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Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (image via commons.wikimedia.org).

Noely Neate discusses the complex motivations behind the latest rumours which surround embattled Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce.

THOUGH not mentioned on TV political news shows, many would have seen the article by Sharri Markson'Barnaby Joyce battles vicious innuendo as Coalition fears citizenship woe' — which, in itself, is an odd piece, since she seems unable to decide if she is garnering sympathy for of helping internal Coalition enemies of the Deputy PM.

(Looking at Markson’s past form, she would not be assisting the ALP or Tony Windsor — who are, of course, blamed for the "innuendo" in her piece.)

Sharri states that the deputy PM 'has for months struggled with issues that have affected his marriage of 24 years', which translates to rumours about Joyce having an affair, chasing women, even references to his drinking — the gossip covers the whole gamut. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of Barnaby Joyce, but having said that, I do feel for his wife and family.

Leave Mrs Joyce and his daughters out of it

I know many say that families sign up to go along for the ride with politicians, so they have to expect more media exposure and, to a certain degree, I agree with that, as the higher pay and profile also benefit the family. But I think there is a trade-off for not being able to see the family as much, so it balances out. However, once you get into the "sex scandal" type area, that is beyond what any partner signs up for.

In my first short-lived marriage, I was on the receiving end of being cheated on. Dealing with that is bad enough, but being in a situation, like I was, where my then husband and I also worked together, so everyone found out, gossiped and so on, was, to be frank, humiliating. 

So I have empathy for Mrs Joyce being the silent victim in this media exposure, especially since hers is a high profile family in a regional area. If the rumours are incorrect, she would be worried about effects on her husband and his career and if the rumours are correct, well, the poor thing would be feeling humiliation as I did — though on steroids.

Katharine Murphy's tweet, which I assume is a veiled reference to the Joyce scandal piece, I would generally agree with: 

I don’t really care how politicians get their jollies, as long as they are not breaking the law, abusing the taxpayer, or making decisions based on political donations; I agree that politicians' private lives should remain private. 

Private made public

I’m torn on this Joyce issue. It was only in March this year we saw a “Barnaby unplugged” piece in The Australian about how hard life is for the absentee dad and his family. I remember at the time thinking: What was the point of this puff piece? Were there manoeuvrings in the Nationals intended to punt Joyce as Leader? Though I quickly forgot it.

However, in light of the Herald Sun piece (Page 13), 'Talk of high-profile politician affair with staffer sweeps around Parliament House', not so subtly alluding to the Joyce scandal this, in their words: "late-night office grappling is believed to have been going on for at least eight months", sort of gives more context to the March puff piece. 

If proved to be true, what slants me towards the Joyce allegations being made public is the current same-sex marriage debate.

Barnaby Joyce has made much of his Catholic, conservative, family-focussed "values". He quite famously said. "Just get out of my face", in response to marriage equality campaigners — being as he is staunchly of the "marriage is between a man and woman only" line.

In fact, Joyce has also attended “No” rallies with his four daughters, where he has advocated not changing the law.

"We know that the best protection for those girls is that they get themselves into a secure relationship with a loving husband and I want that to happen for them. I don't want any legislator to take that right away from me."

Let’s ignore the fact that that statement does not even make sense in the context of marriage equality – like so many arguments from "No" campaigners – Mr Joyce brought his family into a political area. He consistently advocates for the "sanctity of marriage" as the only "proper" family unit. Therefore, in the climate of this debate, an allegation of infidelity in his own marriage is news.

It's sort of ironic, as if there was no same-sex marriage debate, I (and many others) would not consider that the marital status of politicians should be reported on — it should be kept private. However, from past reports, it was the Nationals themselves that helped former PM Tony Abbott come up with the rubbish plebiscite idea, so it is Barnaby himself who has inadvertently put himself in this position, making his personal dramas public and newsworthy.

Political games

Let’s be honest here. I think there are a lot of good journalists at News Corp publications. Having said that, their highest profile journalists – we all know who they are – most certainly do deserve all the Coalition cheer squad assertions that are thrown at them. Sharri Markson is most definitely in that second camp.

You also don’t have to be too bright to know that News Corp publications are the "drop" of choice for the Coalition. You only have to read any of their papers to see lines like "Government ministers unhappy with”, or “Maybe the GST should be raised”, to see a government idea testing the waters before an official announcement is made. My personal favourite is the pre-speech, pre-budget stuff, which "exclusively" tell us what we will hear in the next 24 hours. Given all this, it is not a hard stretch to imagine this ploy can also be used to destroy political opponents, or in the case of Tony Abbott, just to agitate.

It would appear unusual for a Coalition cheerleader to actually publish this piece, which regardless of its sympathetic sounding tone, does not put the Deputy Prime Minister in a good light. So, who is actually behind it?

Tony Windsor is a convenient but unlikely culprit, since the Daily Telegraph would be unlikely to give him the time of day.

This statement means the information is known to Government:

'The private turmoil has spilled over into his office with staff leaving at the height of the situation. One of Mr Joyce’s female advisers left his office to work for another minister who is close to Mr Joyce, before moving to another MP.'

So I think the bigger political question is, who leaked this information to Sharri Markson? There is much detail in the piece and we can only imagine what was not included due to legal ramifications or the sensational journalism formula of giving enough information to whet the appetite for further scandal.

Who benefits from this story? I suspect that while many have been watching and waiting for someone in the Liberal Party to put their hand up to take on PM Turnbull who, let’s face it, is a dead man walking, according to polls and only retains the position because no-one has bothered challenging him, that it is actually the Nationals where the real killing season is about to happen?

Warren Truss may not have been the most exciting of men, but he was a steady hand as leader of the Nationals, he had true roots in a regional committee and was a good “Nationals” man. Barnaby Joyce, on the other hand, appears to be riding on the coattails of the mining companies, waltzing with Gina Reinhart, embarrassing the conservative heartland with his utter stupidity in getting himself in trouble with a citizenship saga that could so easily have been avoided, the rumours of drinking and inappropriate behaviour (which have been consistent in the past few years) and now this alleged affair with a staffer… Well, that is a pretty big list of behaviour that does not sit well at the local CWA?

Is it the Nationals?

Is it an internal "thing" to shake up the Nationals and put Joyce in his place? I’ve seen a few tweets about the ambitions of Trevor Khan, although not being familiar with NSW Nationals politics, I am unsure about the validity or likelihood of those rumours.

I’ve also seen in Queensland the country LNP MPs being threatened by One Nation in the looming Queensland State election?

Joyce has obviously tried to put the blame onto the Prime Minister with 'Barnaby Joyce warns PM that Queensland MPs are on warpath over favours to One Nation'. However, I’m pretty sure in that in the likes of Nationals heartland, Toowoomba, ruled by LNP powerhouse Barry O’Sullivan, they would have to be wondering how Pauline Hanson (who is gunning for LNP seats that are more National than Liberal in Queensland) is turning up in their backyard handing out Community Development Grants and Barnaby Joyce didn’t stop it? I mean, he should have their backs? He is the Deputy Prime Minister in a Government that is only hanging on by a thread with National Party support, yet the opportunity for LNP Senators & MP’s to shine in local media by handing out Commonwealth grants just prior to a Qld election is given to the very party that is trying to steal seats off them?

The Nationals may only be the “N” in LNP nowadays, but in Queensland, old Nationals never die. They still believe they are the true backbone and heartland of the Nationals, and with Barnaby Joyce acting more like a Sydney spiv than a good ole Nationals farmer, well, could they be behind a push to oust Joyce as National Party Leader?

Only last month, Barnaby copped a spray from a woman in the Nationals heartland of Gympie when a Widgee local eloquently demanded:

"Use your testicles and stand up to Malcolm Turnbull."

Joyce himself?

I am leaning towards it being Barnaby Joyce's own spin doctors who have released this info. If there is a by-election, it will be at least a month or more away and that is enough time to have a scandal hit and go away in the public eye. So it could be Joyce himself getting ahead of an issue that he knows too many are aware of and would hate for it to hit the news while he is in campaign mode.

If that is the case, it sort of makes him worse in my opinion, as he has pretty much thrown his family under the bus to save his own political ambitions and is therefore not worthy of high office.

I truly hope that is not the case and we are just being cynical.

The Weinstein effect?

Another aspect to consider and, again, not a good look for the Press Gallery if there is a touch of this in their attitude about keeping private lives private at all times.

What I do know is please consider Mrs Joyce and look a bit further as to who is really behind these stories. Somehow, I don’t think it's Tony Windsor.

There is more to this story — let’s hope journalists avoid the unsavoury but still investigate the political motives as to who and why this is being raised at such an inconvenient time for Barnaby Joyce.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink? or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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