Over the last twenty-four hours, since the Daily Telegraph revealed the worst-kept secret of 2017, there’s been a deluge of rather plaintive articles from journalists explaining why they didn’t publish the story of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s extramarital affair with his former staffer who is also pregnant with his child, due in April.
Some have claimed they were respecting his right to privacy. Some have taken the high moral ground and spoken at length about gossip, rumours and lack of evidence. Or, “We asked him and he said no, it’s private.” That’s one of my favourites. Not in the public interest to publish, is another explanation. I addressed this last one here, in October 2017, prior to the New England by-election in December.
In this piece titled “How Vikki Campion came to work for Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce,” Malcolm Farr gives background to the affair. Bearing in mind that Farr has tweeted that the affair was only a rumour, denied by Joyce, I found this paragraph in his piece startling:
Inside the Joyce office, there were other clues and they were quickly picked up by the minister’s highly respected chief of staff Di Hallam.
Ms Hallam took two important steps: She sent Mr Joyce to the office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to reveal the romance and Ms Campion was moved to the office of then Resources Minister Matt Canavan in late 2016.
“Clearly they thought her presence would be a problem, so she (Ms Hallam) made a decision,” said a source familiar with the situation.
In 2016, the affair was far more than a “rumour.” It was considered so serious that the Prime Minister was advised, and Ms Campion was moved (according to some accounts promoted with a salary increase) to Canavan’s office to get her out of the way.
As Farr acknowledges: … the romance, by its very existence, became part of the delivery of public policy and taxpayer-funded staffing.
In other words, it qualified as a public interest story and did so from the time Ms Hallam intervened in 2016.
I have no idea, of course, when Mr Farr came upon this information. He could quite possibly have acquired it in the last twenty-four hours. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that nobody in the press gallery knew of the seriousness of these events until the Telegraph decided to publish them.
Well, that is what much of the media is asking you to believe.
Mr Farr’s account of the progress of the affair is detailed. He must have spoken to a lot of people over the last twenty-four hours.
Joyce is Acting Prime Minister when Turnbull is absent. Ms Campion was promoted out of his office not because she earned the new job, but to separate them. The affair continues, is described by Farr as “well-known secret,” advances to the point where it appears, according to Farr, that everyone who comes in contact with the couple realises immediately what’s happening except, sadly, Natalie Joyce, Barnaby’s betrayed wife who made this admirably frank statement about her feelings yesterday.
I don’t know about you, but I find it almost impossible to believe the press gallery did not know of, the seriousness of the situation until the last twenty-four hours.
One could almost exclaim at the ineptitude of the press gallery if they didn’t know anything more than “unpublishable rumours.”
It is, of course, impossible to ascertain what effect the affair would have had on the New England by-election, had it been revealed in October instead of yesterday. There are conflicting opinions on this: Joyce would have won anyway, some claim, while others suggest that New England voters did not go to the polls in full knowledge of Joyce’s character and circumstances, and might well have considered their options had they not been denied that information.
What matters I’d suggest, is that they were denied that information and this matters a lot.
What we do know is that the Turnbull government, with a one-seat majority, was desperate for a win in New England. They needed the seat, and they needed the morale boost. They could not afford to risk a loss.
The hounding by the media of private citizens (remember Andie Fox?) other politicians (Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper, Julia Gillard, to name but a few) makes me somewhat leery of high-moral-ground justifications of the hands-off Barnaby policy.
And, if it wasn’t in the public interest to report on Barnaby’s affair before the New England by-election, why is it suddenly in the public interest now?
This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.