Forget ‘Dynasty’, Australian politics is the best show in town

An extramarital affair and its fallout have put the ruling Liberal-National coalition under pressure – and gripped the nation

Barnaby Joyce has resigned as deputy prime minister and leader of the Nationals. Photograph:  AAP/Lukas Coch/via Reuters

Barnaby Joyce has resigned as deputy prime minister and leader of the Nationals. Photograph: AAP/Lukas Coch/via Reuters

 

The difference between Dynasty and the Australian government is that one features a scandalous affair, an angry, scorned wife, a pregnant younger lover and questions over paternity. And the other is a 1980s TV show.

In Dynasty’s 2017 reboot, Australian Nathalie Kelley plays Blake Carrington’s new wife, Cristal. The scriptwriters could mine the politics of her homeland for outrageous plotlines.

At the turn of the year, things were looking good for the ruling Liberal-National coalition under prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and his deputy, National Party leader Barnaby Joyce. Though still behind the opposition Labor Party in polls, the government’s numbers were improving and the economy was ticking along nicely.

Then the Daily Telegraph tabloid splashed a picture of Joyce’s pregnant girlfriend, and former media adviser, Vikki Campion on its front page with the headline “Bundle of Joyce”. And they kept splashing Joyce on the front page every day for almost two weeks, each story bringing a new revelation such as the high-paying jobs that were created for Campion in other ministerial offices and the anger at his betrayal felt by his wife Nat.

When Joyce returned fire, calling Turnbull 'inept', the career-killing word 'embattled' began to be deployed and this story was only heading one way

The promising start to the year was ruined and something had to be done, so Turnbull announced a ban on government ministers having sex with staff members. In doing so, he also threw Joyce under a bus, labelling his behaviour “a shocking error of judgement” and said “he has to consider his own position”.

When Joyce returned fire, calling Turnbull “inept”, the career-killing word “embattled” began to be deployed and this story was only heading one way.

The following week, while Turnbull was in Washington to meet the US president Donald Trump and Joyce was on a week’s leave rather than acting as prime minister as he would normally do on such occasions, a story broke about allegations of sexual harassment allegations made against Joyce.

Though he denied the complaint, he said it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and resigned as deputy prime minister and leader of the Nationals. He did not contact Turnbull before doing so.

Joyce said his resignation should be a “circuit breaker” for the parliament, “for Vikki, for my unborn child, my daughters, and for Nat”.

If Joyce expected to be lauded as some kind of hero, standing by his woman no matter what, it didn’t work out like that. It just increased the volume of ridicule being heaped upon him

But a man who has spent 14 years in the political spotlight has found it difficult to just shut up and let the circus move on, even momentarily. His proclamation of care “for my unborn child” has been followed by an interview in which he said the paternity of his pregnant girlfriend’s child is “a grey area”.

Joyce said neither he nor his girlfriend were asked about the paternity when the now infamous picture of a heavily pregnant Campion was taken. “How could they know?” he said. “They never even asked if it was Joyce’s bundle.”

‘Biological question’

He told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper the “biological” question made no difference to him. “It’s mine, on the record, there it is,” he said. “And can I say, even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t care, I’d still go through this, I’d still love him.”

If Joyce expected to be lauded as some kind of hero, standing by his woman no matter what, it didn’t work out like that. It just increased the volume of ridicule being heaped upon him.

Every soap opera worth its salt needs a Joan Collins/Alexis Carrington-type character to keep the pot boiling. In Australian politics, the minister for jobs Michaelia Cash has stepped into that role with ease. In a senate committee hearing, Cash threatened to “name every young woman in [Labor leader Bill] Shorten’s office over whom rumours in this place abound. If you wanna go down this path today, I. Will. Do it.”

It took a day before Cash said she had “unreservedly withdrawn” a remark characterised as a “brain snap” and a “cheap smear” by former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott.

Abbott, like Joyce, suffers from relevance deprivation syndrome. When the Australian newspaper on Monday published the 28th Newspoll in a row in which the government trailed Labor, Abbott pointed out that when Turnbull deposed him as prime minister in an internal Liberal Party coup in September 2015, he said he had had to do so because Abbott had lost 30 Newspolls running.

With a Newspoll generally held every two weeks, and the government’s fortunes in a downward spiral, we should know on Easter Monday if what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Meanwhile, Australian politics is still the best show in town.

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