After barely two years out of the job, Barnaby Joyce attempted a comeback as leader of The Nationals Tuesday morning, leading many rural women to speak out about the ‘values’ and ‘integrity’ they expect from such a leader.
Joyce lost the leadership spill just before 10am, with Michael McCormack returned to the top job and David Littleproud named as his deputy.
Joyce’s play for the leadership came after Bridget McKenzie resigned from the ministry over the weekend (and as Deputy Leader of The Nationals), after a report from the Prime Minister’s departmental secretary Phil Gaetjens found she breached ministerial standards by failing to disclose her membership of the Wangaratta Clay Target Club.
The fallout from McKenzie’s resignation immediately saw Australia lose one woman from Cabinet, as well as our first ever female agricultural minister.
But it could have meant much more to rural women and those working in agriculture — who raised concerns about the idea of Joyce being returned to the top job, after he stood aside two years ago after confirming he’d had an extra-marital affair.
Prominent women’s agricultural advocate Sue Middleton delivered a scathing attack on ABC New Breakfast prior to the leadership spill Tuesday morning, saying a Joyce return would be “absolutely catastrophic”
She said now should be a time for steady leadership and for the party to examine how it’s going to help rural and regional Australian recover.
She noted where Joyce has failed on numerous issues, including his attitude on climate change. “Barnaby Joyce believes there is a guy in the sky who is actually causing this and is somehow going to be able to solve this problem.”
And she brought up the allegations of sexual harassment that have been leveled against him that, “have never been sufficiently dealt with.”
“Rural women are still not happy with how Catherine Marriott was treated,” she said.
Middleton’s comments follow others from prominent women in rural and regional Australia, and working in agriculture.
Elizabeth Brennan tweeted that Joyce “is the opposite of what we need right now. We need integrity and solidarity, not ego and apathy.”
How is it we’re back here again?#BarnabyJoyce is the opposite of what we need right now. We need integrity and solidarity, not ego and apathy.
— Elizabeth Brennan (@amoeaba) February 3, 2020
Alana Johnson, founding member of Australian Women in Agriculture, told The Guardian that the Party needs to “get back in line with values that rural and regional areas hold close, and that is honesty, a fair-go, and transparency, and acting on behalf of the public and the general good.”
She added that whoever takes the leadership, their track record needs to be considered — and Joyce does not have a good track record in terms of being driven by values.
And she later told ABC Radion in Melbourne that the party must have someone leading is puts values at the forefront, in order “to restore trust and some integrity back into politics.”
“When you get back to be a person who acts on values – you can’t separate them. There has to be some constancy between how you act as a person politically, and how you act in your personal life. People who are values-led are exhibiting that all the time in the way they behave,” she said.
She added that the Nationals have an opportunity to reclaim its place as the voice of rural people, noting the decision is essential for helping sustain and develop agriculture in Australia.
Catherine Marriott, who has accused Joyce of sexual harassment, tweeted that the party must not “bugger this up internally”.