BARNABY Joyce has reflected on the mud-slinging that stoked the pressure cooker political and media climate that ran white hot for several weeks before it eventually forced his decision to step down as Nationals leader last week.
Mr Joyce also conceded his position as Deputy Prime Minister and Transport and Infrastructure Minister, with the final straw, that led to his “circuit breaker” decision, being publication of an unproven sexual harassment allegation made by prominent agricultural identity Catherine Marriot which was meant to be kept confidential.
He also faced relentless political attack and public scrutiny following revelations of his relationship with Vikki Campion - and subsequent breakdown of his 24-year marriage - who worked as his media adviser after the 2016 federal election, when he was Agriculture and Water Resources Minister.
Despite claiming the matters were “personal” and should be off-limits, he faced another media blitzkrieg and barrage of questioning over the use of taxpayer funds for his travel arrangements with Ms Campion and her pay scale, after being moved into the office of cabinet minister Matt Canavan and then to Victorian Nationals MP Damian Drum last year.
“If anybody has an allegation I've always said - prove it - take it to the police,” Mr Joyce said to Fairfax Media in his first formal sit down interview following his decision to step down last Friday.
“But just because you’ve read something on Twitter, doesn’t mean it’s the truth; otherwise the world is flat, the moon landing never happened and Elvis Presley is still alive.
“Because someone says it on Twitter, it just means they’ve got spare time.”
But Mr Joyce said the support he’d received from his New England electorate since the controversy erupted several weeks ago had been “astronomical and humbling”.
“People come up and they say the same thing all the time, ‘mate that was a witch hunt’ and I agree with them,” he said.
“Where’s the allegation that was ever proved?
“The tactics were really quite simple - throw enough mud and something’s bound to stick.
“I owed it to my family, I owed it to the people of New England and I owed it to my colleagues to do a circuit breaker.
“Why was I trying to muscle my way through it - because they were just allegations.
“It was just a raft of allegations - one after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other, after the other.
“And it didn’t matter if the allegations were disproved, you just opened up the paper the next day and there was another allegation.”
In a response to an assertion by National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson that the Nationals in fact leaked the story about Ms Marriot’s allegations - and with many in the agricultural community expressing strong support for the former WA Rural woman of the Year and demanding an investigation into the source of the information being published in the media - Mr Joyce urged fairness and said everyone deserved natural justice.
“Farm leaders should be more circumspect than to treat rumours as fact,” he said.
“I hope people aren’t thinking that something which cost me my career is something that I would leak.
Despite being thrown under a bus by political scum, Maz is busy training for the Tour de Cure, because that's the sort of woman she is. So get on board people. It's a good cause and would a give her a boost, I'm sure. #StandWithMazhttps://t.co/LPlMAEmuHo— Michael Trant (@farmersway) February 28, 2018
“If you think it’s the truth, the answer is really simple, prove it.
“It is what it is but any person deserves natural justice which is why we have a court system.
“After a while, it just becomes completely and utterly consuming.”
Ms Marriot took her allegations at first to the WA Nationals where the matter was discussed at state executive and other high level meetings involving parliamentary members, and then the complaint was formally handed onto the federal Nationals division.
The matter was also debated among various lawyers, for the different parties.
The claim was also a compelling motive behind WA Nationals leader Mia Davies’s forthright statement at the start of last week, saying her party no longer supported Mr Joyce’s leadership and he should step aside due to the damage the ongoing saga was causing, for the regional party, among voters.
Once the news of the sexual harassment allegation became public, the writing was on the wall for the New England MP; backed into the tightest corner of his 12-year political career.
But Mr Joyce said it sounded like the WA Nationals had “taken an allegation as the truth”.
“That’s their belief and that is their right to have that belief but I stand by my statement – if you believe something criminal has happened, take it to the police,” he said.
“It’s amazing, whilst all people have said how terrible all the discussion around the alleged incidents have been, the polls for the Labor party went down more than ours.
“It was obviously something that one person said ‘people like to gawk at it’ but it had no real effect on the polls.”
Ms Marriott has declined to speak to Fairfax Media – but released a statement after her name was linked to the allegations against Mr Joyce, in media reports.
"On February 20, 2018, I wrote a formal letter of complaint to the Federal Executive of the National Party outlining an allegation of sexual harassment against Barnaby Joyce,” she said.
“I want to stress that I never intended for this issue to become public.
“I requested that a formal and confidential investigation into this incident be undertaken by the National Party to ensure there is accountability in relation to the incident I raise, and to prevent this type of inappropriate behaviour towards women in the future.
“This complaint was not made solely to address the incident against me - it is about speaking up against inappropriate behaviour by people in powerful positions.
“I will await the outcome of this investigation before determining any future action or commenting further.”
Nationals federal director Ben Hindmarsh has denied any wrongdoing by the federal division while Victorian federal Nationals MP Andrew Broad has claimed he understood a Liberal MP had seen a copy of Ms Marriot’s letter of complaint.
Several sources in the agricultural community have said Ms Marriot has been weighing up whether to make a formal complaint against Mr Joyce, for an extended period of time, while seeking advice and support.
Mr Hindmarsh said “The National Party of Australia has at all times adhered strictly to the terms of confidentiality in the formal complaint”.
“We are taking the complaint seriously and acting on it in an appropriate and timely manner,” he said.
Mr Joyce also denied the allegations in a statement last week, through a spokesperson, while describing them as being “spurious and defamatory”.
Mr Joyce says he will be freer to speak out on farm issues from his backbench post now and will start by attacking a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, that’s due in 2019.
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