg’s) fortunes around.
The APVMA invites an advisory committee of 20 odd to stay, reports ABC Saturday AM. Of course, as public servants, all are parched and on the tooth and primed for wining and dining. My, how they enjoy a welcome dinner of prawns with kimchi, truffle oil risotto, New England lamb and sticky date sponge; great value at $80 per head. Our shout.
The APVMA won’t divulge the total bill. Could it be an on water into wine matter? Greg’s joint is only one of several Armidale accommodation providers used by the regulator, a APVMA spokesman sniffs. “We don’t have a preferred provider”. The Neoliberal “provider” tag went feral long ago; instead of community support we buy and sell each other.
In a reverse planning move akin to putting the wings on an aircraft as it taxies down the runway, the committee, made up of APVMA and department of agriculture staff, as well as peak industry bodies, meet to work on the relocation plan.
The mad monk, Tony Abbott once buttered up Barnaby as “a great retail politician”, an MP who ranted about $100 lamb roasts resulting from a price on carbon. The term means a politician whose strength lies in cultivating his own popularity with his electorate. Coming from fellow egomaniac and walking three-word slogan, it means nothing but, alas, it’s stuck.
Every talked-up populist-capitalist running dog has his day, however, and Turnbull almost steals Barnaby’s thunder in a show-stopping finger-wagging in a new role as parliament’s head prefect or moral policeman on Thursday. The PM holds a special presser to scold Barnaby for leading a fluffy young bunny astray and to ask him to consider his position.
During intermission, Turnbull censors the ABC again – but no biggie. Happens all the time. The Guardian Australia reports “ABC News management has been in crisis meetings for two days” after the PM courageously attacks the articles in question time before getting Fifield and Morrison to join him in penning formal letters of complaint to management.
The Ayatollah, as he was mocked at Goldman Sachs, the PM succeeds in suppressing Chief Economics Correspondent Emma Alberici’s heretical analysis of how tax cuts to business don’t stimulate jobs or growth. One in five don’t pay tax for the past three years at least. Those who do, moreover, pay a seventeen per cent tax rate, on average.
Naturally, Qantas CEO, the silver-tongued leprechaun, Alan Joyce, is quick to grab ABC Radio’s ruling class megaphone to defend his company’s non-payment of corporate tax for nine years. He argues it is legitimate under rules that allowed it to carry forward losses from previous years. His words immensely cheer our aged pensioners on $671 a fortnight.
Workers on the minimum wage of $18.29 per hour are also heartened to learn that they’ve helped QANTAS to clock up its tenth tax-free year while Joyce’s salary nearly doubled in one year to reach $24.6 million in 2017. Can we afford the $65 billion, Alberici asks cheekily. Or could it be better spent on health, education and pensions?
She dare not mention raising the minimum wage or putting some of the money back into Aboriginal housing.
Above all, Alberici joins other economics writers in putting the lie to Treasurer’s Scott Morrison’s hoax that lowering tax rates makes us more internationally competitive when it comes to attracting investment. Now he and Matthias Cormann are promoting the falsehood that company taxes have to be cut or workers won’t get wage rises.
Before Trump cut US corporate tax earlier this year, the rate was 5 to 9 percentage points higher than our own. Yet Australian companies still preferred to invest in the US rather than Ireland, where the corporate tax rate is less than half ours (12.5 per cent), or Singapore (17 per cent). The truth is that many factors beyond tax rates guide investment.
Alberici’s piece is pulled because ABC management says it doesn’t meet editorial standards. Whilst ABC finds no inaccuracies in the articles, in the opinion of Director of News, Gaven Morris, “it sounds too much like opinion”.
Did Morris miss Chris Uhlmann’s opinionated reporting of SA’s power blackouts, wrongly blaming the Labor government’s reliance on renewables? The same lie is reprised this week in ABC previews of its SA election coverage.
All of Uhlmann’s factually incorrect SA blackout articles remain up, moreover, but, amazingly, it takes the ABC only 48 hours to remove accurate and factually correct reporting because it is unpalatable to the government of the day.
Alberici’s views are in line with leading economists including at The Australia Institute and at Treasury. Greg Jericho in The Guardian protests that she’s said nothing that many other writers haven’t been saying regularly. But as Mal’s new pal Donald Trump would say, a leader doesn’t need fake news or expert opinion to spoil his policy-making.
A calculated strategy of funding cuts, a constant stream of derogatory remarks from Liberal attack dogs, has crippled the ABC’s independence. Lest we forget, these attacks include Home Affairs Protector, Peter Dutton, and his “one down many to go” gibe at ABC presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s dismissal.
Gibes and taunts add to the pressure of direct protests whenever The ABC holds government too much to account. Now Turnbull’s virtual appointment to Managing Director of pal Michelle Guthrie, who says her former 14 years career with Rupert Murdoch does not maker her a hatchet woman, the national broadcaster has become a Liberal trumpet.
Soon we will have a tabloid ABC with commercials, devoted to car crashes, stabbings, how hot or how cold the weather is for the year and endless relaying of superficial USA political news and shootings, which can then be knocked down to the highest bidder as requested by the Liberal Party’s key think tank and policy unit, The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).
Turnbull, like his predecessor, aims his performances to the tabloid media. We saw Turnbull play huckster and shyster early. Now he adds his strait-laced Presbyterian minister routine knowing it will get full coverage in The Daily Telegraph. The moralising, holier-than-thou Reverend Mal (Turnbull 2.0) emerges this week in the midst of the Barnaby barn dance.
Thursday, Mal swoops right after Barnaby’s Aint nobody’s business to ban all Canberra office Rock ‘n Roll, along with jiving and swiving. Canute-like, he vetoes all sideways samba, jazz or jelly roll; sex between all ministers and staffers.
“Turnbull bans sex”, MSM wags say. No more fornicating, fraternising or horizontal folk-dancing between ministers of the crown and their underlings. Loins are to be girded at all times. To show he’s serious about ending the funny business, he’s put his bonking prohibition into the Ministerial Code of Conduct, every Cabinet Minister’s bible.
It’s risible but then it’s meant as a show of authority. Nobody in Canberra believes that the Code of Conduct carries any weight. Shorten says it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Perhaps it will work if staffers keep it between their knees.
Fawning is still in, of course, as is flattery and obsequious devotion; essential to any staffer’s tenure. These are transferrable skills. Moguls, miners, anything in uniform, bankers, think tankers and lobbyists are still to be lusted after.
Equally, business big and small -like the US Alliance- is there to be serviced. But ministers and minions must, at once, stop bonking each other, especially “that stubborn bastard with rhinoceros hide”, as a senior Liberal calls Barnaby.
“If you want to be in power, you can’t afford to fuck around,” is how a real PM once put it. Sadly, Mal is no PJ Keating.
Compounding his ludicrous finger-wagging, the PM makes himself look even more inept, ineffectual, absurd, by calling out Joyce publicly for his predatory behaviour as well as his poor decision-making in his affair with Vikki Campion, his staffer. Worse, the lubricious leader of The Nationals, “the family values party” has got Ms Campion in the family way.
By Thursday, after trying a Kamasutra of new positions on the Joyce affair, Turnbull turns chaos into catastrophe when he blasts Barnaby with both barrels in a public bollocking of his own deputy, unique in Australian politics.
After the” private matter” position; the even trickier “not his partner” defence. Not his partner?
Women across the nation, including Campion, who is carrying Joyce’s fifth child, are cheered to hear her status reduced to a casual shag, a quick roll in the hay; as meaningless and ephemeral as a politician’s promise. Even Playboy bunnies had contracts. But what “those women” of Australia will hear from the PM on Thursday is even more alarming.
“My wife ironed my shirts this week… does that make her staff?” responds deep Andrew Broad, Nationals MP for Mallee.
Vikki and Barney are split up because of their madly passionate affair and she is promoted out of his office, twice, but they were not partners because they were not living together. Turnbull expects us to accept that?
Ducking and weaving, a desperate PM channels his inner Bill Clinton, (aka Slick Willie), to redefine a dangerous liaison to save his own bacon. Barnaby, he argues, did not have a partnership with that woman, his former staffer, Vikki Campion.
The PM needs to dodge responsibility for breaking the Ministerial Code of Conduct in promoting Campion, Joyce’s paramour to a couple of plum jobs to get her out of Joyce’s office to hide a rapidly all-consuming scandal.
Someone clearly thought a tricky definition was a winner. At least the Joyce debacle has helped expose the process by which Ministerial assistants are appointed and promoted out of fealty, fear and favour rather than any qualification for the job. Advisers are thus both partisan and beholden to their bosses. You see it in the quality of their advice.
Monday’s circus establishes a catchy reality TV show format: “So you think you’re a partner?” Will Team Malcolm’s cunning plan to unhook Vikki and Barney get the PM and his government off the hook? By Thursday, Newspoll will need something stronger. Cue strong leader, moral guardian of the national flock: Turnbull lowers the boom.
“Barnaby made a shocking error of judgement in having an affair with a young woman working in his office,” the PM scolds. “In doing so he has set off a world of woe for those women, and appalled all of us. Our hearts go out to them,”
So sayeth The Reverend Mal, at a special Barnaby-barrelling press conference, Coalition shot-gun divorce combo.
The PM’s excoriating sermon; his moralising, judgemental excommunication is too little, too late and too low. He stops short of dismissing him as deputy which ABC News 24 reminds us is something he cannot do. Secret agreement stuff.
At least Joyce’s had his bat and ball taken off him before he’s sent home. Barnaby won’t be acting PM when Turnbull treats coal-mining, non-tax-paying – at least for the last ten years – CEO of multinational Glencore to a five-day junket to the US. Joyce will take a week’s leave “to consider his position”.
Considering her position also will be Julie Bishop who is abroad at the moment but who has sent messages letting it be known that she could fly home at once if need be. Perhaps she could console Barnaby; coach Cormann by emoji?
Hearts do go out but not all, like the PM’s, appear to be worn on sleeves. Consternation erupts. Mark Kenny and other Turnbull toadies rush to praise the new, resolute and decisive PM but even Kenny concedes Mal’s ban is empty.
Barnaby Joyce calls an extraordinary conference to call out his boss for his “inept and unnecessary” attack on Friday.
Unnecessary? Paul Bongiorno notes, wryly, the PM gifts Joyce with a unique opportunity to show who is truly in charge.
Turnbull’s public rebuke and call for Barnaby to resign helps highlight the Nationals’ power. The Turnbull government’s subservience, if not its impotence, lie in its 2015 secret Coalition Agreement, whereby Turnbull secured the Prime Ministership by capitulating his own political ideals in favour of Joyce’s right-wing Abbott political agenda.
Others sniff hypocrisy. Others deplore the public blaming and shaming. Imagine if Goldman Sachs were to call out Turnbull for the $500 million it is reported to have cost the banking firm to settle out of court in 2009 after HIH collapsed taking many small investors with it after buying an overvalued FAI due in no small part to Turnbull’s dud advice.
Some may even ask is Turnbull still has no knowledge of logging when he was chairman of a company in the early 1990s whose Solomon Islands’ subsidiary was described as having some of the worst logging practices in the world.
Turnbull flits to Tasmania; seeks the high moral ground by going to water. He appears later on ABC energetically talking up the twelve great projects of the Tamar Estuary Water Management Task Force. Pity BJ is no longer water minister.
A nation is caught on the hop. For three years, our carefree, sun-drenched continental island home has thrilled to the rhythms of Flash Mal ‘n Barnaby bull-dust’s bush-bash band. They do all the old Tony Abbott standards as laid down in their secret coalition agreement but, suddenly, something’s up. Mal thinks he can pick a fight with Bulldust and win?
Is the band breaking up just over Barney’s latest dancing partner, Vikki? Slugging wildly at each other out the back of the outback country hall that is our national parliament, Mal and Barney our two Coalition band-leaders trade haymakers. Neither is in what you could call tip-top condition. Neither could fight his way out of wet paper bag.
The stoush lasts three days. Then a press release of a kiss and make-up saturates media mid-Saturday. Ominously, Scott Morrison, who couldn’t tell the truth about Reza Berati’s 2014 murder on Manus Island is sent on to ABC Insiders, Sunday to proclaim a “frank” clearing of the air but the PM has not walked away from his earlier comments. Nor has Barnaby Joyce who is quoted later in media reports saying he has nothing to apologise for.
Why the big bust up? The boys got the band back together in Tamworth only last December. New hats and boots, too. Will Barnaby Joyce survive a Nationals’ leadership spill. The signs are ominous. Yet, even worse are the portents for a Turnbull government which has been unable to deal with a matter it knew was coming at least six months ago.
The spectacle of the public spat; the utterly inept handling of Joyce’s affair with a staffer and of Turnbull’s moral denunciation and his patently impractical ban on sex between minister and staffer can only serve to highlight how rapidly his government is unravelling.
The PM is taking twenty Aussie tycoons to the US for five days. They can talk rich man’s stuff; Cayman Islands; investment portfolios; things he’s really into. Not politics; certainly not people. Perhaps they will also form a cheer squad while he begs Rupert Murdoch to give him one more chance. One thing is certain. The Barnaby brouhaha will not have died down on his return and the damage it has caused will be permanent.