Selling private lives: The Barnaby Joyce story

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Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion have earned $150K for their revealing interview (Image via YouTube screenshot)

Controversy has erupted over the sum paid to Barnaby Joyce for his interview on Channel Seven's Sunday Night program, writes Dr Binoy Kampark.

IT IS A PUNGENT reversal, one stirring with a degree of mockery that should not be missed. Having demanded privacy for his dissolving marriage, the ongoing affair with and pregnancy of his new partner, the former Australian Deputy Prime Minister is in the news again. Like a neat budget estimate, the now backbencher Barnaby Joyce has received some $150,000 for revealing details of his life with partner Vikki Campion for the very same privacy that he called sacred. Keep it sacred and, it would seem, cost it when appropriate.

We tried for privacy,” claimed Joyce — a point made more difficult by Australia’s fairly constipated approach to making its breach a tort. Such is the nature of the man, drawing the press corps like the Pied Piper of Hamelin and unhappy with the results.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s former deputy is incapable of being out of the news, bound to it by an imperishable thread. The interview saga shows how far the Trump condition has penetrated Australian politics. This is theatre and performance, less than substance. Slow motion soap opera prevails over constructive policy. “I couldn’t help it,” says Campion in the now infamous interview on Channel Seven’s Sunday Night program. “You can’t help who you fall in love with.

Joyce’s own view on why he accepted doing the interview stuck Campion in it. Had he done the interview as a politician, the issue of payment would never have arisen. Principle would have prevailed and money not changed hands.


They wanted an interview, obviously to get Vikki’s side of the story and, like most mothers, she said, ‘Seeing I am being screwed over and there are drones and everything over the last fortnight, paparazzi waiting for me, if everybody else is making money then [I am] going to make money out of it’.” 

Joyce is not merely a man for the vulgar moment in painting his partner as a money-counting calculator, but a self-proclaimed visionary who attempts to throw people off the scent with the big picture:

If we want a future in a China-dominated Western Pacific then we better toughen up, princess. Toughen up if you want your kids to have the hope for the future that you had.” 

Gloomy times await Australia and his newborn: 

It will be a different world where the superpower may not be a democracy and may not feel the urge to follow the rule book others did.” 

Not being a fan of rule books of any description himself, this was a masterstroke of Richard Nixon dimensions.

Many of his colleagues needed restraints at the latest turn of behaviour. Again, the tensions between Nationals and Liberal showed.

Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer could barely contain her own disgust, a point she amply demonstrated by claiming damnably that:

Ultimately it's a matter for him and his judgement. I personally wouldn't do it, I don't think it's right and I think most Australians are pretty disgusted by it.”

Sanctimony abounds here and the lot of the Australian politician is so poor that any recount to principle seems grotesque and out of place. Ministerial codes of conduct have become sentences rather than meanings. For that reason, efforts by the Nationals' Darren Chester to consider a ban on such payments seem unlikely not only to pass muster, but to make a difference to the Australian voter. Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek is closer to the mark in suggesting that a ban was hardly “going to fix the problem”, this being a matter of “common sense and common decency”.

The idea that politicians somehow represent their electorates with priestly resolve, as they worship parliament as a secular deity above all is quaint and misplaced. Machinery politics did away with this sweet sensibility, and Australia’s tribal environment resists and quashes notions of the individual member of parliament, representative and effectual. Exceptions do breach the convention and they are often mocked.

Those like Bob Katter, who reigns in the cane seat of Kennedy, sail above all the others because he does have, in his own carved idiosyncrasies, a sense of being a member in touch with the electorate. Quirk meets the ballot and democracy is thereby, in its imperfect form, realised. This contrasts with most members of parliament, who are very much in touch with surviving for the next electoral bloodbath, hoping that the party machinery will somehow pillow them against termination. Importantly, they have become robotic emanations, eerily vacant of flesh-and-blood dimensions, which might explain why Joyce, for all his faults, remains newsworthy.

Howls might well be registered against this latest stunt and searing anger directed at this less scrupulous of subjects. But Joyce, padding and all, shows that the life of the politician is measurable by the cant it projects and the illusions it fosters. One day, the private man is enraged and disgusted by intrusions, wishing a plague on all the houses of media. The next, he makes a bundle from that same plague-infested lot. As is Joyce’s wont, blame the woman and warn of an age of the undemocratic oriental superpower.

Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. You can follow Binoy on Twitter @bkampmark.

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