Barnaby Joyce And The Magical Straight Condom That Protected Him From Public Scrutiny

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The Daily Telegraph has broken with Australian media convention and splashed a politician’s affair on the front page. At least that’s what everyone thinks. Toby Halligan takes up the story.

Barnaby Joyce actively campaigned against same sex marriage. I remember it because my partner and I were fighting for the right to marry. During that campaign he held his daughters up as a prop and defended their right to have a “secure relationship with a loving husband”. It turns out while Barnaby was defending the sanctity of marriage he was cheating on his wife with a staffer.

Why does a man like Barnaby get to defend traditional marriage when violating his own marriage? Is it simply that straight, Christian men get to have their cake and smash my wedding cake too?

Plenty of journalists were well aware that Joyce was having an affair when he was making those claims – yet declined to report it. So when does public hypocrisy cross the line? And what criteria should the press gallery use to judge when someone’s private life clearly contradicts their political positions?

Journalists have a difficult conflict of interest. They rely upon politicians for stories and often have close relationships with them. They can be blinded by professional need.

That’s not to say that they aren’t moral people, or that there aren’t good reasons for avoiding reporting on prurient detail. It’s just the simple truth that Canberra is a small club. Those who rely on politicians for stories are hardly in a position to render an objective judgement.

Some press gallery journalists who refused to report on the contradictions in Joyce’s position represent themselves as neutral or as refusing to take a position on people’s private lives. But they are taking a position. When powerful people impose on the vulnerable, silence is support.

Barnaby Joyce and wife Natalie (they are now separated) at the 2017 Mid-Winter Ball.

For years, LGBTI Australians have been subject to scrutiny over very personal elements of our relationships. Our lives are subject to the regulation of politicians who cite their faith, and their commitment to traditional values as a reason for restricting our civil rights.

As a gay man, the marriage equality plebiscite last year was the worst eight weeks of my life. My partner and I felt besieged as we fought for the right to love one another and have that love recognised by the State.

We did so in the face of a brutal campaign from conservatives and Christian groups. A campaign built on outright lies and homophobia.

And it isn’t over yet for LGBTI people. Our relationships are still up for judgement. Just ask the Perth teacher who was recently fired for being gay. It is legal for religious organisations, including schools, nursing homes, and hospitals, to fire LGBTI people because of their sexuality or gender. Or to deny service to clients.

I personally don’t think that photos of Barnaby’s new partner, Vicky Campion should be published. Nor do I particularly care what people do in their private lives. But conservatives do and they demand that the state enforce their views.

They declare we’re a Christian nation and Christian organisations should be able to fire LGBTI employees. Well, if a gay teacher, or carer, or nurse’s private life is relevant to their employment, why isn’t the private life of the second most powerful man in the country up for debate? Especially when he represents himself as living by values that he seeks to impose on others.

Incidentally, the ‘prohibition’ on reporting on private lives didn’t stop Seven News from reporting on NSW politician, David Campbell’s visit to a gay sauna. So are LGBTI Australians simply held to a different standard? It certainly felt like that during the marriage equality survey. And recall the endless commentary about Julia Gillard’s boyfriend and quite vicious commentary about her choice to remain “barren”. It seems women in public life don’t get the protection of the Canberra boys clubs either.

The ‘prohibition’ on reporting on private lives is looking more and more like a magical condom that protects straight, male politicians when it’s convenient, but disappears for those outside the club.

So what should happen to Barnaby? Despite his hypocrisy I hope he and his new partner are happy, and that his wife and children are not subjected to any further press attention. But, his hypocrisy is a matter of national interest and it should be treated that way by journalists.

Toby Halligan

Toby Halligan is a comedian and writer. He talks about politics on 3RRR and has written for Mad As Hell, The Project, The Weekly, and Legally Brown.

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