If he survives the week as leader of the Nationals, Barnaby Joyce will spend much of next week as Australia’s Acting Prime Minister.
Let’s let that one sink in for a moment, especially given the Liberal Party and Nationals’ continual rhetoric around selecting, appointing and promoting on the basis of ‘merit’.
At this point, any leader of such merit would step aside on his or her own accord, to untangle their personal life, consider their own wellbeing as well as the interests of their family, and sort themselves out.
That’s not to say such a leader couldn’t step back up again, but rather that they’d have the self-awareness to realise their judgement is impaired, their focus is compromised, and that they need the time out for the good of the team, the company, or in this case the country.
Barnaby Joyce doesn’t appear to have such self-awareness.
Such self-awareness would have seen him get a step ahead of this mess of a situation, to call a press conference, speak the necessary apologies, and do everything possible to avoid photographs of his pregnant partner with their ‘bundle of Joyce’ leading a major newspaper.
Indeed, such self-awareness may have found a way to cut the oxygen supply to this story – and now others, including accusations in the Daily Telegraph today that he denies – that are making a horrible situation even worse for his family, and providing a significant distraction for his party.
While plenty of leaders in the past have engaged in their own questionable antics, and there’s an argument for the private lives of politicians to remain private, the Joyce situation is particularly problematic. Most notably because of the conservative line he’s held on issues like same-sex marriage, not to mention the many ‘lines’ he appears to have crossed in the workplace with certain members of staff. This is the year of #MeToo after all, a time when power imbalances in sexual relationships are under the microscope.
Again, the self-awareness of a decent leader – or perhaps it’s just general awareness – could have foreseen such a shift in public attitudes.
But more important than anything, a political leader should have the self-awareness to realise how their mistakes might affect their party, and ultimately that party’s leadership.
There’s one particular line that been crossed that I dare suggest many women – and in particular female Nationals supporters – will find difficult to ignore.
That is the one that has seen his wife of 24 years and mother of his four children humiliated and in her own words, “deceived and hurt”. She told the Guardian the situation is devastating in many ways, not only because of those affected by the family breakdown but also for her personally after she “placed my own career on hold to support Barnaby through his political life.”
Joyce finally, publicly, apologised to Natalie and his daughters while speaking to reporters outside Parliament this morning, where he said that Vikki Campion is his partner now, but wasn’t when she worked in his office.
“I would like to say to Natalie how deeply sorry I am for all the hurt this has caused. To my girls, how deeply sorry I am for all the hurt that it has caused them.”
Transcript of @Barnaby_Joyce statement at the doors of parliament house, says he’s “deeply sorry” a “deeply personal issue” has gone into the public arena. @abcnews @politicsabc @abc730 pic.twitter.com/0o2T8zhK34
— Brihony Speed (@brihonyspeed) February 12, 2018
Within this mess, it’s difficult not to feel for Campion, who is having her merit and worth questioned with regards to her job. Heavily pregnant, she’s the ‘mistress’ (shudder, what is the equivalent for men?), whose face and unborn baby was thrown into the national agenda. Joyce apologised to her too this morning, saying he’s sorry she has ‘been dragged into this.’
It’s a complex mess that’s hurt many people along the way.
And yet it’s a mess that raises serious questions about the abilities and judgement of a leader, especially one who is about to be the acting prime minister if Australia.