Joyce's choices in the capital of hypocrisy



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.

Barnaby JoyceNo 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 the first, last and only.

Canberra is the capital of hypocrisy: few who speak for battlers have a record of preserving labour rights and welfare; even fewer who call themselves Christian have a record of compassion for the most vulnerable.

Politicians may well argue that differences in public and private behaviour are fine. Ethical people would disagree. There is no line; that is not how ethics works. The cost of political office is to be the person that voters want you to be.

The standards of conduct for elected officials are meant to be high. Faith in the institution of government rests on respect for those in it (if not ambivalence). Contempt is something else. Things that deepen contempt eventually corrode the institution.

The full extent or detail of what goes on in Canberra from lack of standards does not even matter. The damage is done whether people know about it or not.



Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She co-hosts the ChatterSquare podcast, tweets as @foomeister and blogs on Medium.

Main image: ABC News: Jed Cooper

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Barnaby Joyce


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Existing comments

As a former Commonwealth Public servant, I take exception to remarks such as "Canberra is the capital of hypocrisy'". If you mean Members of Parliament, say so. Otherwise you are insulting many thousands of decent people who work for the public good as well as their own living. The issue, as far as Barnaby Joyce is concerned, is not who he sleeps with but how much the taxpayer is expected to fork out for his perquisites and his partner's job as well as whether her position was advertised, interviewed for and impartially allocated.
Juliet | 15 February 2018

It is murky, I agree, Fatima. Standards for elected officials should be high. Standards for professions dealing with children should be high, standards for professions dealing with vulnerable adults should be high. The list goes on. Joyce's behaviour has been less than ideal and sections of the media have gloated. People involved in the drama have had their privacy invaded. Who can occupy the moral high ground when discussing this issue? Joyce can be banished to the political wilderness. But I'm not sure I would want to be the one to drive him there. Suffice to say that his reputation is tarnished.
Pam | 15 February 2018

"Politicians may well argue that differences in public and private behaviour are fine. Ethical people would disagree. There is no line; that is not how ethics works". Excellent line. Great article.
Stephen de Weger ( | 16 February 2018

Barnaby invited public scrutiny when, very early in his career, he made it clear that he was proud of his Catholic, conservative principles and intended to actively represent those attributes. He could reasonably expect too that, given his own aggression towards his political adversaries, he might be subject to a more than passing scrutiny. On both counts 'plausible deniability' and 'she wasn't my partner then' are simply not good enough. A true test of his character will be how quickly he resigns and spares his party and his loved ones further, damaging scrutiny that they don't deserve.
Faz | 16 February 2018

The system only works when the offices are respected (by everyone) and held in greater esteem than the office bearer. When the holder of office is seen to trash the privilege, those over whom office is exercised lose faith in it, and the whole sorry show unravels. As a side note, I am reminded of the time a few years ago when Queen Elizabeth visited the US. Michael Caine was in town just beforehand and predictably was interrogated over the imminent visit. "Why do you call her 'Your Majesty'?" queried a reporter. "It's out of respect for the office" says Caine, "it's like when you call the President 'Sir'". "I don't call the President 'Sir'" says the reporter. "Well you should do!" replies Caine.
Richard Jupp | 16 February 2018

Fatima, While I totally agree with your remarks, like Juliet, whose remarks I fully endorse, I came to Canberra to teach in 1982. Please avoid using the term" Canberra" when you are referring to members of the Parliament who with very few exceptions are "Fifo"(fly in fly out) people who have no connection with the citizens of our great city. Sadly these incidents are part of our society and my family very much feels for Natalie, her family and the unfortunate staffer , his lover, now dragged into this unholy mess. Politicians have a very poor approval rating already. Barnaby's behaviour only sinks them even lower. As a teacher in a Catholic school ( now well and truly retired) , I was expected to , and did rigorously uphold the ethical standards of the school, although as I now know, a number of the Brothers I taught with, have been found to have breached those standards. I believe that our political representatives should set an example to the community at large of ethical and moral standards- after all we pay their remuneration.
Gavin | 16 February 2018

We must assume then that in view of the National/ proxy New England support for BJ, either morality there is in question or there added economic factors that so tip the ethical scales?
Reinder Zeilstra | 16 February 2018

You're right, Fatima. We must keep demanding a certain standard of integrity from our elected representatives. They are human and flawed, like all of us, but we trust them with an enormous responsibility, that of keeping our society working in a safe, civil and compassionate way. How can they do this if fidelity to one's word and honesty in our dealings are to be regarded as optional extras? Whatever the Prime Minister sees fit to introduce in the way of a code of conduct, the real responsibility lies with us. All of us are weak, all are broken, all fall short of the glory of God. But we would be suicidal to resile from our duty of insisting that integrity is a high but essential standard for our representatives. Our life, and our children's life, depends on it.
Joan Seymour | 16 February 2018

I think it's obvious that when you say Canberra is the capital of hypocrisy you are talking about politicians and their conduct, not people who live and work there generally. And you are certainly right there. We see it all the time in our elected officials. But I think the point should be made that the current scandal around Joyce does not necessarily demonstrate a lack of standards in Canberra. Indeed the response indicates that we as a society do not think it's ok for a man to leave his marriage and family to have an affair. The efforts made (by journalists and pollies mainly) to turn it into a public issue (such as 'did it happen on the public purse') strike me as confected/contrived ways to hide a natural moral judgment that we humans have about this kind of situation.
George | 16 February 2018

Thank you once again Fatima for a very well rounded argument and condemnation of certain politicians.Thank heavens there are some good ones in Canberra. This might sound a tad cynical and even heartless but I only hope the Deputy Prime Minister stands his ground and the fighting escalates to the point where the government falls and a renewed decency invades the chambers.
Tom Kingston | 16 February 2018

If you hadn't defined that you were talking about politicians who work in Canberra you could have been talking about any occupation working in any institution, even, God forbid, religious practitioners who work in Catholic institutions.
Pragmatist | 16 February 2018

I agree strongly with Juliet and Gavin. If a writers mean to refer to the Australian Parliament or politicians, they should say so. There are just on 400,000 inhabitants in Canberra; some may be hypocritical, but I am sure that the proportion is no more, possibly less, than in other Australian cities. Canberra is much more than the seat of the Australian government and it is always irritating to hear these terms interchanged in a lazy way. It lessens the credibility of a good article when such sloppiness creeps in.
Sheelah | 16 February 2018

I agree with George. Hopefully the outrage extends to an endorsement of fidelity in marriage now that the definition of marriage has been extended in the civil square. Also, I dont know why the "lover" has been afforded any sympathy. She had an affair with a married man. She is an adult and shouldve behaved better.
Jojo | 16 February 2018

In the megalopoles where the majority of Eureka Street contributors and readers almost certainly reside, nothing like a common old canine dog fight would ever be encountered in a life time. Where there are multiple dogs in a melee they (especially the weak dogs), instinctively gang up and attack the dog on the ground. The moral, ‘If a dog fight happens, don’t be the dog on the ground’. Is it a matter of any concern, that there is a little pre-born baby’s life unfolding here.
bb | 16 February 2018

I take the view as an older member of the community that Barney Joyce's is reprehensible, doubly. He has received the privilege of an expensive education which is considered to imbue its students with The Ignation dictum of 'being a man for others'. I would take that to mean that to mean that you act with justice ,humility and mercy. I am sure many Jesuit and non Jesuit men live that out all their lives or make attempts to do so albeit unconsciously. Deputy Prime Minister Joyce by his very actions has acted with none of the above mannerly behaviours in mind. He has brought scandal and acted irresponsible towards his alma mater, his family his Church his party and politicians in general. Is that not enough reason to release him from his responsibilities, as he obviously is not cut out to handle them?
Helen M Donnellan | 16 February 2018

When I first heard of priests' abuse of children (I think it was a notorious Irish priest) my initial reaction was 'How could a priest go on doing his priestly duties with such a dreadful sin hanging over him.' Only after that did I think about the unfortunate children. The level of evil isn't the same, but again I think 'how could a man go on doing his duties for his constituents with such a failure on his mind.
Gavan Breen | 16 February 2018

Definitely no argument about BJ;s hypocrisy - especially given his platitudes about "traditional marriage" during the SSM debate - but to avoid hypocrisy myself, I must allow him the same freedom I would expect for myself. So while I sincerely hope he fails miserably as a politician and loses the support of his party, I also support his right to dig his heels in. He's already lost the support of the PM and the gloves are off. I think this tension between the Libs and the Nats is a healthy way of exposing the lie about the supposed complemetarity/compatibility of these 2 parties that make up this "Coalition".
AURELIUS | 16 February 2018

"(Politicians) have an obligation to preserve the dignity of the office and maintain confidence in government". This I think is a heavy burden to place on any politician in a democracy. Largely because the flaming hoops politicians have to jump through (like lions in a circus) in order to get elected into parliament means that they land on the final balancing pad after a series of Pavlovian tricks induced by years of cruel conditioning with singed manes and salivating for their hard earned rewards. The dignity of political office cannot be separated from the fact that it will be occupied by a fallible human being. There is no Divine Right of Prime Ministers. I would go so far to say the office of Prime Minister for example has of itself no dignity. It is simply very important for the continuation and development (flourishing?) of our democratic way of running the country. But then again I view with melancholy the public display of our politicians in action at Question Time where they address one another as The Honourable Member and then follow this introduction with bellicose banter and invidious innuendo. No dignity there, I'm afraid.
Uncle Pat | 16 February 2018

You journos are having a puerile feast at Barnaby Joyce's expense. Wish you would inform yourselves about Canberra. I lived and worked there for many years. How dare you call it "the capital of hypocrisy"!! You don't understand it.
Marjorie Edwards | 16 February 2018

I must add - it's been quite obvious from the start that the media are seeking blood (ES included). And this may explain BJ's martyr complex. Why suddenly does the hat appear? Does he think he's John Wayne or Indiana Jones on some crusade? How about holding a crucifix or a Sunday Missal to your heart, Barnaby, and reflecting on "traditional marriage" and how your pledge to deny LGBTI people (including gay Catholics like myself) from being part of this "tradition". You may have a right to cheat, but don't cast yourself as a martyr!
AURELIUS | 16 February 2018

Gavan Breen, I would imagine that victims of child abuse would find your comparison quite insensitive and insulting. You cannot compare Barnaby Joyce's affair - while although immoral - was consensual and legal, with buggery, rape and sexual abuse of minors or anyone for that matter!
SEBASTIAN | 16 February 2018

All over the world, the name of the capital (or even the building as in Italian, Montecitorio) is used to signify the government. I'm sure nobody is thinking of ordinary Canberrans when they read articles like these.
William Edwards | 16 February 2018

I agree with you Fatima and with Helen Donnellan commenting here. What on earth is going on in Canberra such that so many of these good Catholic lads are falling by the wayside? Bill Shorten, Tony Burke and now Barnaby, in recent years, and who can forget (non- Catholic) John Hewson? His scorned wife certainly had a thing or two to say before the unlosable, yet lost, election those decades ago. Some put that loss down to the birthday cake interview but I wonder whether it was really a case of someone wanting their cake and to eat it too that put the Aussie public right off. I know it did me!
BPLF | 16 February 2018

This issue, be it in the political or ecclesial arena, is really about abuse of power. That is the bottom line. Power differential abused by the more powerful party leads by default to abusive behaviour. This lies at the heart of Turnbull’s recognition of the need to bring in rules concerning ministers having sex with staffers. Same applies to priests having sex with parishioners. Both involve abuse of power and the fallout is always on the party with the lesser power.
Jennifer Herrick | 17 February 2018

I think the criticism of the generic use of "Canberra" by Fatima is petty. I understood clearly who and what she meant in her critique. Of course there are good and decent people in that fair city. Our system of democracy would have disintegrated long ago were that not the case. Barnaby Joyce, at the time of his indiscretion, was the Deputy Prime Minister of this country. That alone should have been enough for him to stick to a code of ethics expected of him by the public. Too bad if he had fallen out of love with his wife. That is irrelevant as long as he was in the exalted position that the system had placed him. Cruel? Maybe, but when he took on the role of DPM, he had to let go of a whole raft of behaviours that we lesser mortals might expect to get away with!
Carmel Bartlett | 17 February 2018

Surely this is an example of supreme arrogance in someone who thinks he can do what he likes. Spare a thought for some other victims of Mr Joyce -several public servants from the Veterinary and Pesticides told to uproot themselves and their families and move from Canberra to Tamworth
MF | 18 February 2018

It is reported today on Fox News that a poll has indicated that 2/3 of Australians believe Barnaby Joyce should step down. In a country which has abandoned any vestige of sexual morality, this opinion would have to be the greatest hypocrisy of all!
john frawley | 19 February 2018

I support Jennifer Herrick's comments in relation to our Deputy Prime Minister ... and Minister of a National Affair. The boundaries around private and public were transgressed when the privileges of Office (that includes who one is privileged to work with) exceed its powers (that includes disregard for shared responsibilities within the Office, across the portfolio and whole of government). I don't wish to judge the people involved in this breach of power, as societal expectations of selflessness, the reality of loneliness and moments of vulnerability are all part of the human condition. A baby is being birthed though ... let's give it a decent chance to be loved and to thrive in the midst of it all.
Mary Tehan | 19 February 2018

John Frawley, I would have thought the developments and movements in society in the past couple of years point to a strengthening and maturing of attitudes to sexual morality ..... harassment and abuse is no longer acceptable and there is a greater awareness of issues involving consent, homosexuality is no longer a criminal offence , but pedophilia, harassment and rape are.
AURELIUS | 20 February 2018

There are other issues at stake here too. A wife and 4 children and a soon to be Mum and her child. The issue needs to be dealt with outside of the current Media focus. No law is going to stop people having what others call inappropriate relationships. The issue is whether the there is an appropriate stewardship of Taxpayers funds, proper selection and placement compliance, and appropriate Family Law ahreemnets for access to appropriate payments from the relevant parties. Given the Cenrelink definitions of cohabiting these issues may need looking into. It is for the Governemnt and the curent Leader of the National Party to do this. Journalists need to butt out.. There are women and children being hurt unnecessarily here.
Laurie Sheehan | 21 February 2018

True Aurelius. The fact that modern society has a "matured" attitude to sexual relationships does not mean, however, that those attitudes, even if supported by civil law, are moral. We can all identify readily with the many immoral practices in the corruption of governments and modern society, usually in pursuit of money and other self-interests. Sexual practice, available to all in society regardless of power or position, is perhaps the most powerful of all self-interests and it is no mystery that our society has liberalised restraints on the immoral aspects of sexual practice. Having said that, however, I agree completely with Laurie Sheehan when he says "Journalists should butt out". This matter is none of their business and can do nothing but harm to BJ, his wife, children and the child yet to be born. The public does not have a "right to know" (as the journos bleat) anything about a politician's or anyone's private life if they are doing their public job efficiently and morally as BJ has done regardless of whether people like him or not. I also find it curious that the woman involved is a blameless "victim " of male power, as expressed by many correspondents. "Consensual" means fully cognisant and agreeable as far as I know and there are, I suspect , no professionally employed women who do not know where babies come from and how to control or avoid that outcome when it has such disastrous consequences for so many innocents.
john frawley | 22 February 2018

I think Fatima has deliberately left unsaid the fact that we are all complicit in the Barnaby Joyce affair. For example: many of us who are gay have generally not resisted the tendency to dig the knife in. Civil servants here present, and who supposedly serve the public interest, have generally not resigned, despite having conscientious objections to the edicts of politicians. And let's not forget, as Pragmatist reminds, that Canberra is the home of hundreds of agencies pursuing agenda that reflect particular and sectional interests, including those central to the Church 'project', whether in education, social welfare or, far too belatedly, professional standards, and which have until recently and presumably continue to serve sets of interests that are not widely canvassed, let alone voted upon by gauging the opinions of stake-holders, beyond the usual bevy of prince-bishops, such as parents, the laity and, especially, the recipients of services that are supposedly determined according to the Church's well-known teaching on subsidiarity. I personally know of several positions in the Catholic educational firmament that have not been filled through open advertisement, but by prerogative of the local ordinary and which grace many a plum Canberra office. Now THAT"S corruption for you!
Michael Furtado | 26 February 2018

John, promiscuity has always been immoral - and that goes for all sexual orientations (LGBTI or heterosexual).... at least now LGBTI have a law the allows them to make a commitment that society respects and recognises as equal to "traditional" marriages. Call it what you like - but Barnaby Joyce;s behaviour is adultery at best, and most people including the PM would judge his behaviour to be promiscuous.
AURELIUS | 26 February 2018

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