As National party members go to ground on the issue of Barnaby Joyce’s political future, the Deputy Prime Minister has been deemed “damaged goods” – a situation made worse by his “stubborn” attempt to hold onto his leadership.
After a tumultuous week for the government, with Mr Joyce and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull exchanging pointed barbs about the National leader’s personal strife, the two men met in Sydney for a Saturday crisis meeting to try and heal the division.
Having publicly lambasted each other in separate press conferences earlier in the week the Coalition partners met for more than an hour on Saturday and have agreed they “need to work together”, according to the ABC.
University of Adelaide Australian politics professor Carol Johnson told The New Daily, the meeting was an attempt at “belated damage control” after tensions between Mr Joyce and Mr Turnbull erupted for all Australia to see.
While some commentators believe the PM’s intervention on Mr Joyce’s “shocking error of judgement’ was a misstep, Professor Johnson said it was the Nationals leader who had created the mess.
Mr Joyce’s feisty rebuttal, which saw him describe Mr Turnbull’s comments as “inept”, “unnecessary” and “hurtful”, did not excuse the damage caused by his own actions, she said.
“Australians will forgive a lot if a politician appears genuine, but we don’t think very highly of hypocrites,” Professor Johnson told The New Daily.
Professor Johnson said Mr Joyce had been the Nationals best “retail politician” in the past, considered an authentic, anti-establishment politician standing for “family values” on arguments like abortion and same-sex marriage.
After Mr Turnbull attacked Mr Joyce on grounds of personal conduct, Prof Johnson said the Nationals would struggle to defend Mr Joyce’s leadership position.
“Traditionally you’d expect “small l” liberal moderates like Mr Turnbull to be arguing the ‘personal should stay personal’ and the Nationals arguing personal morality,” Prof Johnson said.
“It’s basically gone the other way around and this makes it difficult.
“The Nationals might have been hoping they could get away with saying this is a personal matter and it can’t be proved there are financial implications in relation to Vikki Campion, but Turnbull has made it a political issue.”
With the party’s image now at risk, Nationals MPs are trying to avoid publicly discussing Mr Joyce’s position as their leader.
Former deputy PM and party stalwart Tim Fischer told The New Daily he “wouldn’t be commenting on Barnaby” today, but would call back if he changed his mind.
In Melbourne, one person who was not afraid to weigh in was former PM Tony Abbott, who had a not-so-veiled dig at his nemesis, Mr Turnbull, claiming the leader of the Liberals should not publicly comment on the leadership of the National Party.
“The general rule I always observed was that one party doesn’t give another party public advice,” Mr Abbott told reporters.
“The last thing anyone wants is for politicians to be talking about themselves.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale told the ABC the public row between Mr Turnbull and Mr Joyce had become an international embarrassment.
“Look, this is a farce! Internationally it makes Australia a laughing-stock,” Senator Di Natale said.
“This can only end one way: Barnaby Joyce will not be deputy prime minister of this country for much longer.”