Politi­cians’ lives are not meant to be state se­crets


As ev­ery­one knows, one of our key politi­cians — the ruddy-faced Na­tion­als leader Barn­aby Joyce — has been play­ing an away game. A young wo­man once em­ployed by him — and there­fore by you, since we all pick up the tab — is ex­pect­ing a baby, his fifth.

Joyce has separated from his wife, Natalie, and has moved out of the home he shared with his four daugh­ters.

One of The Aus­tralian’s key writ­ers, James Jef­frey, was this week tasked with writ­ing about this rather del­i­cate mat­ter. He could have gone the com­i­cal route: Barn­aby-the-bonker, now ex­pect­ing a barn-a-baby, and all that. In­stead, he sat down and calmly de­scribed the scene in Par­lia­ment House as the em­bat­tled — such a handy word, in this in­stance — Joyce took up his seat for his first ques­tion time, post-reve­la­tion.

All eyes were on him, and that was even be­fore he got up to speak, which Joyce re­ally had to do be­cause if you just sit there and don’t say any­thing, the story doesn’t go away. It gets big­ger. And so Joyce rose. “And as he did, a pe­cu­liar thing hap­pened,” wrote Jef­frey. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives — a cat­call­ing house if ev­ery there was one — fell si­lent. For here was a man wholly ex­posed, stand­ing ut­terly vul­ner­a­ble to any­thing that any­one might throw at him, even lit­er­ally.

“He looked the very pic­ture of a man who could, off the top of his head, think of — ooh — at least 50 dozen places he’d rather be,” Jef­frey wrote. But also, cru­cially, like a man whose head was danc­ing — yes, danc­ing — with “the ex­cit­ing un­cer­tainty of the life ahead of him, and the shards of the life he has left be­hind”.

And doesn’t that cap­ture it per­fectly?

Yes, Barn­aby Joyce is the Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, a man held to a higher stan­dard of be­hav­iour by virtue of his po­si­tion, and in­deed be­cause of his own pub­lic state­ments, but he is also a hu­man be­ing and there­fore fal­li­ble.

Who knows what led him to this point? Maybe this is a midlife cri­sis. Maybe it’s some­thing worse than that: maybe he’s an ego on legs, drunk on power and in­deed on al­co­hol, who thought he could have his cake and eat it too.

Maybe he re­ally did just fall in love.

The ques­tion this week has been how much we — the poor pun­ters pay­ing the bills while all this goes on — needed to know about what he was do­ing af­ter the lights went out.

Some jour­nal­ists, mainly from Canberra, have been ar­gu­ing for si­lence on the mat­ter, which is cu­ri­ous. Un­cov­er­ing is what they’re meant to do. The logic of their ar­gu­ment, as far as it could be fol­lowed, was that af­fairs between politi­cians and their staff — or jour­nal­ists — are “pri­vate” or else “not in the pub­lic in­ter­est”.

That may be right at times, per­haps even most of the time, but not in this case.

Joyce is a key mem­ber of Malcolm Turn­bull’s team. He spent much of last year cam­paign­ing against same-sex mar­riage — which is to say, pon­tif­i­cat­ing on the sex­ual and hu­man rights of oth­ers. Also last year he was de­clared a dual cit­i­zen and had to fight to re­gain the seat of New Eng­land, which the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment needed to hold be­cause it only has a one-seat ma­jor­ity. He has long cam­paigned as a con­ser­va­tive fam­ily man with tra­di­tional val­ues. His wife Natalie and his four daugh­ters fea­tured in a magazine spread in this very news­pa­per ahead of polling day.

Joyce is now ex­pect­ing a baby with Vikki Cam­pion, 32, a for­mer News Corp jour­nal­ist who started work­ing as his me­dia ad­viser in 2016. She soon be­came much more than that, which isn’t meant to in­sin­u­ate any­thing.

She un­der­stood so­cial me­dia and jour­nal­ism and she was a good sound­ing board. They started tex­ting and call­ing each other dozens of times a day. Ru­mours of an af­fair be­gan to spread, en­cour­aged by those em­ployed to prac­tise dark arts in Canberra, be­cause that — ru­mour-mon­ger­ing — is also one of the ugly things that hap­pens on the hill.

At­trac­tive women get brought down by slurs and in­nu­endo. Who can for­get how they tried to do it to Peta Credlin, de­spite the fact that in her case the ru­mour wasn’t even re­motely true?

But maybe in this case it was true?

The for­mer mem­ber for New Eng­land, Tony Wind­sor, who loathes Joyce, cer­tainly thought so and did his best, via Twit­ter, to spread the gos­sip across the land. At some point Mrs Joyce heard it and be­gan to be­lieve it, and by the time the by-elec­tion came around, pretty much all of New Eng­land was talk­ing about it. But no­body re­ported it. Why not? Well, that bone has been well and truly chewed this week. No ques­tion, it’s dif­fi­cult to stand up a story about sex when the two par­ties are deny­ing that sex hap­pened. In truth, most re­porters weren’t in­clined to try. The Daily Tele­graph’s Sharri Markson — a rel­a­tively new ar­rival in Canberra and still an out­sider in that she flies in and out, as op­posed to stew­ing in the soup there — dis­agreed, for all the rea­sons listed above: one of Aus­tralia’s most vo­cal cam­paign­ers for tra­di­tional mar­riage had left his wife and has a preg­nant girl­friend, who had pre­vi­ously been a ju­nior em­ployee on his per­sonal staff.

Surely the pub­lic had a right to know?

Markson wrote a yarn last Oc­to­ber that said as much as she was able to stand up: Joyce was bat­tling “vi­cious in­nu­endo” as he tried to hold his seat. Fel­low mem­bers of the Canberra press gallery took um­brage on Twit­ter, again sug­gest­ing it was no­body’s busi­ness.

Be­hind the scenes, the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment was work­ing hard to keep a lid on the story. Ques­tions were de­nied or went unan­swered. For­mal free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quests that might have re­vealed, for ex­am­ple, how of­ten the cou­ple trav­elled and dined to­gether were re­jected. Joyce won New Eng­land on De­cem­ber 2 and re­sumed his cab­i­net posts the same day. Five days later he told par­lia­ment his mar­riage was over, ac­knowl­edg­ing that he was “not any form of saint”.

Did he think that would be the end of it? Maybe, be­cause sum­mer came and went but the story wasn’t go­ing any­where. How could it? Cam­pion was preg­nant. At some point, Barn­aby would be spot­ted, as the Tele­graph’s ed­i­tor, Chris Dore, so nim­bly put it this week, push­ing a pram around Lake Bur­ley Grif­fin.

Was the press gallery go­ing to ig­nore that, too?

In­cred­i­bly, there are still some peo­ple who think Markson should have left the yarn alone. But by far the most vo­cal group in the wake of this story break­ing is the one that can’t be­lieve the in­for­ma­tion was kept from them, es­pe­cially ahead of the by-elec­tion.

No­body wants to be kept in the dark and fed ma­nure, not by the politi­cians and es­pe­cially not by the me­dia, whose busi­ness is not to de­cide but to re­port.

Add to that the group that feels in­tense anger on be­half of Natalie Joyce, who has de­clared her­self dev­as­tated, and the group — mainly women — who are fu­ri­ous about the dou­ble stan­dard be­cause, 100 per cent for sure, if Joyce were a con­ser­va­tive fe­male politi­cian in her 50s who had a re­la­tion­ship with a 30-some­thing staffer in her of­fice, and who then fell preg­nant and had left her hus­band — oh look, on any one of those points, she’d be gone.

Joyce isn’t gone. He will re­cover. In­deed, he al­ready has, telling Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7.30 on Wed­nes­day night that he felt “in­cred­i­bly hurt” that his pri­vate life has been thrown into the pub­lic arena and that he “can’t quite fathom why ba­si­cally a preg­nant lady walk­ing across the road de­serves (the) front page”. Please. This was al­ways go­ing to make the front page, and Joyce, be­ing the pro­tag­o­nist and os­ten­si­bly the gen­tle­man, should have taken con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion long ago, if only to pre­vent his “preg­nant lady” from be­ing snapped in her sneak­ers on a run to the shops.

Also be­cause five other women — his es­tranged wife, his four daugh­ters — are also di­rectly and pub­licly af­fected.

And the baby. The baby is af­fected, too.

As for what hap­pens now, in­de­pen­dent MP Cathy McGowan has sug­gested hav­ing “a con­ver­sa­tion” about frater­ni­sa­tion in Canberra. “The par­lia­ment is a place of work and good work­place prac­tice in­cludes clear ex­pec­ta­tions about be­hav­iour,” she said.

In re­al­ity, it’s no dif­fer­ent from any other work­place. Peo­ple flirt and date and some­times fall in love. They get mar­ried and have ba­bies and then come the sep­a­ra­tions and, some­times, love anew. How does any­one even try to po­lice that? The heart wants what it wants and you can change that like you can change the tide.

‘And as he did, a pe­cu­liar thing hap­pened,’ wrote Jef­frey. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives — a cat­call­ing house, if ever there was one — fell si­lent. For here was a man wholly ex­posed, stand­ing ut­terly vul­ner­a­ble to any­thing that any­one might throw at him, even lit­er­ally

Clock­wise from above, Barn­aby Joyce, his wife Natalie and their daugh­ters at Par­lia­ment House last year; Malcolm Turn­bull and Joyce dur­ing ques­tion time on Wed­nes­day; Vikki Cam­pion in Canberra on Tues­day; Cam­pion as a jour­nal­ist, vis­it­ing Featherdale Wildlife Park in Syd­ney in 2014; Joyce and Cam­pion in hap­pier times

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