“Looks like Barnaby got away with it,” Nick Minchin said to colleagues last night, referring to the shadow Finance Minister’s extraordinary effort at the National Press Club yesterday at lunchtime.

Minchin’s right.  Judging by the press this morning, with only a couple of exceptions, he got off lightly.

Imagine if a Labor or Liberal senior Shadow Minister has done what Joyce did yesterday — make more than half a dozen basic errors of straight fact, get confused with the simplest numbers and set hares running in the portfolios of his senior colleagues.

Hell, imagine if they done just one of those things.  There’d be calls for their resignation, there’d be pressure on their leader to sack them, there’d be a whole days’ worth of media coverage speculating on whether the poor sod was toast and how it was an issue of credibility for the leader and the party.

Peter Garrett learnt this before the election.  In fact, he didn’t even have to say anything to be pilloried.  He made a remark that even Richard Wilkins knew was a joke and the media ran with it for days.

But Barnaby Joyce appears to have a leave pass, particularly by the Coalition cheerleaders in the right-wing media.  He can say virtually anything and it gets waved through, usually with an explanation that he’s a great communicator.

But senior Liberals are privately appalled at Joyce’s performance and deeply dismayed at the damage he is doing to their credibility at a time when Tony Abbott has managed to stop the rot and start pulling back the party base.  And they are absolutely scathing of Abbott for putting him in the job.

What’s worse is that Joyce represents a major missed opportunity for Abbott.  The previous Finance Shadow, Helen Coonan, moved on after the leadership change, gifting Abbott with a senior economic portfolio.  Coonan had been mostly invisible, but she’d run a shadow ERC process that had done a lot of work sifting through Coalition spending proposals.

But rather than give Finance to a figure of credibility, or use it to blood a quality younger performer in the big league, Abbott gave it to the single least economically credible figure in federal politics.

It means that in Abbott, Joe Hockey and Barnaby Joyce, the Coalition has the weakest economic line-up in modern political history.  When  Hockey is your most substantial figure, you’re in deep trouble.  Abbott is notoriously economically illiterate and has no experience in an economic portfolio, and Joyce is an outright economic irrationalist.

Worse, Joyce has a habit of plunging into other Shadow Minister’s portfolios — which as Finance Shadow he technically has the right to do — causing havoc and then leaving the relevant spokesperson to clean up the mess.  Yesterday it was Julie Bishop’s turn, having to explain that the Coalition was not planning to slash foreign aid.  Just like his attitude to economic responsibility — he opposed hard reform decisions but was happy to take the benefits of good economic management when they could be spent in rural Queensland — he appears to want all the good parts of being Finance spokesman without accepting any of the responsibility or discipline.

The double-standard in the media, that Barnaby’s antics are all just a bit of fun and don’t merit proper scrutiny — is one thing.  But here’s where it gets real.  If you’re a foreign investor — especially a Chinese investor — and considering investing in Australia, would Barnaby Joyce make you more or less likely to invest in Australia?  In an election year, when the polls start to narrow, and the chance of Joyce become a senior economic minister appear to be very real, how would that influence your investment decision?

Foreign investors, and the foreign diplomats and governments that assist them, don’t understand the nuances of federal politics.  They don’t know that Joyce is widely agreed to be a buffoon.  All they know is that he is the Shadow Finance Minister and there’s an election later this year, and there’s a real possibility his side could win.

So, how many jobs will Barnaby Joyce cost Australia this year?

And how long will senior Liberals tolerate this joker before telling Abbott he’s got to go?