Feb 13, 2018

‘Not his partner’: the single phrase that sums up this wretched government

Deciding that Barnaby Joyce's girlfriend wasn't his partner, so that Malcolm Turnbull could avoid being dragged into the Joyce affair, was the worst idea anyone's had in this incompetent government.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

There were times in 2012 and 2013 — when Kevin Rudd and his followers regularly lobbed bombs at Julia Gillard — that you could only watch events unfold with a sense of wonderment; that never before had we seen such chaos, and we never would again. One of the promises Tony Abbott made before the 2013 election, the one that even his devoted enemies thought he would keep, was to restore a sense of calm and order to government, of adults being in charge. After all, Abbott was extraordinarily disciplined, he led a united party and he and his ministers had substantial experience in government.

Boy did that turn out to be wrong. The incompetence and sheer brazen stupidity of the Abbott years (all two of them) made the Gillard years look relatively ordered. Gillard could at least blame Rudd and his malignant egotism. Abbott had no one to blame but himself. Malcolm Turnbull, we knew, would have Abbott destabilising and white-anting him, but surely would prove as skilful at being prime minister as he was at most everything else he had turned his hand to in his life.

But the Turnbull government is like a combination of the Abbott and Gillard governments: rank incompetence coupled with a vengeful former leader. Twice the chaos. Twice the dysfunction. Twice the fun. And there are days, like yesterday, when you can only marvel at the incompetence of this government, to contemplate, in a kind of aesthetic sense, the giddy beauty achieved by such sublime levels of idiocy. It had been clear for over 24 hours that the Prime Minister — doubtless, and rightly, deeply angry that his deputy had dropped him and the entire government deep in poo yet again — wanted nothing to do with the questions about the employment of the woman who is now (we’ve definitively established) his partner. It’s a matter for the Nationals, he said in question time. It’s a matter for the Nationals, Scott Morrison said in question time, too.

[Rundle: Turnbull is the most contemptible modern prime minister we’ve had]

That only left the question of whether the woman’s employment had been ticked off by Turnbull because under the Statement of Ministerial Standards, the employment of partners had to be approved by him. To acknowledge that yes, his office had signed off on the move to Matt Canavan’s office, and then to that of Damian Drum, the hitherto anonymous Nationals Whip, would be to wreck the eager distancing from Joyce undertaken by the Prime Minister. So some bright spark came up with the reasoning that Campion, being merely someone with whom Joyce had had a sexual relationship, was not technically his “partner” for the purposes of section 2.23 of the Statement of Ministerial Standards.

With one bound, Mal was free.

Or not, really. Because it wasn’t a bright idea. It was a dumb idea. The dumbest idea anyone has had in a government that has been like a rolling summit of bad ideas, a kind of bad idea thinktank, the Institute for Shitty Ideas, perhaps, with regular spots on the ABC to advocate the rotten things it has thought up.

The coverage on the evening news bulletins of the claim that she was “not his partner” was scathing. The “pub test” was mentioned. It was worse than not passing a pub test. It was worse, even, than all the comparisons with Centrelink’s processes that so many pointed out. It signaled how disastrously out of touch this government is, how it has no grasp of how the electorate thinks. Not his partner? NOT HIS PARTNER? WTF?

One of the things that damaged John Howard in his last year in office was that in the public imagination he became the ultimate casuist, a man who twisted and parsed his own words to evade responsibility for things, in complete defiance of common sense. Howard, at least, had a residual store of electoral goodwill for his economic and political management. This government has none of that. And “not his partner” isn’t casuistry, it isn’t some self-serving, Jesuitical interpretation, it’s simple bullshit.

And best of all, it now means Turnbull is linked to the whole saga, not by a sin of commission but of omission. One’s mind boggles, one’s head shakes.


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61 thoughts on “‘Not his partner’: the single phrase that sums up this wretched government

  1. Gregory Bailey

    Barnaby Joyce is just the symptom. Malcolm Turnbull is the underlying disease. Joyce has already shown his true instincts in favouring the rights of irrigators over the larger health of the Murray-Darling Basin and real hypocrisy in morally criticizing others in the dual-citizenship saga, to name just two misadventures. Now he is embroiled in his own domestic crisis upon which the press, somewhat reluctantly, is examining in a forensic manner.

    Yet it is the PM, who in his utter determination to maintain his position above all else, has allowed situations of the Joyce variety to begin, fester and then explode. It is he, who in his unwavering support for Joyce and his twisting of the truth, who is deserving of real criticism.

    Beyond that, the whole sorry episode is yet another distraction away from the fundamental issues Australia has been facing for many years, but which are continually put on the back-burner. Egoes and political survival trump all else. The country’s future be damned.

  2. Jim Hart

    “Not his partner” is right up there with some of Bill Clinton’s memorable denials.

  3. Ian Roberts

    Interesting photos circulating of the Beetrooter at Canavan’s baby’s christening with his not-partner at his side.

  4. MAC TEZ

    Crikey BK, I thought you might’ve passed the baton/pen/keyboard to a team mate rather than write a single word about the beetrooter affair.
    On Wednesday the 7th you were quoted here running a line that this whole thing was off-limits,private,personal,highly classified, Secret White Man Business and in no way was it in the public interest blah,blah,blah…

  5. Richard

    Not only is it bullshit. Had she not exhausted her capacity for humiliating herself by successfully coupling with Beetroot Man (oh, the potential for mind snapping imagery there!!), his (Not) partner could have be deeply humiliating and hurt by this throw-away line. Willing home wrecker or not, she must be very distressed by the lack of public support by her inseminator.
    I feel very sad on numerous levels for the innocent product of this messy mating.

  6. brian crooks

    barny and his mad pack of nationals are busy making a pair of concrete boots for mal trumbles to take him swimming, the plan is remove the truffle man, the mad right of the liberal party will then put a new leader in and bring Abbott back into the ministry, there will be plenty of vacancies after all the trumble supporters are removed, if this doesn`t work then the hard right will split and join bernadi`s party along with the nats, they might even be able to coach a few of Pauline`s rednecks to join them in a coalition, trumble and the moderates in the liberal party are on borrowed time.

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