Barnaby Joyce thought he was untouchable. But for the Malcolm Turnbull government in crisis mode, it seems he could be dispensable.
The week before last, it appeared that Joyce’s media and parliamentary advisors may have just managed to save his skin. After the tabloids splashed news of his affair — including a picture of Vikki Campion, Joyce's former media advisor and now partner — we had the “Look, I never said I was an angel” line.
Then, after Natalie Joyce (Barnaby’s ex-wife) spoke to the media, the spin morphed into, “Look, I’m really sorry for all the heartache and pain I’ve caused, but these things do happen”.
But while conservatives and their media agents seemed to want him — and the unwanted attention — gone it now seems that a compromise has been struck. Joyce is now taking pre-parental leave — an opportunity most mothers-to-be can only wish for — during which Turnbull has “encouraged” him to “consider his position”.
While the establishment media scandalised Joyce’s affair over the past couple of weeks, it was only last week that it started to focus on the issues of probity and the public purse — which are sackable offences. Or, at least, should be.
Joyce should be dismissed because he broke the ministerial standards rule book (it is short, but there is one) which states, “… close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices, and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the Executive Government without the Prime Minister’s express approval”.
When tensions grew over the affair in Joyce’s office, Campion was promoted to a higher paid and unadvertised media advisor job first in National’s Senator Matt Canavan’s office and then for the National’s Damian Drum.
Joyce and others claim that the ministerial standards were not breached because Campion was not Joyce’s partner. Tell that to the women who have been cut off from their Centrelink payments because of their personal relationships.
This was reinforced by Turnbull during a press conference to announce a ban on ministers having sex with their staff. Turnbull said he accepted Joyce had not breached any ministerial entitlements or standards and "the real issue" was the "terrible hurt and humiliation" he had caused his wife, four daughters and new partner.
Joyce should go — but not because he had an affair. If we went down that path, we’d be helping the reactionaries in their campaign to deny women rights and set back the struggle against sexism.
While the second wave of the women’s movement was diverse, there was agreement that while there was a distinction between the public and private spheres, women needed to demand — and get — the same sexual freedoms as men.
Much of the establishment media’s commentary on Joyce’s affair has been laden with hypocritical moralism and outrage about the sanctity of the family, as if marriages don’t often break down as a result of affairs which start at work (where people spend most of their day).
According to the ABS – the most measureable data on relationship statuses — the median duration of a marriage is 12 years and it is decreasing. The proportion of divorces granted as result of joint applications has been increasing over the past 20 years.
It is one thing to feel for the Joyce family that has been left reeling, but adultery is not a crime. Nor should it be.
It is true that women mostly bear the brunt of relationship breakdowns because, as a result of their second class status, their socioeconomic position is a lot more precarious even if, in this particular case the Joyce family is materially provided for.
Forty years after the second wave of feminism, while the same double standards are still largely intact, they are being challenged by many Gen X and Y women (and men). Institutional sexism is intrinsic to capitalism, because it relies on women to carry out most of the work required to reproduce and raise new generations of workers, thus taking the pressure off the state to provide the required services.
The renewed attacks on women’s rights at work today are being accompanied by a new wave of moralism, aimed at trying to normalise the idea of women being the “second”, or inferior, sex.
This is not to say these attacks are always effective, or that there is no push back. The #MeToo social media campaign, for instance, has demonstrated the widespread nature of sexual assault and harassment and has mobilised women around the world to demand change.
The PM’s protection of Joyce for more than a year, despite his decidedly reactionary politics towards LGBTI people, young women and their ability to access Gardasil (a drug to prevent cervical cancer), union rights and dirty energy are simply more reasons for why the Coalition government must go.
[Pip Hinman is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]