Barnaby Joyce is paid $8000 a week to do his job as Deputy Prime Minister.
One of the duties of that role is to step in as Acting Prime Minister when the top man is overseas. But this week he is being paid to keep out of sight.
Malcolm Turnbull hopes Mr Joyce will be “considering his position” as he spends the time with his pregnant partner Vikki Campion.
Ms Campion took paid stress leave from her brief stint in the Nationals whip’s office last year. There can be little doubt that stress would not have abated as Mr Joyce has become the eye of a storm that has blown the government dangerously off course.
The latest Newspoll leaves no doubt about that. Not only is the government trailing Labor by six points but gains made last time by the Prime Minister in the approval stakes have reversed. And 65 per cent of respondents believe Mr Joyce should quit as Deputy PM.
It is sending shudders through government ranks. The 27th election-losing Newspoll in a row would see the Coalition drop upwards of 25 seats. The Nationals’ organisational leaders across the nation held a crisis phone hook-up on Monday night.
The party’s federal president Larry Anthony, after meeting with Mr Joyce in Canberra last week, urged his MPs not to make a precipitant strike against the leader. Some Liberal National Party members from Queensland believe Mr Anthony was assured by the Deputy Prime Minister that he would step aside, only to renege next day.
One of Mr Joyce’s staunchest supporters, maverick MP George Christensen, says he’s 100 per cent behind the leader. He is running Mr Joyce’s argument that “time heals all wounds” and “a week’s a long time in politics”. Mr Christensen says it will be interesting to see if next week the news cycle has moved on.
This is dangerous head-in-the-sand stuff. The same member who holds his seat by his fingernails, claims his constituents are telling him: “Barnaby’s done nothing wrong. It’s a personal issue and people should get off his back.”
Mr Christensen’s reading of his electorate over same-sex marriage was similarly through rose-tinted glasses. He claimed his opposition was expressing his voters’ views, except he wasn’t – 55 per cent voted yes.
It is impossible to believe these same voters are different to constituents in Coalition seats around Australia expressing varying degrees of anger and outrage at Mr Joyce’s behaviour and its impact on the government.
Michelle Landry, whose Rockhampton seat is the government’s most marginal, made front-page headlines in the local paper defending Mr Joyce and claiming he was the victim of a “bullying witch hunt” by the media. But she says there will be further discussion about it in the party room next Monday.
The Prime Minister has publicly sidelined himself from the fate of his deputy. Though he does not resile from his view that Mr Joyce made “a shocking error of judgement” and his behaviour was “appalling”, it’s up to the Nationals party room.
“A party room, I might add, which I have never sought to influence in any way,” he said on Radio 3AW.
This admission of impotence to save his own government further entrenches the spectre of unresolved chaos. Assurances that there are now no issues between the Liberal and National parties even if Mr Joyce stays leader are simply taking us all for mugs.
Others, like Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester, are hoping his colleagues realise their survival in Parliament depends on dumping Mr Joyce.
His colleague from NSW, Veterans Affairs Minister Michael McCormack, gave a “look at me” interview on Sky News on Monday. There, he refused to rule out a challenge saying Mr Joyce was “the leader at the moment”.
But, ominously, he said: “I am not sure what is going to happen this week.”
Mr Turnbull had better hope that Mr Joyce comes to his senses and accepts the reality that his staying on is damaging the entire government.
If he doesn’t, the biggest winner will be Bill Shorten and the Labor party.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.