The repercussions of New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro's defamation lawsuit against Friendlyjordies are no laughing matter, writes managing editor Michelle Pini.
NEW SOUTH WALES Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s defamation case against YouTube comedian and political commentator Jordan Shanks-Markovina, better known as Friendlyjordies, is no longer only about an overpaid and overly sensitive politician suing someone for daring to criticise him — though it is also about that.
It is not only about the intrinsic democratic right of members of the media to freely criticise governments and politicians, though it is also about that.
While Barilaro’s defamation case against Friendlyjordies is also about these things, it may well determine whether Australians are happy for their elected officials to use public funds in any way they choose for the simple self-serving purpose of getting re-elected.
In an exclusive interview, Jordan Shanks-Markovina told IA:
“I love this case. It's a materialised meta joke. It is, a multi-million-dollar argument, literally over semantics.
Nothing about any of the facts we've published, not even about what [Barilaro] claims he's outraged by in the press, which is that I'm a very racist meanie-pants."
PUTTING THEIR BALLS IN THE BARREL
While government pork barrelling may have been around since the Sumerians, and may not be particular to any one political party, due to its recent regularity, it has become a practice that is barely noteworthy. Which is rather the point. Because the people purloining your funds want you to dismiss it is as just part and parcel of politics and beneath your notice.
Indeed, the misappropriation of public funds to achieve political ends is already so out-in-the-open and commonplace under Coalition administrations, state and federal, that it is fast becoming normalised — even passé.
“It’s only a rort if you’re not in it.”
It doesn't get any more blatant than that and, at the time, many were shocked with such open and unashamed justification of what is, unambiguously, an example of the preferential subversion of public funds for the purposes of partisan political partronage. Or in other words, corruption.
Certainly, few of us would have expected such allegedly corrupt behaviour would soon become so normalised that it is now adopted as standard government policy.
Just over a year after public outrage over the pork barrelling of sports grants saw then-Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie stripped of her senior post, the Morrison Government has happily reinstated this happy rorter back into the Cabinet. Nothing to see there. Sorry (not sorry).
And not only is it all yesterday’s news but when a similar instance of this misappropriation of funds (and subsequent shredding of relevant documents) was discovered in Prime Minister Scott Morrison's "gold standard" state of New South Wales, Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian just shrugged and defended the practice thus:
"It’s not illegal… You make election commitments, you make commitments to particular areas. I mean, it would have been dishonest for me to say otherwise….
You ban all commitments... and then you'd argue why you need the government to make decisions. You could have the public service base everything on their decisions."
In that particular instance, the Premier was defending a grant scheme in which over 95 per cent of available funds went into Coalition-held seats.
And here Friendlyjordies and Independent Australia, and possibly many of you may have been thinking that in a democracy, the public service is there to provide legitimate advice to governments on public expenditure policy for the benefit of all the people, not only those people that are likely to re-elect the government of the day.
THEY DON'T CALL ME "PORK" FOR NOTHIN'
But since the Deputy Premier from that same state trough of pork barrels has sought to sue a comedian for daring to suggest otherwise, well, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are clearly ill-informed.
To assume our elected officials would at least pretend they are trying to govern legitimately, or feign shame when discovered to be doing the opposite, now seems an over-reaction, even a touch naïve.
Justifying the shameless funnelling of public moneys into those electorates that serve his personal political ends, Barilaro said in May last year:
“Well my name is John Barilaro – call me Pork-Barilaro – and I have no apology because at the end of the day I will stand up and fight for our communities.”
The problem is not that he is engaged in this practice, apparently, but that anyone might consider it dishonest. Indeed, Pork-Barilaro is so proud of his own rorting, he is even happy to be called a swine — at least we assume this was the connotation which he intended and not the other obvious one.
PINK IS THE NEW BLACK
This deepest pink of pork barrelling is not just acceptable, then, it is now the new black of government practice. At least if those governments happen to be of the Liberal Party persuasion.
At the pre-trial hearing for Barilaro’s defamation lawsuit against Friendlyjordies, Barilaro's lawyers attempted to paint a picture of the Deputy Premier – the person happy to be known as "Pork" Barilaro – as someone who, although what he did may have been “the wrong thing to do”, he owned and was even proud of his wrongdoing. But just because it was "the wrong right thing to do" and he was unrepentant, even pleased with his behaviour, it doesn't mean Barilaro's delicate sensibilities weren't so aggrieved that he felt compelled to seek "justice" against being ridiculed.
Claims made by Friendlyjordies – including '$78,000 ... given to the Monaro Panthers Football Club where Barilaro was the president for eight years and whose coach was a former business partner' or the $39-million road upgrade, which allegedly benefitted one of his own properties – were "rubbish", according to the Deputy Premier's lawyers.
Defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC said the claims were not:
“... capable of justifying the string of corrupt conman.”
In speaking to Independent Australia, Jordan Shanks-Markovina seemed confident about his prospects in taking on "Pork" Barilaro.
Shanks-Markovina told IA that the defamation case:
"... is shaping up to be about a handful of words I can't even remember uttering, and if I couldn't remember saying them, do you think the average punter watching would remember that we called [Barilaro] a 'conman' amidst the 100s of minutes of video we've produced pointing out his alleged cons?"
Shanks-Markovina says this expensive and protracted legal dispute is all about diverting attention away from the Deputy Premier's alleged wrongdoings:
"Let's be real. The only words [Barilaro] doesn't care about me saying are the ones he's bringing to court. He's bringing those words to court to try and silence all the other words around those words."
On top of these proceedings, Friendlyjordies producer and writer Kristo Langker was also arrested in June by the NSW Police Fixated Persons Investigation Unit, following a complaint from Barilaro and ‘...charged with two counts of stalk/intimidate intend fear physical etc harm (personal).’
The ramifications for journalists and satirists if these criminal and defamation proceedings against Friendlyjordies succeed may, however, be no laughing matter.
But if John Barilaro wants to pursue this case, Shanks-Markovina is happy to play ball:
"It's pure intimidation.
Unfortunately for [Barilaro], I'm not intimidated. I spent too much time in the naughty corner as a kid. I'm very happy to stare at a wall for the rest of my life with nothing but one of those bouncy balls you get for two bucks out the front of Woolies."
This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.
- An open letter from Friendlyjordies producer Kristo Langker
- 'Fixated' Friendlyjordies case brings us closer to a police state
- Fixing fixations by arresting Friendlyjordies' Kristo
- Friendlyjordies breaks governments