GREENS leader Richard Di Natale says people can debate whether Barnaby Joyce’s personal affairs are “fair game” or not and make their own judgments.
But publishing a picture of a pregnant woman on the front page of a tabloid newspaper - which revealed the story of Mr Joyce’s relationship with a female staffer which has led to the end of the former Agriculture Minister’s 24-year marriage - is not in the public interest and represents a “new low” for some Australian media, says Senator Di Natale, and those people responsible should be “ashamed of themselves”.
Mr Joyce has boldly championed the cause of farmers and regional people in Canberra but is now under pressure to preserve his 13-year political career and retain ongoing support as Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister.
Questions are also being asked about his capacity to continue representing the party’s core conservative family values and the scandal’s longer-term impact on female voters, for both Coalition parties.
The issue has also ignited a significant national debate about the public and national interest of media reporting on the “private” affairs of a politician.
But there’s also conjecture on whether the Deputy Prime Minister’s relationship with the female staff member Vikki Campion - a former media adviser - has negatively impacted Mr Joyce’s political performance since the 2016 election, including in the agriculture and water cabinet roles which he relinquished in December, following a cabinet re-shuffle.
The relationship and end of his marriage also coincided with his disqualification from the seat of New England last year which resulted in a by-election in early December, which he won convincingly, despite speculation about personal matters being raised on social media by his arch political foe Tony Windsor.
The Markson Smelly Graph story is another diversion from the main story ...this is the third time she has been the puppet for Joyce ...the main story has Joyce petrified. Markson dutifully leads the hounds away from the rotting carcass .#auspolhttps://t.co/EHYctJY6li— Tony Windsor (@TonyHWindsor) February 7, 2018
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said, like Mr Joyce, that it’s a “private” matter and a “tough” one where he was concerned about the potential impacts on family members, like Mr Joyce’s wife and four daughters.
“These private matters are always very distressing for those involved - I don't want to add to the public discussion about it,” he said.
“I'm very conscious of the distress this causes to others in particular Natalie Joyce and her and Barnaby's daughters.
“So it’s a private matter, a tough matter - I don't have any more to say about it.”
Other politicians from various political factions have also sought to down-play media questioning on the topic, expressing similar responses.
But Senator Di Natale spoke up about the issue expressing firm views, when addressing media in Canberra earlier this week, after the story broke.
“People can argue the toss over whether Barnaby Joyce is fair game here,” he said.
“Some people have argued that he’s been a hypocrite by subjecting the LGBTI community to a damaging postal survey and arguing all the while for traditional family values.
“People might make that argument but there is no argument for dragging in a young woman who is pregnant (and) splashing her over the front page of the tabloids.
“This is a new low for some elements of the media in this country – I hope it’s one that will never be repeated.
“This is a young woman who should never have been exposed to the damage that this sort of thing does.
“We just think this is disgusting and we hope that the people involved in this reflect on whether they want Australia to descend into the depths of what is a toxic media culture in other parts of the world.”
Senator Di Natale said so far Australia had “stayed above it” but to effectively “smear and stalk” a pregnant young woman was “disgraceful”.
“It’s a new low and those people who are responsible should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
“I’m disgusted because there is no public interest here, of splashing over the front pages of a major tabloid, the fact that a young woman is pregnant.
“What is the public interest here?
“There is (none) she is not a public figure.
“She’s obviously someone who is now heavily pregnant – she doesn’t deserve this.
“Whatever people might want to say about Barnaby Joyce I don’t think that his private life is fair game.
“But even if people might take a different view on that issue, to be dragging a young woman at this stage of her pregnancy, I just think is a new low.
“It’s disgraceful and those people responsible should be ashamed of themselves.”
Mr Joyce spoke about the matter to ABC television after the story broke stressing he wanted it to remain “private” but did not confirm or deny the media reports, of his relationship with Ms Campion.
However, he said “one of the greatest failures in my life was the end of my marriage, and I do not in any way stand away from that”.
Mr Joyce said it was “obviously a tumultuous time and everybody who has been through a marriage break-up would understand that”.
“I'm not going to start sort of disseminating beyond that - I'll say that private matters remain private and I'm going to keep my private life private,” he said.
“I don't think it profits anybody to drag private matters out into the public arena.
“I can't quite fathom why, basically, a pregnant lady walking across the road deserves a front page - I don't know what the political purpose is to that.
“I don't think it helps my family. I don't think it helps anybody in the future to start making this part of a sort of a public discussion.
“So, as much as I can, I will keep private matters private.”
Political debate rages in Canberra
Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen declined to comment on his party colleague’s “personal issues”.
“That’s not the sort of country we are in Australia, doing scandal-type exposes on politicians' personal lives,” he said.
Mrs Joyce issued a statement to media asking for privacy but also expressing a breach of trust.
“I am deeply saddened by the news that my husband has been having an affair and is now having a child with a former staff member,” the statement said.
“I understand that this affair has been going on for many months and started when she was a paid employee.
“This situation is devastating on many fronts.
“For my girls who are affected by the family breakdown and for me as a wife of 24 years, who placed my own career on hold to support Barnaby through his political life.
“Our family life has had to be shared during Barnaby’s political career and it was with trust that we let campaign and office staff into our homes and into our lives.
“Naturally we also feel deceived and hurt by the actions of Barnaby and the staff member involved.
“The situation for myself and the girls will be made worse by the fact that this will all be played out in public so at this time, I would ask that the girls and I are given some privacy and time to come to terms with the consequences and take steps to plan our future.”
Labor powerbroker Chris Bowen said his political party had made no public statement about Barnaby Joyce's personal situation for the last six months, despite the fact it's been well-known in Parliament House in Canberra “and we're not about to start today”.
“I have plenty of criticisms of Barnaby Joyce. I think he's a very poor Deputy Prime Minister - but my criticisms of him are of his job - and frankly, his personal situation is none of my business and with respect, it's none of anybody else's business,” he said.
“I am very critical of his performance as Deputy Prime Minister.
“In terms of his personal life, I wish him nothing but the best, and his family nothing but the best, and I have absolutely nothing else to say on the matter.”
Mr Joyce’s shadow minister on his new Transport and Infrastructure portfolio Anthony Albanese said it was “a personal matter in which, in my view, there is no public interest in public discussion of it”.
“People cannot possibly know what people's personal circumstances are,” he said.
“Certainly I, and I would hope no one on my side of politics, is going to participate in a public debate.
“I have lots of debates I want to have with the Deputy Prime Minister about the failure of the government on infrastructure.
“I want to talk about policy differences, not people's personal lives.”
Liberal power-broker Chris Pyne said “one of the great things about Australia is that we haven't gone down this tabloid journalism, Fleet Street approach of the London and the UK press”.
“I think it's a good testament to our democracy (but) I think it's a great pity that this has happened to Barnaby Joyce and his family and it must be very traumatising for everyone, made much worse by being publicised on the front page of the newspapers,” he said.
“I agree with Anthony (Albanese) that we should argue a lot about good policy for Australia. MPs private lives, business people's private lives, journalists private lives should be off the record.”
Mr Turnbull was also asked about Victorian independent MP Cathy McGowan’s calls for a “conversation” on legislative moves to address the Australian parliament’s workplace standards that she views as being outdated.
He said adults, particularly elected officials, members of parliament and ministers all had to be accountable for their actions.
“As grown-ups, we are all accountable for our actions (but) relations between consenting adults is not something that normally, you would be justified in, if you like, seeking to regulate,” he said.
“Adults can conduct their relationships, if it's consensual, respectful, that's their right.
“But all of us have to be accountable for how we live our lives and of course Barnaby has been accountable.
“You've seen him there on the 7.30 Report - he’s been very up-front about it.
“But it is a tough and distressing episode and I am very conscious…of the hurt occasioned to Natalie and their daughters in particular so that's why I don't want to add to, or contribute to the discussion about it.”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said – when asked about the US Congress having voted to ban members from having relationships with employees as part of an overhaul of sexual harassment policy as part of the proposal raised by Ms McGowan – that he hadn’t “given that any consideration to be honest, I don't know what I think about that”.
“I have no view about these matters,” he said.
“I think it's important that all organisations have proper equal opportunity policies, have proper harassment policies.
“I think really underlying those questions is a debate about Mr Joyce, and I just want to make very clear: Mr Joyce's private life, as far as I'm concerned, is his matter. “
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