Barnaby's back. So what does this say about government accountability?

Barnaby’s back. So what does this say about the government’s accountability to women?

Barnaby Joyce

On Monday, Barnaby Joyce was reinstated as the Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia after winning a leadership spill against Michael McCormack.

Joyce’s return to the job comes three years after he was pushed to resign from the position. The promotion will see his salary double to $433,000 a year.

He resigned from the leadership in 2018 after a sexual harassment complaint was made against him by high-profile rural businesswoman Catherine Marriott. He strenuously denied these allegations at the time.

A months-long investigation by the Nationals failed to make a finding about the complaint levelled against Joyce, saying there was insufficient evidence. This came after Marriott’s private complaint to the party had been leaked publicly against her wishes.

At the time, she said in an interview with the ABC’s 7.30 that her complaint being leaked was her worst fear realised.

“My name was leaked and that is one of the most frightening things that you will ever have to live through is when you finally…Sorry I said I was not going to cry … anyway, you live through – you finally find the courage within yourself to stand up for what you believe in and then all control is taken away,” Marriott said.

When the investigation wrapped up after eight months without a conclusion, Marriott said the outcome wasn’t good enough. In a statement, Joyce said he believed the complaint was “spurious and defamatory”.

In February 2020, when Joyce attempted to reclaim the Nationals leadership from McCormack and failed to do so, prominent women’s agricultural advocate Sue Middleton said a return to leadership for Joyce would be “absolutely catastrophic”.

Middleton said, “rural women are still not happy with how Catherine Marriott was treated”, and that the allegations “have never been sufficiently dealt with”.

She also noted his stance 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,” Middleton said.

Speaking to the media today shortly after being elected leader, Joyce was asked what he had learned in the time since he led the party

“I’ve spent three years on the backbench and you know, I hope I come back a better person,” Joyce said.

In a year that’s seen the toxic culture of parliament and mistreatment of women come to the fore, reinstating Joyce seems like a distinct backwards step for Australia. At a time where we urgently need an overhaul of parliamentary culture to make it a safe and secure place for women to go to work, harking back to a leader that’s already had his time in the sun, and faced an unresolved allegation of sexual harassment, doesn’t bode well for progress.

And, as we edge closer to a federal election, Joyce’s thoughts on climate change are likely to cause a headache for Scott Morrison, who continues to repeat that Australia is headed towards implementing a net zero target.

Morrison hasn’t brought net zero into any form of legislation yet and with Joyce now at the helm of the Nationals, doing so has just become a whole lot more complicated.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox