BERNARD KEANE. Joyce has always been a dud and should never have been deputy PM.

It was Tony Abbott who bestowed the appellation “best retail politician in the country” on Barnaby Joyce. Even now, some continue to preface their comments about him by claiming he is possessed of some form of political genius. It is true that Joyce has been successful at the time-honoured Nationals tactic of demanding handouts for farmers despite a complete lack of policy rationale (beyond Joyce’s personal and, given recent events, now ironic vision of Australian agriculture as a rural idyll of white heterosexual families). Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on irrigation infrastructure and concessional loans to farmers at Joyce’s behest. But a quick check of Joyce’s other career highlights suggests he has serially been a problem for his own side of politics. 

There was his painfully short, but for his colleagues far too long, stint as Coalition finance spokesman, when he claimed Australia was about to default. Abbott had to kick the “best retail politician in the country” out of that portfolio. There’s his embarrassing railing against foreign investment in agribusiness. There’s his inability to properly manage his close friendship with Gina Rinehart. There was his long-running feud with Liberal senator Bill Heffernan, who knows more about rural water issues than Joyce ever could and who was prepared to call out Joyce on his advocacy for his irrigator mates. There was Joyce breaching Cabinet solidarity to bag his own government’s decision and another minister over the Shenhua mine. And there are his repeated, cack-handed contributions on foreign policy, usually at odds with the government’s actual policy, forcing Julie Bishop (who under any sensible arrangement would be Deputy Prime Minister, not him) to clean up his mess.

Those were all mere warm-ups for the last six months. Joyce’s sloppiness over his citizenship — having been among the first to mock Greens senators who were forced out — made him the highest profile casualty of the High Court — after his Prime Minister in parliament insisted the Court would decide the opposite way. Joyce then compounded things by admitting he thought he should have quit all along. After return via a by-election, Joyce used Turnbull’s end-of-year reshuffle to sack his party’s best-performing minister, Darren Chester. While Turnbull used the reshuffle to offload a buffoon like George Brandis, Joyce was, for reasons of pure personal vindictiveness, forcing out a quality performer in a government decidedly underweight in ministerial talent.

For a government that has serially struggled to get the spotlight off its own problems and onto the opposition, Joyce has been a magnet for attention of the worst sort. And now all this. We’re into the second and third-order stories about Joyce and his staffer-turned-partner. All talk of the government’s good start to the year — which has been considerably hyped by some in the media — has vanished. Malcolm Turnbull and his office have distanced themselves from the whole business of the employment of Vikki Campion, saying it was a matter for the Nationals.

And, with exquisite timing, Joyce is set to take over as acting Prime Minister while Turnbull is displaying his doe-eyed fascination with Donald Trump in the US next week.

Don’t expect too many shouted “and the High Court will so hold”-style statements from the Prime Minister this time around, who has probably lost count of the number of times Joyce’s ineptitude has inflicted serious damage on a government that wants desperately to talk about massive jobs growth, an improving budget situation and its plans for the defence industry.

The long-running pattern here is that Joyce lacks judgment and any interest in detail or consequences. The sort of man who would seriously claim that Australia was about to default, or bill taxpayers for joining a junket with Gina, or make off-the-cuff remarks about China’s threat to Australia, is the sort of man who wouldn’t bother to do the basics of checking his own citizenship status or try to ensure a burgeoning relationship didn’t interfere with the operation of his office. An office that after all, is only that of the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and one, you would hope, the smooth functioning of which would be both a political and policy priority.

The talk now is of how long Joyce will last. The real point is that, both in policy and political terms, Joyce has always been a flake, and should never have even been a frontbencher, let alone the ostensibly second-most powerful man in Australia.

Bernard Keane is the political editor of Crikey.

This article first appeared in Crickey on 12 February 2018


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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6 Responses to BERNARD KEANE. Joyce has always been a dud and should never have been deputy PM.

  1. Dave Bradley says:

    Maybe Tony Abbott meant Barnaby Joyce was the ‘best value’ and ‘most easily procurable’ politician money can buy on the retail market for political influence?

    …’It was Tony Abbott who bestowed the appellation “best retail politician in the country” on Barnaby Joyce’…available at outlets where all good influence is sold…

  2. Michael D. Breen says:

    Barnaby may not be clever but he is cunning enough to appear like and speak like a hayseed when that is how he sees his electors. Unfortunately rural people in Australia are not lifted out of much of their primitive world view by their leaders;the leaders reinforce it. Rural people who do not understand how governance happens and who hate even the word “Canberra” are highly manipulable. How much has the Country party ever advocated for more adult learning resources for their people? Barnaby and his party don’t want informed constituents who ask questions and who want a vision for the nation. There used be a saying or question in response to silliness, “What do you think it is Bush Week?” Well to a large extent it still is. Thanks for the article Bernard.

  3. Andrew Glikson says:

    While I do not like the conservatives’, including Barnaby Joyce’s, politics, in particular their denial of climate change, I find it appalling how the Paparazzi are conducting “trial by media”, acting as a prosecutor, Judge and Jury with regard people’s private lives. In so far as these people have crossed the law, they need to be brought to account, but if not they need to be considered innocent until and unless legally proven otherwise. Nowadays this fundamental principle of justice is violated time and again with the aim of scoring political points and/or selling newspapers. That the media will act like a lynching mob rather than focus on the current existential nuclear and climate risks is worse than unethical.

  4. Brian Coyne says:

    Give Barnaby a break will ya. At least in the eyes of his conservative Catholic support base he didn’t commit the greater sin of using artificial contraception!

    • Jack Hill says:

      Jeez, Brian, you took the words right out of my mouth. Now, about using tax payers dollars to support your relationship……?

  5. Dr John CARMODY says:

    Thanks, Mr Keane.

    I remain perplexed by the repeated statements by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (most recently on Tuesday 13 February, by the PM, in Question time) that the allocation of staff amongst National party ministers and functionaries) if purely for them to decide. Yer section 2.23 of the the ministerial code of conduce states, “Ministers’ close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices, and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the Executive Government without the Prime Minister’s express approval.” “Express approval” seems pretty emphatic and unequivocal to me, so I’d have to ask if the PM has recently abandoned that “Code of conduct”? If not then he is equivocating in those answers and needs to state clearly and unambiguously whether (i) his approval was sought; and (ii) whether he gave his express approval. If those answers are, “No” then we’d have to ask, “Why didn’t that happen?” and if he was asked and he did give his “express” approval, then why does he not simply say so and take the consequences?
    The political problem seems to he his own fault — a sin of omission, of failure to do his duty — and it seems, sadly, an all too common aspect of his faltering behaviour.

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