Politician’s case highlights Australian crony culture

SYDNEY – Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has spent most of his career advocating for rural voters and strong families, and speaking out against welfare cheaters.

But on Wednesday in Parliament, he proposed a defense at the top of your lungs for remaining in office despite an affair with a former staff member who is now pregnant and with whom he lived rent-free in an apartment owned by a wealthy partisan.

This is the scandal known as #barnababy, who in just a week has gone from a debate over privacy, sex and the tabloids to an indictment against Australia’s cronyism policy.

“This whole incident is absolutely tailor-made to undermine people’s confidence in Parliament, which is already at an all-time low,” said Susan Harris Rimmer, professor of law at Griffith University in Queensland.

The longer Mr. Joyce stays in office, she added, the more resentment about politics grows. All of Canberra, Australia’s capital, seems to be on trial now, with its cozy, clubby manners looking increasingly inappropriate.

“It is not a healthy place,” said Professor Rimmer. “It runs on alcohol and gossip, fumes and power.”

Mr. Joyce, a gregarious bull of a man often seen in an Akubra-branded bush hat, now faces a series of uncomfortable questions:

• Have public funds been used to cultivate an extramarital affair?

• How did he and his new partner, Vikki Campion, a former journalist, end up in a fan’s free apartment?

Mr. Joyce, 50, has denied trial and error and other ministerial misconduct. He spent much of the week expressing his distrust and remorse and trying to keep his job.

He acknowledged his relationship with Ms Campion on Tuesday, apologizing to his family, constituents and the Australian National Party, which he still leads.

But he also told his party colleagues that he would not resign. “Every political career has a time of trial,” he said.

His booth matches his longtime “just a dude” call. He grew up on a farm in Tamworth, South East Australia, which is home to the country’s largest country music festival. Mr. Joyce is known as an improvised maverick who is less loyal to ideology than to his constituents.

But since 2004 he’s been a Canberra man. He was a senator from Queensland and then joined the House of Representatives in 2013. He became National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister in 2016.

Mr. Joyce is no stranger to scandal. A few years ago he made headlines around the world when he threatened to euthanize two dogs belonging to Johnny Depp and Amber Heard after the celebrity couple brought them to Australia without documents and quarantine. appropriate.

Last year, Mr. Joyce was one of several politicians revealed to have dual citizenship.

After the High Court ruled that he had not been eligible to run for Parliament because of it, Mr Joyce renounced his New Zealand citizenship and returned to his district to campaign again for his seat. He won comfortably.

But experts say the backlash was only intensified by his alleged authenticity, his eagerness to parad his wife and four children in political campaigns, and his brash conservative stances, such as his opposition to same-sex marriage, which he says , would destroy families.

“The public expected a Barnaby who was a strong family man in the countryside, and we find he is not at all,” said Jill Sheppard, senior lecturer in politics at National University. Australian from Canberra.

“If there was one political trait that Australians hate, it is hypocrisy,” Professor Rimmer said.

But the biggest threat to Mr. Joyce’s career may involve questions about the mixture of adultery, money and power.

Records show he claimed travel allowance for 50 nights in Canberra last year when Parliament was not in session, far more than other top leaders.

Government watchdogs and journalists have also focused on two high-paying posts allegedly created for Ms Campion in the offices of a party colleague Senator Matt Canavan.

Mr Joyce and Prime Minister Turnbull – who continued to support him – said the jobs were blameless as Ms Campion was technically not his partner at the time.

Critics of Mr. Joyce dispute this claim.

Officially, for the moment, Mr. Joyce still has the support of his party. “Barnaby Joyce has been the best delivery boy for rural and regional Australians for generations,” Nationals deputy Bridget McKenzie told reporters.

But time is not on its side. Mr Turnbull is scheduled for an overseas trip that includes a meeting with President Trump on February 23, which would make Mr Joyce the acting prime minister.

A broader assessment of the capital’s workplace culture may also be on the way.

“If the Australian public feels that the political class is isolated and does not appreciate their concerns, then this is an issue for the political class to respond to,” said Andrew Giles, a Labor Party politician.

“We are not meeting people’s expectations,” he added. “And these are legitimate expectations.”