23 February 2018
It is being said in some quarters that Barnaby Joyce has been unfairly thrown under a bus. If that is so, then I suggest that the bus goes by the name of Karma. And it was no-one other than Barnaby who threw himself under its wheels.
There is something in all of this that certain people are not getting. And until they do, the lesson will not go away.
Joyce, like many of his born-to-privilege colleagues is fixated on the issues of morality and personal relationship choices as the cause of the fiasco. Joyce’s angry statement “Personal issues shouldn’t be a reason for a person to resign” is testament to this mindset. And in that sense he is more or less correct. A person’s public life should be separate from his or her private life, but when those private life choices impinge on one’s ability to carry out official duties, or culminate in nepotism, rorting and bias; then that becomes an issue for public scrutiny. That, to me is the line in the sand. Clearly many hold to that sentiment, and hence the outrage over Barnaby’s recent foibles. But conceited, self-serving men like Barnaby cannot see this. That is their problem, and that will ultimately spell their downfall.
Barnaby, obsessed as he is with self-interest and personal gain completely misses the point that it is not his personal relationship choices that should dictate his resignation; it is the fact that the greater good of his party, the Coalition and indeed the Australian public is increasingly damaged as a result of the ongoing distraction and controversy. The fact that Joyce saw fit to apologise to his ex-wife, his family and new partner on national television gave the whole fiasco a public dimension. The fact that he felt it unnecessary to use that national broadcast opportunity to make an apology to the Australian public which he serves is telling. And Aussies have long memories.
For somebody who made a platform of piousness – of championing traditional family values and supposedly protecting young women from promiscuity – to live a life diametrically opposed to the values one espouses just isn’t a good look. Nor does it gain you respect. And you’re really setting yourself up for a fall in this day and age of social media; there is always someone with a screenshot who is more than willing to remind everybody of what you said or did.
A true leader always leads by example. “Actions speak louder than words” is a truism which neatly sums it up. Sadly many of our political leaders fall well short of this ideal. The fact is anybody can talk, but few can pass the litmus test of practicing what they preach.
In a ‘compare the pair’ moment, cast your mind back to the Sam Dastyari affair when controversy threatened to cast a shadow over normal proceedings (if indeed anything is truly normal in Canberra these days). The matter was promptly nipped in the bud with the decision quickly made for Sam to step down. Parliament and Labor moved on. Barnaby on the other hand, is quite happy to play out as the precocious child who isn’t getting what he wants; openly disrespecting his leader publically in the process. For him the personal stakes are high, and he is a man who will clearly not allow the needs of the many to get in the way of the needs of the one – that ‘one’ being Barnaby Joyce.
It doesn’t take a behavioural expert to see in Joyce a man who has lived his life getting whatever he wants at the expense of others. And in that respect, life experience tells me that a leopard never changes its spots.
Barnaby suggests that “there is nothing to see here.” In actual fact there is everything to see here, in the sense that the whole affair (no pun intended) showcases the key problem which dogs the incumbent government – their singular tendency to lack perspective taking, and their obsession with self-aggrandisement and self-interest to the detriment of the greater good.
This week saw a socially inept and tasteless display on social media by Joyce’s Nationals colleague George Christensen. An unrepentant Christensen could see no wrong in the crass photograph he posted, threatening greenies with a handgun. It was pointed out to him that this was inappropriate, particularly in the wake of a school shooting in the States which claimed 17 young lives. Far from being contrite, he instead chose to sarcastically berate those who took offence.
Holding public office carries with it an implicit expectation to set community standards by your own behaviour. And clearly people make a yardstick of politicians’ behaviour – I only need point to the disgusting ‘copycat’ behaviour which occurred in the wake of Christensen’s inappropriate post in the form of offensive social media threats against figures like Sarah Hanson-Young to highlight how this behaviour emboldens and empowers ‘followers’, who only need the cue from a ‘leader’ to act out their thoughts.
A true leader leads by example. The sad reality is a vast proportion of our current crop of politicians is cut from rougher cloth.
Indeed, Barnaby’s crisis points to the government’s endemic problem. The dramatist in me would call this a tale of love and lust. Our current government is riddled with individuals thirsting for power and personal gain. Self-interest has overtaken the principled responsive approach to public service. And I predict it will be this broader notion of civic love – or more correctly the dire lack of it – which will bring down this government.
If nothing else, Malcolm is a man who can see shortcomings and he has consistently acted to step in and shore them up. For example, he recognised John Alexander’s personal limitations as a public speaker during the Bennelong by-election; seconding Alexander to a mute ‘Humphrey B Bear’ role while he picked up the perceived slack as the talking head. In a wider sense Turnbull has spent a goodly proportion of his term in office playing ringmaster to a second rate circus.
He surely knows that the bottom line is that the public need to ‘feel the love’ from their government; to feel a sense of inclusion and cohesion from those they have selected to serve them. There is a wholesale loss of voter confidence in the two-party system. Public perception of politicians is at an all-time low. Used car salesmen and real estate agents must be wringing their hands together gleefully; grateful for the distraction that MPs have given provided them. Rightly or wrongly, the public see fingers in the till at every opportunity. The sense of entitlement and contempt for rule of law. Politicians showboating at gala events like catwalk models. Swanning around the world at public expense with partners in tow. (Funny how they seem to be conveniently viewed as partners when the need arises). Corruption and bare-faced lies are now perceived as political ‘business as usual.’
Even as I write this comes the news that Australia has fallen a further 8 points on the global corruption index. For the first time we have dropped from the top 10 least corrupt nations. At the same time our government is slamming the idea of a federal corruption commission as completely unnecessary. Move along – nothing to see here folks.
Malcolm must sense that, at its heart, his government isn’t capable of delivering on the goods. In a previous article I discussed Malcolm’s telling over-use of the word ‘love’. It came as no surprise to me that Malcolm put his own relationship with Lucy on public display in a recent 60 Minutes segment, in a practical demonstration of love and harmony. I for one have no cause to doubt Malcolm and Lucy’s connection and love for one another. Indeed it was clearly evident and refreshing to behold, set against the lovelessness of his Canberra colleagues. And that’s the important thing about love – absolutely no words are necessary to tell people that it exists; they can feel and sense it. What I simply cannot buy is the implication that this same deep and loving commitment exists within Turnbull’s own government. Nor would I suggest do many members of the public.
Until a sense of practical love and respect replaces the current culture of greed and self-interest in the halls of power, the people will remain disenchanted and tuned out to those they have increasingly come to see as a dishonest self-serving ruling class.
Whether or not she actually said it; Marie Antoinette’s classic line springs to mind: “Let them eat cake.” The children of the revolution saw the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots. Between love and lust. And by the time it inevitably came, the guillotine blade cared little for either.