Contribution by Jim Hayes
The Barnaby Joyce saga has undergone a new twist in the last few days. The turmoil around it has been such that it has pushed Malcolm Turnbull from playing the role as supporter, to having a public slanging match with his Deputy Prime Minister.
This is typical of Turnbull’s swaying with the wind style.
Mishandling the situation with the so-called “ban the bonk” directive, he ordered ministers not not have sex with their staffers. This was to show that he was doing something and to take the heat off him personally. He had to do something. Barnaby Joyce is being a public relations disaster, making Turnbull’s remaining friends in the government nervous, and providing his enemies with a new opportunity to undermine him.
The ban was inept, because he has opened himself to accusation of unwarranted interference in the bedroom. But it is the implied criticism of Barnaby Joyce’s character and what National Party politicians see as an attack on their party that has bounced back to bite Malcolm Turnbull.
Now he finds himself squaring off, not only against his deputy, but against his Coalition partners. His intention may not have been to do this. But that doesn’t matter anymore.
In effect, he has thrown Barnaby Joyce a lifeline, and he has taken it up. Before last Friday, he was looking beaten. Barnaby is now fighting back with renewed vigour and called Turnbull’s comments “inept” and “unnecessary”.
Instead of taking the spotlight off himself, Turnbull has managed to turn up the light and make his own position even less secure. At worst, this has the potential to bring down the government and his prime ministership. At best, it will leave his enemies wringing their hands in glee. Malcolm Turnbull has taken another step to become a dead man walking.
Turnbull has another problem. He is due in Washington to meet Donald Trump next week, and could be heading there as a bit of a lame duck. His problem is that Washington exerts a great deal of political weight on Australia’s parliament, and especially Coalition parties.
As Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull is seen as a useful to American interests in Australia and Washington’s global strategy. A lame Prime Minister no longer trusted to do the job can be undermined.
Turnbull must also realise that while he is away, his enemies could act against him. And this is likely to have been the motivator to deny Barnaby Joyce the role as acting Prime Minister.
All this has considerable importance. The Coalition has been a disaster for Australia and Turnbull’s inept leadership has not helped one little bit. What it has done, is helped fuel a more radical reactionary movement within the ranks of the government and a section of Australian society. Seeing Turnbull and the Coalition receive a severe kicking, would be music to many.
But it remains that in many ways, the Barnaby Joyce sexual conduct issue is itself a great diversion, which is taking attention from the many critical issues that Australia is facing. Matters like rising poverty and inequality, the loss of workplace and human rights, the damage being made to our environment and the ongoing involvement in foreign conflicts in which we have no business, are crying out for action that pulls in the other direction.
What we get is the parliament being turned into a circus, providing a show with little substance. The circus blocks attention on the important issues. The more this goes on, the greater the gap that is revealed, between parliamentary process and the real politics of every day life and this is something that Australia has to deal with.