“This should be a very simple story – a bloke whose marriage broke down is in a relationship with another person and they are having a child. Now it seems to have gone into some sort of morality discussion. That’s between me and my God. I can understand how Natalie can be angry, absolutely, but how it’s other people’s business, I don’t know.”
These were the words of Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce yesterday in his first interview post the #Barnababy fiasco.
So is he right? Should politicians be afforded the right of their private lives remaining private? Is it in the public interest if their personal issues impact their capacity to lead? And, is there a double standard when it comes to gender in politics?
Once again, we’ve asked a group of savvy women active in the #Auspol Twitter community for their take on it all:
Senator Kimberley Kitching – “Hard-working” (as endorsed by @PoliticsFairfax and my Mum) “Rising star” (according to Andrew Bolt and my Mum also) Labor Senator for Victoria
There are undoubtedly two standards at play.
The harshness of the scrutiny on Julia Gillard’s private life was shameful and probably discouraged some women from running for office. But the good news is the fact she got there, and became our first female Prime Minister, undoubtedly inspired many more. Her situation – she’d not been married but had a long-time partner – was hardly exotic or unusual. But there was a viciousness in the observations about her choices and her private life that I don’t think would have occurred if she was a man.
Regarding Barnaby Joyce: while some might focus on his private situation – a reasonably typical matter of marriage breakdown; I believe that is in itself none of our business. Nearly half of marriages fail. Judging people harshly for that is not right. Joyce’s views on marriage equality seem to have made some believe that they have a licence to gloat or denigrate him about his personal situation, and I really don’t agree with that either.
Joyce’s political problems centre on what Labor believes is his willingness to abuse power for personal benefit: arranging employment for his girlfriend in colleagues’ offices; failing to disclose pecuniary interests; and, of course, more recently his spectacular and unedifying public conflict with his own Prime Minister.
When I first ran for Labor preselection, I faced more than a few supposedly deeply-committed progressive and feminist Labor members who – to my face – told me they would not support me because they did not like my husband’s views, expressed on his blog and elsewhere in the media.
I was shocked. And, perhaps, just as shocked by their candour about admitting it.
They’d not consider voting for me because they didn’t like my husband? Wow. It seemed as lacking in logic to me as if they’d said my Irish ancestry or my blue eyes or shoe size should disqualify me.
Did they imagine I would comply with whatever my husband thought? That he could direct me? It seemed so crazy, ignorant and old-fashioned that I didn’t know where to start in confronting its absurdity.
When I argued that a more informed decision about whether to support me should be based on my own views, and my long record of involvement in the Labor party, in the trade union I’d helped save from oblivion, in my service as a local councillor and in helping the community generally, some were persuaded but, sadly, not all. I can’t imagine any of them would have marked a male candidate down for their wife’s views.
I realised at that point that if some of those who identified as Labor’s most progressive and feminist members held such views then we really had a very long way to go as a Party and, really, as a society. I vowed to myself when I was elected to the Senate to make sure that I did all within my power to help more women into Parliament. We have so much more to do.
Su Dharmapala – https://twitter.com/SuDharmapala – Writer. Feminist. Mum
When early human societies organised themselves around a system of governance we now know as democracy – I am sure they did not imagine the two-party system we have in Australia.
When Cleisthenes codified democracy in ancient Athens – he had no idea of preferential voting, two houses of parliament or caucus deciding on a leader.
When United States of America – taking on the ideals of the French Enlightenment – made democracy their method of governance; they didn’t bank on big business lobbyists or a 24 hour media cycle.
Democracy is a system of governance created for a different time and a different type of society. It was created and codified when you knew the best person in a village – possibly because they lived in the next hut – and you sent them off to represent your interests in the big town or city. These people – usually the smartest people and the most articulate – represented the village because they felt a sense of obligation and duty to their community. They argued for the best interests of their people and their success and failures literally spelt life or death.
They weren’t these snake oil salesmen masquerading as retail politicians racing to the bottom of the barrel to feather their own nests.
Fifty years ago the local MP was having an affair with staffer would have been discussed down at the pub and the bush telegraph would have ensured that that bloke wouldn’t run another chook raffle down at the local footy club much less get to Canberra.
I would give a lot for a little bit of bush justice right now.
But the issue here is not about extra marital affairs or the private lives of politicians but rather that when we chose people to represent us in government – their personal lives inevitably become a part of the public interest. Not because we want to know the minutiae of their domestic trials – but because it tells us what they stand for and how they will represent us.
Ideally, politicians lives ought to be sacrosanct. Much like any professional, when they clock off – their personal lives are their own. But when they are elected officials – they are held to a higher standard because they are chosen for the whole package rather than for a specific set of skills.
And I think we need to get past the question of whether there is a double standard for men in politics versus women – the Julia Gillard prime ministership ought have robbed us of any illusions of equality.
The question needs to be how we are going to change the political culture so that men and women are viewed the same and treated the same. The time for questioning is over – equality must be fought for in the here and now.
Sera Mirzabegian – https://twitter.com/seramirzabegian – is a barrister, writer and academic. Although she hates labels, she’s proud to call herself a feminist.
We live in an age where the line between the private and the public is increasingly blurred. In the US, the private lives of politicians are regularly exposed in mainstream news (exhibit A: Bill Clinton; exhibit B: Donald Trump). But unlike the US media, the Australian media is generally reluctant to report on the private lives of politicians. There seem to be a couple of exceptions to this general rule – if there is a public interest in exposing the politician’s private life or if the politician is a woman.
In Barnaby Joyce’s case, there is a public interest angle. His new partner, Vikki Campion, was employed as a ministerial staffer allegedly in breach of ministerial standards and they’re now shacked up together rent-free, courtesy of a businessman with ties to the Nationals. These aspects of the story raise important questions and I think they justify the media intrusion.
There is also a compelling argument that Barnaby Joyce’s private life is fair game because he plays ‘values’ politics. In times gone past, when politicians fought elections on policy, what they did in their private lives was, understandably, irrelevant. But the idea of an election fought on policy grounds is an increasingly foreign concept. Today, more and more politicians sell who they are and in their sales pitch, /≥they focus on their values and their relationships. When a politician like Barnaby Joyce argues against, say, marriage equality because he believes in ‘traditional’ marriage, he makes his private life a matter of public interest.
Of course, female politicians are used to their private lives being dissected publicly even when there is no relevant public interest. Unlike their male counterparts, female politicians are constantly judged by reference to their private relationships – their partners, their children, their families – and the Australian media actively plays and promotes this game. Look at the ABC sitcom ‘At Home With Julia’, a comedy series which took ‘viewers in the life of PM Julia Gillard and boyfriend Tim Mathieson, behind the closed doors of The Lodge.’ No other Prime Minister has had their private life parodied in a comedy series on the national broadcaster. And what’s the bet that even Barnaby Joyce, whose private life has all the ingredients for a ratings winner, will escape from that kind of attention. How’s that for a double standard?
Denise Shrivell – https://twitter.com/deniseshrivell – is the founder of MediaScope & Peggy’s List as well as a rising political activist. She commentates on the intersection between media & politics.
First – let’s be clear. As much as the Liberal/National Party, the media & Joyce himself seem to be doing their best to focus on the ‘affair’ as the main issue here – it is not. It is about abuse of power, misuse of taxpayer’s funds, extraordinary hypocrisy and media suppression of information in the public interest prior to the New England by-election. Joyce’s affair is in the public interest but only because he uses his family values to underpin the regressive policies he tries to impose on the rest of us. For other politicians, do your job, serve your electorate, prosecute evidence based policy – then I really don’t care what you do in your private life.
However, no doubt there is a double standard where women seem to have to establish their private position and arrangements as a prerequisite for their job where often it is not even a consideration for men. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Adern is managing this brilliantly where she deflects this kind of media attention with the simple: ‘Do you ask men this question’? The ridiculousness of it is then laid bare.
With Turnbull’s introduction of the so called Ministerial #bonkingban – we can expect media to now actively pursue politician’s private lives whether in the public interest or not and often whether it is even true or not. This also fits with media’s volume based business model where clickbait and sensation sells. With this, gender may be a secondary consideration to timed political attacks to undermine a politician based on cross &/or internal party disputes. Remember we’ve known of Joyce’s affair for months – so the real question is why has it been released in media now? Something’s afoot here.
In such a fractured, competitive political and media environment no politician is immune from intrusion into private lives, male or female, true or false. Poor us.