STEPHANIE DOWRICK. Issues of Integrity, Not Sex.

The story of a middle-aged husband and father talking up the “failure” of his marriage to justify his relationship with a much younger and previously childless woman is too clichéd to have much drama. The effect of this on the abandoned wife and, in this case, four daughters, would of course make for a story of genuine poignancy. We may even wonder what caused the younger woman to assume a future with a man who is not only married but an avowed and vocal upholder of traditional family values, whatever they are. (Loyalty, honesty, transparency and kindness could be a start.)

But that’s not where the attention of the public is drawn. Instead – in this version – we’ve heard “failure” as a repeated justification for moving on. And whether it was, indeed, the failure of a marriage that had apparently served this fellow and his career quite well for two decades and more, or just a familiar lust for greater excitement, we can only guess.

We are of course, strongly dissuaded by the man in question from “guessing”. This business is my business, he has repeatedly claimed. His colleagues, primed to attack others for breaches real and assumed, are similarly forthright. “Private” has become the most over-used word of a torrid week. It’s also become the most questionable one.

Is a matter like this private? This is the 21st-century. (And yes, it is the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, at least at the time of writing.) We have smart phones. We have instant access to alternative and social media. We have eyes and ears, as citizens always have. We also have investigative journalists and commentators who are not beholden to mainstream commercial alliances. The lines between what is public and private are now gossamer-thin and in many instances non-existent. This is especially and justifiably so when the private lives of the people concerned are paid for from the public purse. We, the taxpayers (the “lifters”, Joe Hockey called us) employ politicians. We also employ their staffers. Known and unknown, big and small, they live on our funds.

Politicians’ generous salaries, their perks, their glittering travel allowances and eye-watering superannuation benefits are unmatched in the private sector. Claiming those significant benefits of money, personal influence and power surely disentitles them to the privacy that most of us treasure? It’s a trade-off that’s really not all that difficult to fathom.

After all, which very averagely intelligent accountant in a NSW country town can regularly socialise with Australia’s richest woman, be lavishly feted by the coal industry, have his banal opinions broadcast widely and his job protected? Which can get continuous access to the media and, indeed, lobbyists who rush to flatter him? Which can enjoy a $3m publicly-funded security ‘upgrade’ in a townhouse provided free by a patron not to him only but also to the woman who was, even while she was constantly by his side and soon to become pregnant, apparently not his “partner”?  Which accountant, however hard working, can claim up to $565 per night for out-of-session nights in Canberra, way in excess in number of nights (50) of any more senior colleague? And on top of untold other benefits? Which accountant? Well, none. Only in politics. Only in Canberra. Only in and within a government which on this matter, as on so many, has lost all memory of a moral compass.

This is not a “sex scandal”. It is though, and perhaps increasingly, a tale exposing a skewed and soul-destroying sense of entitlement. And the loss of integrity that follows it. That a “social media adviser” – managing Facebook and Twitter posts if you’re wondering – would be eased into a job paying her almost $200,000 a year does and should offend us. That she should be found not one but two unadvertised jobs within government does and should offend us. That she is today a “partner” but apparently was not when employment rabbits were pulled from a bottomless top hat does and should offend us.

All the actors in this drama are paid with our funds, from our public purse. Salaries, perks, claims and more claims: we have every right to wonder how the media adviser’s salary was justified. We know how it compares to earnings in the real world. But in the political world the contagion of personal entitlement goes way beyond money, perks and sexual or employment favours. “The ordinary rules don’t apply to me.” And, “I deserve it,” are two exceptionally dangerous delusions. Entitlement on any scale drives greed, a destructive as well as an insatiable vice. Greed blinds even those who believe themselves to be well meaning. It also blinds those who flatter.

A political leader has privileges beyond everyday dreaming. But he – or she – must be openly and very publicly accountable. We may not be entitled to wisdom from those we elect; we are entitled to integrity. On that measure, it may not be a lost marriage that is this husband and father’s greatest failure but, rather, his own and his government’s erosion of credibility, even dignity in the eyes of a weary, restless Australian public.

Reverend Dr Stephanie Dowrick is a writer and social commentator. You can comment here and also engage with Stephanie on her public Facebook page or via


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23 Responses to STEPHANIE DOWRICK. Issues of Integrity, Not Sex.

  1. Jane Moore says:

    Great to have a forum to discuss significant issues. Nicely written stephanie dowrick. The issue for me is certainly integrity, especially as Joyce has long been pontificating about morals; viz Papiloma virus vaccinations for young women (opposed), and of ciurse the postal vote for marriage equality. He assumes that he is above moral codes he espouses. However, as has been pointed out, there is an absence of anyone in the cialition calling him on this. Talk about a self serving bunch of hypocrites.

  2. mark elliott says:

    poor fellow my country indeed! wonderfull analysis here but nothing like it in any media that is readily available to the public.aunty abc can hang its head in utter shame.where has all the courage gone?surely wages alone cannot justify the absurd level that the fourth estate has come to.

  3. Jennifer Herrick says:

    As I have noted in Eureka St, the Joice issue is, at its heart, about power abuse. Whether the circumstance be political or ecclesial, the end game is the same, and the real long term loser is always the one with lesser power in that abused power differential.

  4. Ronald Mackinnon says:

    How many highly paid advisors to politicians are we suffering? The only advisors truly required for The Hon. B. Joyce are those supplied free from his constituent family farmers progressively decimated by the cost price squeeze and escalating farm debt.

  5. Andrew McRae says:

    Praiseworthy article and comments. Whether Joyce was an accountant or solicitor is irrelevant, really. It’s what he has become that is important, and the true extent of his political operations are barely touched on here. Some of the many smaller details which have emerged in the last week do actually provide an insight into Joyce’s character and, because of the way his failings are tolerated, even venerated, in some quarters, into the modus operandi and born to rule sense of entitlement of the governing parties.

    Essentially, as I see it, Joyce the politician is composed of these elements: Cronyism, Pork-Barrelling, Conflicts of Interest, Self-aggrandisement, Lying, Lechery, and Bumptious Incompetence. As Bernard Keane said in a recent scathing Crikey article: “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.”
    MSM hacks continue to skirt around this fact, so does Stephanie’s article. It’s been obscured by the matter of relationship ethics, which Turnbull tried to reinforce yesterday. Small details, like Joyce’s either inadvertent or deliberately false recording of the dates of his military service, the careless way he misled parliament in his version of how he came to be living rent free in one of crony Maguire’s up-market apartments, a continuing penchant for pressing himself on women (literally as well as figuratively) despite surely knowing the risks and that they were ‘on to him’, his not apologising to his wife and family for several days, all demonstrate a man who is basically careless and uncaring, not on top of the details of anything, full of himself and self-deluding, yet also full of the complacency which comes from believing you can do anything and get away with anything.

    Today, this man has just declared war on Turnbull over the PM’s fabulously panic-driven and inane/insane Eleventh Commandment of yesterday, and appears ready to tough it out in the trenches; yet hardly anyone is pointing out the in-plain-sight trail of disastrous policy failures and blatant corruption of this slovenly, apathetic, incompetent wastrel.

  6. Wayne McMillan says:

    Thank You Stephanie. I think you have nailed it brillantly.

  7. I really don’t want to distract you with an error made in too-haste around Mr Joyce’s former profession when what really challenges us is what ethical standards – ordinary transparency, consideration and decency – we can demand and expect from those in positions of privilege (and, yes, also of ourselves). It’s dangerous – and endangering – when any of us believe that the everyday rules don’t apply to us, or that we somehow “deserve” significantly more than the next person. This is particularly troubling when someone has exceptional power, as all leading politicians do. Barnaby Joyce is absolutely not alone in this. Far from it.
    Back to the factual correction. Special thanks to David Maxwell Gray above who shared, from Wikipedia: “[Joyce] worked in the accounting profession from 1991–2005; in 1999 founding his own accountancy firm in St George called Barnaby Joyce & Co.[19] He is a fellow of CPA Australia. ”
    And thanks to you all for thoughtful engagement.

  8. Philip Bond says:

    The gig is not about them but those whom gave him/her their vote. Parliamentary salary and allowances are a by product of voter endorsement, not a right!

  9. Paul Frijters says:

    I dont care about the sex or the lying about morality – those are normal (if a politician cant get someone to sleep with them, why would anyone else vote for them?). But easing his secret love-interest into a cushy job is bad. And the reactions of the main political parties suggests to me that Barnaby knows a lot of secrets and is protected by those he could expose. Mutual dirt.

    • Sue Wilson says:

      The ability to ‘get someone to sleep with them’ is hardly an appropriate measure for electoral success, let alone personal integrity.

  10. Stephanie Dowrick says:

    Thank you so much to all those who have gallantly corrected my misnaming of B Joyce’s earlier profession. Oddly enough, I checked most of the information in the article with my usual obsessiveness (old-school editing) and did indeed head to Wikipedia to check my assumption he’d been a solicitor…and then got waylaid by yet another scandal. Lessons learned! More generally, thank you for your engagement. I am delighted to be able to share thoughts here with this reading, caring community; I hope more often pearls than irritations.

  11. David Spence says:

    “After all, which very averagely intelligent solicitor in a NSW country town can regularly socialise with Australia’s richest woman, be lavishly feted by the coal industry, have his banal opinions broadcast widely and his job protected?”

    While I’m inclined to agree with the very muddled thrust of this opinion piece, it is not hard these days to at least get the basic facts right: BJ is an accountant, not a solicitor. Lord knows, they have enough troubles of similar kind, without your casual attribution.

    As to the remainder of the various adverbs and adjectives in the para above – I assume you have direct and personal acquaintance of the man and his affairs to make such sweeping judgement?

    • Bee Morgan says:

      There is no need to know the subject personally as his ‘personal life’ has been at the heads of political ‘news’ for months now, whether we are interested or not!
      His previous career, which ever it was, does not make any difference to the current issue(s).
      I met people like you while at the recent bi-election for New England. They were barracking for him & were all rude, rough & looked overly unhealthy.
      Other locals who were not voting for him were wishing, very loudly, that the bi-election be held a week later when the news of this politician’s behaviour would be made public. That was some time ago. How come it has only just hit the front pages? Proof of how much goes on backstage.

  12. Brian Coyne says:

    This essay is a good reason why we need women priests. Reading Stephanie Dowrick’s essay I couldn’t help thinking what Catholic priest or bishop would be capable of writing a moral lesson like this one?

    The real importance (perhaps contrasting with the real presence) of Jesus is all about learning the ability to navigate through the forest of conflicting moral responsibilities, laws, dogmas and creeds, in order to know how to come to a conclusion about the particular laws, and moral constraints, that apply in the circumstances of the moment. What Stephanie Dowrick has written is an excellent lesson in how to do that. I couldn’t imagine any of our present crop of Catholic leaders, or most male religious leaders of any stripe, being capable to writing a lesson like that.

  13. David Maxwell Gray says:

    I agree with you, Stephanie, about almost everything: however the implication that Barnaby was a solicitor is wrong if you believe what Wikipedia says about him: ” He worked in the accounting profession from 1991–2005; in 1999 founding his own accountancy firm in St George called Barnaby Joyce & Co.[19] He is a fellow of CPA Australia. ”

    I would also add that these highly-paid people in Federal Parliament show a major lack of integrity in their policy decisions, perhaps due to the egregious restrictions within our two major parties requiring them to toe the party line and also the nearly US-scale presence of external lobbyists and associated donations. Both major parties are implicated. For an example of their failure to design and implement sensible policy in the interests of the nation, go no further than the Murray/Darling basin.

  14. Jim KABLE says:

    Poor fellow my country! That such an essay as yours, Stephanie, needs to be written is an indictment of the kind of country we have become! It’s beyond time for a proper re-set. That Barnaby’s party largely supports him (as of last night’s latest newscasts) suggests that the sickness/virus of entitlement and privilege to behave as he has done has truly spread throughout the body politic. Sack the lot. Abandon parties. Allow people to stand on their own reputations. Ban all political party appointments in any event (the spin doctors such as the woman featured in this essay) allow plane trips paid for by the tax payers only between electorate and Canberra – at economy rate. Any further up the privilege scale to be paid for by the already grossly overpaid politician him or herself. Nothing funded for partner/spouse. No per diems in Canberra – they are either staying (à la Joe Hockey in his wife’s home) or clumped unseemly together – as when the same Joe and other rugger-bugger LNP lads were – prior to his marriage one assumes)! That’s why they are paid so much already. In Canberra to work. No more sporting fixtures or other gala events unless THEY PAY THEMSELVES. As a community we are sick of their sense of their “rights” while pointing ugly fingers at the rest of us. Free housing Prizes – from BIG Miner BIG Biz mates – dismissed from the Parliament at once! Please – let’s restore integrity!

  15. Jan carter says:

    Great article Stephanie. However, Barnaby was a accountant, not a solicitor!

  16. Karen Anderson says:

    Barnaby was a Certified Practising Accountant not a solicitor

  17. Carolyn Holbrook says:

    Isn’t Barnaby an accountant?

  18. Brilliant assessment.

  19. John Richardson says:

    Absolutely … Well Said … Thank You.

  20. Simon Lush says:

    Great article very important points raised. Not that it really detracts at all from the article but I believe he was an Accountant CPA in a previous life.

  21. Desney King says:

    All of this, Stephanie – thank you.
    The other thought that stays with me is the visible closing of ranks by the boys club.
    Imagine, for a moment, that the central figure in this story was a senior female politician, from either major party. Colleagues’ responses, and media accounts, would be entirely different. And extremely unpleasant, I imagine.

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