The nation has just welcomed back Barnaby Joyce as Deputy PM, MP for New England, former and now current leader of the National Party and key figure in a wide variety of scandals both personal and political, which should have completely derailed his career, as Deputy Prime Minister.
And in a perfect world, there would be absolutely no way that we could have a Deputy PM who can boast an inconclusive internal investigation of sexual harassment, has been connected with a suspicious Armidale fire, and who would appear to have signed off on the deal where a company with ties to fellow Coalition MP Angus Taylor made millions by selling imaginary water back to the Commonwealth.
But this, friends, is not a perfect world.
The issue over which the Nats got their bespoke RM Williams knickers in a particularly scrotum-clenching twist this time around is their opposition to Australia aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050. And that's extraordinarily stupid — not because climate denial is idiotic and wrong, which it is, but because no one in their right mind would seriously think that Scott Morrison's Government was at any risk of achieving such a goal. What with the whole buying-land-from-a-Liberal-donor-to-build-an-unnecessary-coal-fired-plant thing and all.
The fear was that former Nationals Leader, Riverina MP and human File-Not-Found error message, Mimbles McMooncake* would capitulate to political pressure to engage in climate action, despite having shown no evidence during his leadership that he ever did anything at all — except maybe declaring a desire to punish city dwellers by getting mice to scratch their children.
But the mere fact that the Nats looked at the talent in their parliamentary team and went "Hey, that guy who's failed multiple times and is a massive future ICAC risk, he's our ticket to victory!" speaks volumes about the state of the party.
But on the other hand, it's no shock that Joyce has enjoyed a renaissance in the Morrison Government since the culture there is now a lot more… shall we say, scandal-friendly?
You'll recall that Joyce was forced to step down as Leader after being engulfed in scandal over sexual harassment allegations. Those came to light during the furore over revelations (first reported in IA) that the married religious pro-family pollie – who campaigned against marriage equality out of concern for children who so desperately needed a mother and a father and once argued against making a vaccine for cervical cancer available lest it give young women “a license to be promiscuous” – had been having an extramarital affair with his media advisor (and, significantly, former Daily Telegraph journalist) Vikki Campion, with whom he now has two children.
The big issue was that Barn seemed to be doing a hell of a lot of travel to Canberra (where Campion lived) during non-sitting periods for an MP supposedly working in his electorate, which raised questions about whether the taxpayers were unwittingly subsidising his trysts (which was later found to be "within the rules"). But also, MPs banging their staff was a bit on the nose for the public and this led then-PM, Malcolm Turnbull, to issue his notorious "bonk ban" which forbade MPs and staffers from sleeping together.
And it's worth remembering that Turnbull seemed genuine in his belief that ministers had to be seen to be above criticism. Within weeks of taking the leadership in 2015, he demoted three senior members of his Government over scandals, which would today be angrily denied and then roundly ignored.
Those scandals included:
- misleading parliament ahead of a possible criminal investigation (Mal Brough);
- inappropriate behaviour toward a consular staffer during a parliamentary trip to Hong Kong (Jamie Briggs); and
- pretending to represent the government with Chinese officials for the benefit of a mate's mining company (Stuart Robert, who was put straight back in the Ministry when Morrison got into power because what are friends for?).
And there was a brief period where it seemed like maybe that attitude would stick – in December 2018, some months after Turnbull was deposed, Victorian Nationals MP Andrew Broad agreed not to contest the next election after his "sugar daddy" relationships were revealed by a particularly disgusted date during a trip to Hong Kong – but it didn't take long for MPs to realise that Morrison wasn't going to do a damn thing about their behaviour.
And sure, Morrison would hardly stand on principle when he holds such a slim parliamentary majority. It's also notable that Turnbull was way more willing to hold his MPs to account on matters of principle before the 2016 Election, when he had a 35-seat majority than after it, when it had shrunk to two.
That's why we currently have the former Attorney General now Minister for Industry Christian Porter in Parliament despite still-unresolved allegations of historical rape. That's why we still have Alan Tudge as Minister for Education despite his having an affair with his staffer Rachelle Miller, whose career he then allegedly white-anted after she dumped him. That's why MP Andrew Laming is merrily threatening people on Twitter for defamation, as well as here at Independent Australia, despite apologising for his online harassment of women.
They all know that there will be zero consequences from this leader. In fact, by comparison with Porter, Laming and Tudge, the grubby circumstances of Joyce's publicly subsidised affair seem like a love story for the ages and the height of genteel romance.
So it's perfectly fitting that Joyce is now our Deputy PM again. He sinks perfectly into the ethical cesspool that is the Morrison Government's leadership.
*Sorry, that should be Morgles McMinky. Sorry, Michael McCormack. He’s just so hard to remember.
Andrew P Street is an Adelaide-based, Sydney-built journalist, author, editor and broadcaster and an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewPStreet.
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