“Perhaps the biggest scandal in Australia political history? Made only by the fact it was managed like a shopping trolley full of concrete being pushed down the steep hill on the Tuggeranong Parkway.”
That was the erudite private assessment by a senior National Party member as Barnaby Joyce faced the media to agonisingly announce his resignation as the party’s federal leader and deputy prime minister.
The announcement had all the hallmarks of an earlier political maverick who morphed into a political statesman for the bush – Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen – before falling on his own sword.
The first few minutes had Barnaby babbling in a futile attempt to paint his own narrative on one of the lower points in Australian politics for some decades.
Eventually he blurted out what was expected … off to the backbench. And with a hint of what may be to come by finishing a book that when published will receive the same scrutiny as he and new partner Vikki Campion have endured over the past fortnight.
Will he follow in the footsteps of deposed prime minister Tony Abbott by unleashing on colleagues and making policy pronouncements, rediscovering that thick streak of cavalier representation when Barnaby was first elected to the Senate to become a constant headache for the Howard government, threatening and often crossing the floor?
Or will he continue a crusade to rewrite perceived history after the battering from media, opponents within the National Party and in the voting electorates where his failings have elicited mixed responses?
Barnaby’s ill-advised Fairfax interview this week only fanned flames of discontent. From the moment the Joyce Affair story broke, he never had control of the narrative.
He tried to deflect attention of Liberal critics by saying the senior Coalition partner had no voice in National Party decisions, ignoring historical facts going back to the demise of Billy Hughes as prime minister in 1923 when the junior party called the shots and had a leader elected by the people rejected under a coalition agreement or even when the Nationals supported Tony Abbott’s rise to the leadership.
Barnaby and the Nationals have never been afraid to express their views on Liberal leadership. They didn’t like commentary when the roles were reversed, but please, the average punter expects consistency.
The now simply styled member for New England continues to lament the media glare of his new partner and mother of the baby boy due in a few months. Even in the final, rambling moments facing the media in Armidale today, he persisted in the belief Vikki Campion was an ordinary citizen, ignoring her formers positions as a political operative in the National Party machine on a not-insignificant salary afforded her on behalf of the taxpayer for the purpose of serving the Australian people as an agent of members of Parliament.
There have been mainstream and social media comparisons between Joyce’s liaison with a former staffer and inks of politicians of all persuasions with new partners. The essential difference has been the paid employee connection and this is what began Joyce’s concrete-assisted trolley ride to leadership oblivion.
Does he want to be back in theblue-carpetedd offices of the Ministerial Wing of Parliament House? The best clues will come when the book he has also had time to write comes despite the demands of political and personal life rolls off the printing presses.
If it’s a best-seller, the man who took on Johnny Depp, Pistol and Boo could team up with his one-time adversary and look to Hollywood for a film career.
But after today’s opening ramble to the media that struggled to spit out the resignation, his emotion mostly veiled by a broad-brimmed Akubra, Barnaby will need to work on better delivery of lines.
On Monday, the Nationals will decide on a new captain to steer this shopping trolley with wonky, damaged wheels. Canavan, Chester or even a house swap deputy Bridget McKenzie who has been mostly silent while the Barnaby kept crashing into barriers this past fortnight.
A safe pair of hands will be needed to mend damage in the party and the Government that must be lamenting the diminution of hope that had briefly flickered in opinion polls only a month ago.
Chris Earl is a rural and regional consultant.
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