Bandicoot believes Barnaby Joyce should be commemorated in an epithet, as was Malcolm Fraser PM, in the oft-used lament “I’ve had a Fraser of a day” in the aftermath of the 1975 Fraser-Kerr coup. That was, of course, before Mr Fraser rehabilitated himself post-politics, emerging as a much respected elder statesman in a way Barnaby never can emulate.
The epithet Bandicoot puts forward for your consideration is this: to “do a Barnaby”. It can cover a wide range of bizarre activities, from impregnating a member of one’s staff (intentionally or otherwise) to refusing to quit Parliament when knowing one has no legal entitlement to sit there and, more broadly, to hijacking parts of the federal public service and transplanting them in one’s electorate to bolster poll prospects.
Barnaby has done all these things, and much, much more. Remember Gina Rinehart awarding him – then agriculture minister – a $40,000 prize for the Australian doing the most for farmers? And him accepting it, declaring it would come in handy around the farm, only to be brought to his senses and knocking it back next day? It was very crude politics: his highly paid job, after all, to work tirelessly in the interests of farmers.
Barnaby and Gina: close friends
Remember his ex-deputy leader Fiona Nash, ineligible to be an MP but clinging grimly to her Senate spot until the High Court kicked her out, instructing all federal departments to provide her with areas of operations that could be moved to the bush, presumably on the Barnaby principle that every vote counts, even if the federal government runs inefficiently and expensively when scattered around the country.
All this social and structural vandalism was being aided by a supine Prime Minister and presumably approved by an octogenarian media proprietor who sees his role as choosing suitable governments for Australia. It was a dream, all playing into Barnaby’s hands.
As to his own final exit from politics, Barnaby got back into power by resoundingly winning the recent New England byelection, living in borrowed premises with his new lady friend. Country voters appear to love him, although his dalliance with a staffer has many voters tut-tutting. What a real farmer wears
Still, it is to be hoped that the Joyce post-MP era begins soon. It should. He has Trumped Australian politics notoriously and shamefully, making Turnbull look foolish, his wife a martyr and himself a hypocrite. One wonders what his children think of him. Anyone who thinks he is eccentric, quaint or amusing had better think again.
In an earlier era Country Party leaders were dour men of exceptional rectitude – hard, ruthless men from a hard land. National Party leader Barnaby’s flaunting of a spotless Akubra is, even though he leads the Nationals, as incongruous as Howard’s and Turnbull’s paddock headwear. Farmers, who generally wear their hats until they are sweat-soaked, beaten-up and falling apart, laugh at the townies in their off-road uniforms.
Bandicoot recalls with particular respect and affection Sir John “Black Jack” McEwen, who began his working life in the unforgiving parched northern Victorian landscape as a soldier settler who turned activist and joined the Country Party aged 19.
Hard as goat’s knees, Sir John (right) was briefly Australia’s prime minister after Harold Holt drowned at Portsea, thwarting Billy McMahon, who wanted (and later got) the job. Black Jack told Billy bluntly: “I won’t serve under you because I don’t trust you.”
What he might have thought of Barnaby conjures images of erupting volcanoes and meteorites smashing into the Moon, especially after Barnaby leapt to Black Jack’s defence in 2012, saying that the Liberals had offered Sir John the prime ministership if he would join their party, but Sir John “had the character not to flip-flop around. He believed it would have been perceived as insincere and opportunist”.
Insincere and opportunist, eh? Not traits generally associated with Black Jack: Barnaby, maybe. The formidable Black Jack would have batted Barnaby away with a choice epithet of his own.
Barnaby says his affair, the ensuing pregnancy and any permanent family life that might follow his imminent fatherhood is his business. No, Barnaby, it isn’t. Such behaviour is inevitably the public’s business.
Here’s why. You, and all political leaders, are exemplars, unless you actually set out publicly to be a Trump or a Berlusconi or a bloody Central American dictator, or a plain old-fashioned galoot. In that case it is undoubtedly the public’s business because it goes to your character and our need to be confident we can trust your judgement.
Part of your role – a very important part – is to stand as an example, a beacon of propriety to the community. Our light on the hill. Someone to look up to. Someone to emulate. You, Barney, preached the sanctity of marriage publicly while privately philandering, shaming your wife and treating your children with casual contempt. It’s your privilege, and a high duty, to be an exemplar and know how to act like one. Exemplars Whitlam and Fraser
The nation will as of now watch closely and critically as you go about the business of doing more “Barnabys”, as inevitably you will. Bandicoot hopes not too many high profile folk will choose to follow your execrable example.