Like a lot of other observers of politics, I am convinced that Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister, should go. It should be done voluntarily or Malcolm Turnbull should withdraw his confidence in Joyce, which will have the effect of sacking him. And it had better be done soon or it will eat away at the government’s fortunes and when it does take place, as eventually it will, Turnbull will get no praise for acting so late in the piece; all he will get is renewed criticism for being indecisive and a revival of the notion that perhaps it is his own leadership that should be looked at. As William Gladstone said so wisely (and my source is unimpeachable – The Spectator, 20 February 1942): ‘The first essential for a Prime Minister is to be a good butcher’. As Turnbull seems to have been spellbound since he took office, this is a wonderful chance, and probably his last, to show that he knows what he should do and is prepared to do it.
I hasten to say that the conclusion I have reached is very unfortunate and I do not relish it at all, as Joyce is one of the few members of the government whom I can understand and he has an earthy, plain man’s appreciation of issues and how they should be addressed. Moreover, I can honestly say that before this scandal burst on the government, Turnbull himself was starting to look good and was making some decisions that were consistent with good conservative principles. Of course he was getting help from an unexpected quarter, as Bill Shorten has emerged as so appalling that people were starting to say that the country would go bankrupt if he ever had a chance to put his Corbyn-like delusions into practice. Indeed, I was beginning to think, before the scandal, that one might even have to vote Liberal at the next election. So I am not gloating in the slightest to see that the government has lost the shine it was starting to acquire and has done so, yet again, on its own initiative.
Added to the complexity, of course, Joyce is the leader of the Coalition partner, but even that nettle has to be grasped before it poisons the whole paddock. As Billy Hughes said on his retirement, when asked why he had never joined the Country Party: ‘Cripes! You have to draw the bloody line somewhere. ’ Well, the line is now well and truly drawn and it is drawn on the side of terminating the Deputy Prime Minister before he terminates the entire government.
So, why should he go? Why should Joyce have to end his career in this ignominious way? Because he is a fool and is continuing to act as a fool. He was a fool even to contemplate an alliance with a member of his staff. And that is not an injunction against pursuing a romantic interest, or even against philandering, which he is as free to do as anyone else. If his inamorata were a milkmaid, a dressage champion or even a mining heiress, it would scarcely have mattered, but what does matter is that he blurred the line between public duty and private interest.
He was a fool for not seeing this and yet expecting the public to believe his pathetic argument that it was all a private matter. He was also a fool for putting his colleagues in the position of having to defend him and diverting attention from the allegedly lofty activities on which they are engaged. And he was a fool for giving an interview to the ABC which did nothing but breathe life into an issue he could never win.
Far more important than all of this, he was a fool for attempting and, again, expecting the public to accept it, that you can just move people around into convenient jobs with high salaries opening up for the convenience of politicians and their camp followers any time they need one and all at the expense of the taxpayer. And it is here that the most puerile aspect of his defence emerges; that at the time the lady got her succession of ludicrous ‘adviser’ positions, she was not his partner. Meaning, not yet.
That is what I hate about this whole thing and for which there must be a price: that judgement on matters of high policy is put into the hands of people like Joyce who clearly have no judgement and who keep on demonstrating it, like the fools they are.
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