News People The moment Barnaby Joyce’s resignation speech lost me

The moment Barnaby Joyce’s resignation speech lost me

barnaby joyce
Shaming Australians for showing an interest in his personal life proves Barnaby Joyce has missed the point. Photo: AAP
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Barnaby Joyce’s Friday afternoon press conference to announce his abdication as leader of the National Party and deputy PM started off well.

He made the valid point that the hullabaloo surrounding his extra-marital affair with his now-pregnant media advisor – and the fresh sexual harassment allegation he’s since denied – was detracting from the real issues. That much I agreed with.

His argument that, “the leaking, the backgrounding, all that, it will destroy not only our government, it will destroy any government,” was something I could get behind.

But where he lost me was when he mounted his high horse and pointed the finger at the Australian public for giving a damn about his conduct while occupying the second-highest office in the country.

Mr Joyce apologised to Vikki Campion, the mother of his unborn child, for the scrutiny she’s faced since The Daily Telegraph first published a photo of her crossing the street with the headline ‘Bundle of Joyce’.

Then he reprimanded Australians everywhere, opining: “I thought that’s not who we are in Australia. That’s not the kind of people we are. I’m the public figure, go after me. That’s what I get paid for but don’t go after private individuals. It’s just wrong.”

Finally, he stuck the knife in: “And always think of it when you see something like that on paper and you think it’s salacious, think, ‘What if that was me? My mother, my wife? How would I feel?'”

Part of the fascination with this story is that the Australian public do think like that. We consider how we’d act, we put ourselves in the shoes of Mr Joyce’s wife, we wonder whether we would – could – ever do the same. That’s what makes stories like this so compelling.

This was always going to be the outcome of two people in positions of power and influence doing something many people would consider inappropriate.

This was always going to be the outcome of two people in positions of power and influence doing something many people would consider inappropriate.

It’s a tale as old as time. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky could tell you a thing or two about it.

For the average Aussie, that this affair took place while Mr Joyce was second-in-command of the entire country only served to legitimise their preoccupation with the saga.

It brings us back to the question that has bafflingly dominated this story since the get-go: whether interest from the public constitutes public interest.

Media outlets sat on this story for months, pondering its validity. The Daily Tele took a punt and … Bam! – two weeks later the landscape of Australian politics has been irrevocably altered.

The value and relevance of this story no longer needs to be proven. The ensuing fallout is proof enough we should have been talking about this months ago. Especially when the person in question made other people’s private lives a public issue in last year’s same-sex marriage vote.

Never mind that Mr Joyce spent much of Friday’s press conference waxing lyrical about representing his constituents, the “weatherboard and iron” people, getting ahead “on the sweat of their own brow” while he lives in a rent-free apartment without a shard of weatherboard to be seen.

The soon-to-be former deputy PM blaming the public for hurting his wife and four daughters, five women who have no doubt endured deep emotional stress because of his actions, feels hypocritical.

And then shaming us for showing a vicarious interest while painting an intelligent, independent 33-year-old woman – Ms Campion – as a victim proves Mr Joyce has entirely missed the point of this debacle.

Character matters, no matter who you are. If we can’t hold our politicians to account, then who’s setting the standards? And if you place yourself in the public eye, expect to conduct both your highs and lows in full view of its unwavering stare.

As an experienced media advisor and a longtime public figure, Ms Campion and Mr Joyce should at least know that much.

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