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Joyce's choices in the capital of hypocrisy

  • 15 February 2018


It should be the norm that when controversy is getting in the way of the carriage of office, or potentially could, then the person in the middle of it would relinquish it straight away. And they would do so not as sacrifice or punishment but because that is how democratic ideals are meant to play out.

No politician is owed anything. They are dispensable, and the role is not, which means they have an obligation to preserve the dignity of office and maintain confidence in government. Some things need expelling; it gets toxic, otherwise.

Yet politicians are rarely driven to resign or fire colleagues over things that the public finds reprehensible, such as abuse of entitlements, inhumane immigration policies and other casual cruelties. They are all still there somehow, driving us further into malignant mediocrity.

We can hardly be assured that standards of behaviour are maintained in political office. There is rumour of a ministerial code of conduct, but who knows how enforceable it is. We might even consider it impossible for politicians to behave honourably in all spheres of life.

Yet it is in our interest to still expect it, even demand it. Private lapses can have public ramifications, especially in milieus of power. Power equips unethical people with the means to veil their conduct and repeat it.

The connections that MPs and senators have, and the size of their control over our lives, mean that their affairs are not as private as ours. Who they have lunch with, how their second or third house is paid for, what they claim on travel expenses — these are reasonable things to know.

The extramarital affair involving the Deputy Prime Minister, for instance, is far less salient than the choices allegedly made around it, including special dispensation for a staff member, and a questionable residential arrangement. There is blood in the water, with other stories surfacing about poor conduct.


"Barnaby Joyce may well be taking heat, but it would be naïve to think that he is the first, last and only."


It is a precise illustration of the effort and complicity involved in maintaining zero standards. This is what happens in cultures of mutual protection, where favours and improprieties are normalised.

No one challenges these behaviours, or is taken seriously when they do, because it suits too many people to keep standards unenforceable. Barnaby Joyce may well be taking heat, but it would be naïve to think that he is