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Politicians, sex, and the Press Gallery

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, the Daily Telegraph decided on Saturday to publish a piece (paywalled) inferring that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce engaged in an extra marital affair with a staffer that has caused upheaval and discontent in his workplace, and his home.

My colleague Noely Neate offers some interesting speculations on the Tele’s piece here.

What caught my attention was the reaction on Twitter from a few journalists, among them Katharine Murphy of the Guardian, who tweeted:

I’ve written on this convention here, but there’s more to be said about it.

The problem with Murphy’s convention is that it makes any scrutiny of the parliamentary workplace well-nigh impossible. If journalists are not willing to do the necessary investigations, and politicians know they are safe from scrutiny no matter what their sexual activities unless a victim complains to police, they are at liberty to conduct affairs with employees in circumstances that are far from equal. A politician is a powerful individual, some more so than others. Staffers not so much.

In Barnaby’s case he is the Deputy Prime Minister. The power differential between himself and his staffers is considerable. Consensual sex requires a modicum of power on both parts, and it’s arguable whether or not the staffer of a DPM, in a workplace such as Parliament House, has that modicum of power.

I’m not aware of any workplace in Australia other than our Parliament that has an agreement with journalists that employees sexual lives are private, and will not be reported on.

While Murphy’s criminality rider is relatively straightforward, coercion and abuse are not. It is difficult to see how situations of coercion and abuse can ever see the light of day, given the agreement the Press Gallery apparently has with politicians to keep their sexual lives private.

Whether or not an individual is entitled to a private sexual life depends entirely on the nature of that life. If we look at examples such as Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, to name but a handful of men whose sexual lives consisted in large part of exploitation and sexual assault, then no, those sexual lives are certainly not entitled to privacy. Indeed, according them privacy enables their abusive and criminal behaviour. Without journalists denying them that privacy, we’d be unaware of their predations.

I’m not, of course, suggesting there’s a large number of politicians indulging in predatory sexual behaviours, but given the Press Gallery’s refusal to go there, how do we know? It would be naive in the extreme to believe their workplace is the only one on the planet in which sexual predation does not occur.

We know how difficult it is for victims of sexual predators to speak out. How much more difficult must it be if you’re in a workplace where you know the culture is one of protection for perpetrators?

There are circumstances in which a politician’s sexual behaviour is absolutely of concern to the public, and those circumstances need not be criminal, coercive or abusive. Barnaby, for example, campaigns vehemently against marriage equality on the grounds that it will somehow destroy the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, while he’s allegedly destroying the sanctity of his own marriage vows. If we are being governed by the hypocritical, we have a right to know that.

There are situations in which a politician’s sexual life is absolutely irrelevant, and privacy appropriate. The Press Gallery convention, however, makes no such distinctions, and journalists’ hands off attitude to politicians’ sexual behaviours ensures a cone of silence around their workplace that can only disadvantage less powerful employees, while allowing our elected representatives freedom from accountability journalists grant no other workplace.

While there’s no argument from me that our sex lives shouldn’t matter to politicians, there are occasions on which politicians’ sex lives should matter a great deal to us. Why, for example, is there no investigation into Barnaby’s alleged affair? Did he use public money to fund its enactment? Is it an isolated incident, or does he make a habit of betraying his family?

This is a government that has subjected LGBTQI people to a foul postal opinion poll that gives everyone the right to “vote” on their human rights, based entirely on sexuality. Barnaby Joyce wholeheartedly supports this disgusting intrusion into the sexual lives of others simply because they are not heterosexual. Why is there a journalistic convention that protects Joyce from scrutiny?

Let’s not forget as well that Minister Alan Tudge announced stringent and intrusive requirements for single parents to prove they do not have a sexual/intimate relationship, before they can receive benefits. This government increasingly encroaches upon our privacy and into our bedrooms: yet politicians’ privacy and bedrooms continue to be considered be sacrosanct.


This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


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  1. Shutterbug

    The moment Chimp Ears foisted that foetid Plebishite upon us, all gloves are off. Those ‘holier-than-thou’ cross wielding bible bashers deserve all the backwash they get considering the constant piety we have had to endure. Barnyard has constantly claimed the moral high ground, using his daughters as an example for his “No” vote claiming that a no vote is a sound basis for a solid marriage. This is obviously a crock. I present Exhibit “A” for your viewing pleasure. Get in quick, it may not be around post Thursday.


    When a politician’s conduct contradicts their public statements and purported principles and double standards or hypocrisy arise, the politician is fair game because it reflects upon the politician’s sincerity and integrity or deficiency in those things.

  3. Andrew J Smith

    Generally one would think private lives are out of bounds, but one cannot have the best of both worlds.

    Nowadays it’s different with the US influence on Australia including the encouragement of intrusive media, entertainment, beliefs and politics, along with the sub-optimal ethics and tactics; nobody has private life anymore, let alone unique private thoughts or sentiments if informed by monochrome mainstream media and word of mouth.

    It’s a tactic used often, if not by the LNP, their one eyed supporters in media, think tanks etc. to attack anyone or anything they don’t like or disagree with, but squeal when they get the same treatment.

  4. passum2013

    Looking for eve evedence in the waste bin on his shower they found a oversized rubber condom about a metere long
    I bet it was not his
    May beirribella his cows
    What woman want his germ pool for
    Makes one want to report him to the federal police for investigation of
    missuse of his offices for vetenariun purposes not associated with his work or portfolio

  5. Trish Corry

    An excellent piece. Your arguments are exactly my stance on this issue. As well as the difference in media treatment towards Gillard. Frankly, the media protection is unsettling. Thank you.

  6. Percy

    Come Sunday he will be alright he only has too suck the preists knob and all will be forgiven

  7. Max Gross

    I hope this is the final nail in the coffin of Barnyard Joys. May the odious ratbag goes down in screaming flames!

  8. Michael Taylor

    You’ve nailed it, Jennifer.

  9. lawrencewinder

    Hubris has its own reward…. and have we not seen hubris on a huge scale from this less than mediocre, ruling rabble?

  10. Alison Bacon

    I agree Trish Cory……….unsettling indeed and there are some good comments on the same theme here re power and involvement…..Barnaby should go!

  11. ace Jones

    Weak lily-livered press hacks caress politicians ego at every opportunity, in return they may feed upon crumbs from parliment’s table.

  12. Miriam English

    Pious politicians who happily put other people’s sexuality under the microscope are not to be trusted. I think every politician who has used homophobia for political gain should be vigorously pursued and discredited. They are dangerous. Look at what is happening in Egypt, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Indonesia and the Russian republic of Chechnya. These are places where it isn’t illegal to be gay, but irresponsible politicians have used homophobia to stir a feeding frenzy of hate against gays.

    You think, of course that’s terrible, but it could never happen here. Now just imagine, for a moment, that a new disease began sweeping through our population and some irresponsible politicians started falsely blaming gays. There’s a very good chance there would be an outbreak of violent homophobia rip through our nice, peaceful Australia.

    No country can afford to have power-hungry cynical homophobes who are happy to use hate for political gain.

    We need to discredit them before they get a chance to do anything more dangerous than the damage they’re already doing with this vile vote on whether gays have full rights.

  13. Kaye Lee

    Barnaby Joyce 2005: “To tell you the truth, I have never really liked Liberals much. They all think they have something special happening in their lunchbox. I’m a strong Catholic. I’m anti-abortion, I’m anti death penalty and I’m going to be standing up for conservative family values.”

    Barnaby chose his platform. He chose to dictate to the rest of us about our personal lives. He chose to intrude into our bedrooms. He chose to dictate to women about their own reproductive health. He chose to dictate to us what marriage means. He voted for John Howard’s definition of marriage which says “marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.

  14. helvityni

    When the Right -wingers stop their bullying behaviour, I’ll ignore their grubby ‘affairs’… Start treating all people equally well…It’s TIME…

  15. SGB

    Is Barnaby Joyce’s extra marital affair FACT or just the “Tele”.

    S G B

  16. paul walter

    Contra the cautious Murphy and co, This time it was RIGHT to publish, because Joyce has been at the hypocritical end of politics as to same sex marriage, loudly braying his “family values” as evidence of some sort implied moral ascendancy over others during the equal marriage debate.

    Jennifer Wilson nailed it as to the Tudge example, which is only one of many involving sadism with this government, applied against different groups of often already stressed people unable to fight back, indicative of a REAL, substantial and TRUE moral deficit.

    Back to Joyce, haven’t there been questions asked lately as to possible pork barrelling on behalf of agri-business?

    Perhaps his response re the staffer thing is relevant as to what it could say about the credibility of his answers on other hings that may turn up from time to time?

  17. Terry2

    If Barnaby has to face a by-election when the High Court decision comes down on Friday and he has to explain what happened under the Murray-Darling water scandal on his watch and then add this distraction, it doesn’t make him an attractive proposition to the voters of New England.

    It also raises the question of whether it is appropriate for the leader of a small party who enter into coalition with the Liberals should automatically become Deputy Prime Minister : it could mean that sometime in the not too distant future, we could have Pauline Hanson as our deputy PM.

  18. Suse

    Except that when you think it’s ok to cheat it says something about your heart, your soul, your thinking…but we knew that about Baaaaa – naby anyway. Just sad that he has been able somehow to rise to be Deputy PM. What a sad state our country is in when we have his level of incompetence and lack of integrity at the top. p.s. what happened with the stolen water saga – that seems to have gone under the carpet.

  19. Kaye Lee


    Barnaby knew what was going on and his advisers had “expressed concern”

    In a document compulsorily ordered by the Senate, a senior adviser to the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water, Barnaby Joyce, emailed the department expressing two concerns — that Norman Farming may have been diverting floodwaters and that the Healthy Headwaters funds were not being used for their intended purpose.

    “I have copies of some satellite maps which show extensive diversion of floodwaters from its natural course. Could you please get in touch with the (Qld Department of Natural Resources and Mines) and ask what investigations are underway? Do we have any audit processes in place to ensure that this funding goes to its intended purpose? I believe the allegation here is that (Healthy Headwater) funding … has been used to direct more water onto the farm,” the adviser wrote.

    Yet the Minister for Water failed to follow up until it hit the media. Oy Vey!!!!

  20. Miriam English

    darrel nay, if you want people to watch a video then have at least the respect to provide a description of what they are about to spend their bandwidth on.

  21. darrel nay

    don’t be racist miriam

  22. corvusboreus

    Miriam English,
    I have been guilty, on occasion, of inviting people to expend their bandwidth usage upon utter frivolities,such as inking to a Yew-Choob video of gastropod pornography (visual images of snail sex edited to an operatic soundtrack, from the film ‘Microcosmos’).
    In my defense, I did, on such occasions, give forewarning.of the nature of the content of what I was giving invitation to witness.

  23. Miriam English

    corvus, I have no quarrel with people linking to frivolities, so long as they warn people what they are being sent to.
    It just seems to me simple courtesy.

    It feels rude to get people to go to some bandwidth hog without letting them know if it is some silly ditty or a serious examination of the issue to hand.

  24. Miriam English

    darrel nay, that’s a really weird thing to accuse me of. How do you make the crazy leap to believing I’m racist.
    I’m the very opposite of racist. You are a very strange person.

  25. Michael Taylor

    Miriam, we all know that darrel nay’s modus operandi is only to antagonise. He offers nothing of substance.

  26. Rossleigh

    Darrel, check this out:

  27. Miriam English

    Yeah. My mistake. 🙁 I keep treating him/her like an intelligent human being.

  28. Steve Laing

    The other point to note here is that such behaviour leaves him open to blackmail by external parties. The fact that members of the MSM (including sadly the Guardian) not recognising the very clear potential issues with behaviour that potentially has a touch of the Weinsteins about it. If the other party was a staffer as has been suggested, then it suggests abuse of power, and is clearly not acceptable by anyone in a position of authority, far less the Deputy PM. KM’s attitude, I’m afraid, seems somewhat presumptive – she implies that she has the right to act as both judge and jury, and prevent anyone else being informed about the errant behaviour of a public servant (consensual or otherwise). Some members of the Press Gallery appear to be far too deeply inbedded to be objective in this matter, and any statements proposing a “higher ground” seem not dissimilar to those of priests covering up child abuse.

  29. diannaart

    Thank you, Jennifer, brilliant work which nails the topic very effectively.

    I have listened to people concerned over the effect of the partners and children of sexual predators (if Barnaby is, indeed one) and heard them say sex-lives should be private because “think of the children”.

    Clearly the errant spouse/partner/husband/wife/whatever did not think about the effect on their family, should their sexual predation become public. I am only speaking of sexual liaisons where power is imbalanced – not the fully consensual between equals variety, because humans do sleep around. I do wish we could ‘out’ the sexual predators in our midst while protecting any dependent children.

    That said, I agree with Jennifer that outing people of great hypocrisy (Barnaby don’t check out my sex-life, if you don’t want yours checked out) particularity in a timely way such as the current equal marriage judgement or checking on the sex lives of people on welfare, controlling women’s reproduction (that’s feminist speak for being anti-abortion and and/or anti-contraception) – Barnaby is looking very guilty indeed.

    Anyone know if his children are still dependent?

  30. Kronomex

    To put it bluntly: I will be astonished if the court finds against Joyce and the rest of the “foreigners” tomorrow.

  31. Glenn Barry

    @ Kronomex – I will be devastated if the court does not find against Joyce et al. as that will mean the end of the separation of powers with the official commencement of Totalitarianism

  32. paul walter

    Yes, that’s right. We are back to the Barnaby. No rest for the wicked.

    The court will find for the conservatives (well, maybe not Roberts, who is an embarrassment anyway) and against Waters.

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