AN AF­FAIR OF POWER

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - AGENDA - DAVID PENBERTHY david.penberthy@news.com.au

THE spec­tac­u­lar im­plo­sion of Barnaby Joyce’s pri­vate life has prompted the usual bout of hand­wring­ing as to whether th­ese rev­e­la­tions rep­re­sent a new low in jour­nal­ism.

There is noth­ing new about this type of jour­nal­ism. There is noth­ing low about it, ei­ther.

I can’t un­der­stand how peo­ple – es­pe­cially peo­ple in jour­nal­ism – can claim there’s no pub­lic in­ter­est in the fact that the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter’s life has gone so com­pletely off the rails and that there are gen­uine doubts as to whether he can con­tinue in his role.

If you ap­plied the cen­so­ri­ous test set by th­ese crit­ics, and went back through his­tory with an air­brush, many sto­ries would be ex­punged from the record.

You would never have heard any­thing about the Whit­lam gov­ern­ment trea­surer Dr Jim Cairns and how his tem­pes­tu­ous af­fair with Ju­nie Morosi, 41, co­in­cided with his con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to ap­point her his prin­ci­pal pri­vate sec­re­tary, as the econ­omy slid into the mire.

The ap­point­ment by former prime min­is­ter John Gor­ton of the stun­ning 22-year-old Ainslie Gotto as his chief sec­re­tary would have been down­played, too, even though one fu­ri­ous ex-min­is­ter at­trib­uted his sack­ing from Cab­i­net to the in­flu­ence she held over the PM.

On pri­vacy grounds, the cam­eras would have stopped rolling when, in 1994, Bob Hawke had a break­down on na­tional TV over his daugh­ter’s drug prob­lems, even though the ex­tent of his dis­en­gage­ment from his job would al­most cost him power and start an en­dur­ing rift with then trea­surer Paul Keat­ing.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, you would put a line through re­port­ing of the Pro­fumo Af­fair in Eng­land, where topless show­girl Chris­tine Keeler al­most sin­gle-hand­edly de­stroyed a Tory gov­ern­ment.

And as for that Mon­ica Lewin­sky busi­ness, well, let’s just leave that as a pri­vate mat­ter be­tween Bill, the in­tern, and the poor drycleaner who had to take care of her blue dress.

In terms of Barnaby Joyce, it’s hard to know where to start on pub­lic in­ter­est grounds, as there are so many.

For starters, it seems hyp­o­crit­i­cal that Joyce had the au­dac­ity to tell a cer­tain class of Aus­tralians last year that they had no right to the ap­par­ently sacro­sanct in­sti­tu­tion of mar­riage, when he was show­ing such com­plete dis­re­gard for his own.

Fur­ther, at a time when the cor­po­rate world is grap­pling with the ques­tion of work­place re­la­tion­ships – es­pe­cially those framed around a power im­bal­ance – why should the sec­ond-most pow­er­ful MP in the land be shielded from scru­tiny?

We have seen sack­ings of ex­ec­u­tives at the AFL, fi­nance di­rec­tors and in­sur­ers stripped of bonuses, the sex­ual soap opera at the top of Chan­nel 7 … sto­ries in­volv­ing older men falling for younger women.

Joyce is vastly older and more pow­er­ful than the younger staffer who will bear his child, but the pri­vacy brigade would still have us put a screen around Par­lia­ment and tell peo­ple to look the other way.

This is one rule for them, an­other for ev­ery­one else.

Then there is the ques­tion I al­luded to at the be­gin­ning – the im­pact all this is hav­ing on the abil­ity of Joyce and those around him to do their jobs.

He seems rat­tled and bro­ken, the Na­tion­als’ min­is­te­rial of­fices have been af­fected with the staffer be­ing shuf­fled around … all this goes to the good work­ings of gov­ern­ment.

It is made graver by the widely held be­lief that there is more to come.

But the biggest rea­son all of this is in the pub­lic in­ter­est – and the one many polls and the more squea­mish journos bris­tle at – is the most sim­ple. He’s a politi­cian.

I come to this is­sue from the some­what weird per­spec­tive of be­ing both mar­ried to a fed­eral politi­cian (Kate El­lis) and be­ing a former ed­i­tor of the paper that broke the Barnaby Joyce story last week, Syd­ney’s Daily Tele­graph.

There were times in my re­la­tion­ship when my now-wife and I were the sub­ject of an­noy­ing tit­tle­tat­tle in the gos­sip pages, the karmic qual­ity of which was not lost on me given it was pretty much what I used to do to other pub­lic fig­ures in the course of my work­ing day.

Here’s the thing. If you don’t want scru­tiny for you and your fam­ily, pol­i­tics isn’t the job for you.

I am not say­ing it should be open sea­son on MPs, or that peo­ple should be able to pub­lish any old crap.

Any per­sonal sto­ries should be rel­e­vant to the per­for­mance of their work, their char­ac­ter and, ob­vi­ously enough, you would also hope that they were true.

I add that last point mind­ful of the rub­bish di­rected at Tony Ab­bott and his chief ad­viser Peta Credlin, the non­sense Ju­lia Gil­lard had to en­dure, and even some of the ab­surd the­o­ries about what Paul Keat­ing and even John Howard used to get up to.

But with those caveats, politi­cians sim­ply can­not ex­pect the same level of pri­vacy as pri­vate cit­i­zens.

They can­not hyp­o­crit­i­cally de­mand that their fam­i­lies be shielded from me­dia at­ten­tion when their past ac­tions have in­volved us­ing them for favourable cov­er­age.

You can’t pose up for the cheesy elec­tion pho­tos with your part­ner and kids – im­ages that are wholly de­signed to con­vey the mes­sage that you’re a sta­ble and re­li­able fam­ily per­son – then claim a pri­vacy breach when the whole Brady Bunch fa­cade col­lapses amid rev­e­la­tions you’ve been fool­ing around in a Quean­beyan mo­tel.

Pol­i­tics might be an of­ten thank­less task and one that can place re­la­tion­ships and fam­i­lies un­der real pres­sure, but MPs wield real pol­icy power over av­er­age peo­ple’s lives. They are also paid much more than the av­er­age worker.

We have more right to know what makes them tick and what they are up to, than oth­ers in the com­mu­nity.

If it’s free­dom from scru­tiny you’re af­ter, get a job as an ac­coun­tant.

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