Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia Barnaby Joyce just cannot seem to end the sex scandal that is destroying his career. He has already been forced to resign from the cabinet and the leadership of the coalition National Party. Now, in an interview with Fairfax media, Joyce has called into question the paternity of the baby that was a key reason for forcing his resignation in the first place. What’s going on?
The scandal, the resignation, and the “bonk ban”
At the start of 2018 Barnaby Joyce was one of Australia’s most powerful politicians. As the leader of the rurally based National Party, he was automatically Deputy Prime Minister in the centre-right Liberal/National government coalition. Known for his plain-spoken, tell-it-how-it-is style, Joyce was a big personality on the national political scene. His habit of plain-speaking deteriorated remarkably quickly, however, when news of his pregnant mistress broke in early February.
As a leader of party well-known for espousing conservative family values, the December 2017 announcement that Barnaby Joyce had split from his wife was potentially problematic for him. Things became potentially untenable on February 5th, however, when Australia’s Daily Telegraph revealed that he was “madly in love” with his former staffer, Vikki Campion, and that the couple were expecting a baby in April.
A string of other revelations and allegations followed, keeping the story in the national headlines. Reportedly Campion had been moved into a specially created social media job with another politician, and the couple had moved in together following Joyce’s separation from his wife.
Awkwardly for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was desperate to get rid of Joyce soon after the story broke, the dynamics of the coalition government limited his options. As leader of the Liberal Party, he could not force the National Party to fire their leader. And as part of their coalition agreement, he was obliged to keep the Nats leader on is as Deputy Prime Minister.
To create a sense that he was taking the issue seriously, Turnbull instead updated the Ministerial Code to outlaw parliamentarians from having relationships with staffers – a policy instantly dubbed the “bonk ban.”
For weeks Joyce was determined to ride the scandal out, but when a sexual harassment allegation surfaced the pressure grew too great. He announced his resignation on February 23rd.
Barnaby Joyce throws gasoline on the scandal
Now safely on the back benches, Barnaby Joyce was in a good position to stay out of the limelight and slowly rebuild his reputation. With some luck and judicial media management, he might even rejoin a future Lib/Nat coalition government.
But then the Sydney Morning Herald reported rumours at Parliament House that Campion’s baby might not be his. Joyce could not resist the opportunity to lash out at the original Daily Telegraph article that revealed Campion’s pregnancy. It turns out, according to Joyce, that the Telegraph did not bother to check their facts.
Referring to the Telegraph headline, “Bundle of Joyce,” he told The Age, “How could they know? They never even asked if it was Joyce’s bundle.”
Joyce then explained that the paternity of the child was a “grey area.” Travel records show that Joyce and Campion were apart for much of June 2017, when the conception is thought to have occurred, and Joyce has told friends that he and Campion were not together during June and July of that year.
Joyce then made it clear that he has no plans to actually verify the child’s paternity.
“It’s mine, on the record, there it is. And can I say, even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t care, I’d still go through this, I’d still love him.”
The Age were able to verify that the Telegraph had asked Joyce to confirm the baby’s paternity, but he had not replied to the email. So it appears the question over the baby’s paternity was one Joyce deliberately chose to keep quiet, even as it brought down his National Party leadership.
The “anals of history”
The revelation that Joyce’s career might have been ended, at least in part, because of an assumption he chose not to correct, is a bizarre one.
Now that he has resigned the National Party leadership, however, the Nats have elected Michael McCormack as their new leader and Australia’s new Deputy Prime Minister.
McCormack has his own baggage: in 1993 he penned a notoriously homophobic editorial (which he has since apologized for) and oversaw the bungled attempt to take the 2016 Australian census online.
Luckily for McCormack any appetite for further ridiculing the Nationals was completely sated by their MP from Cornucopia, Michelle Landry. In a speech last week she mispronounced “annals of history” as “anals of history.” It is a real gem – have a listen: