Australian politics entered unprecedented territory late this morning when Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce emerged to savage the Prime Minister for his criticisms of Joyce yesterday. At this point, the future of the federal Coalition is unclear.

In a remarkable statement, Joyce called Turnbull “inept” for his “completely unnecessary” comments about Joyce which would “basically pull the scab off to everybody to have a look at” and cause further harm.

Joyce also blamed the media for the scandal over his relationship with a former staffer and suggested journalists were placing his life at risk by showing the free townhouse he is currently living in as a gift from his friend Greg Maguire. Joyce said he would support the Prime Minister’s new ministerial standard banning sex between ministers and staffers but warned it would provide “fodder” for journalists.

Joyce’s stunning riposte to his Prime Minister — the man whose government Joyce has repeatedly undermined through his own mistakes and errors of judgment — means that both men have now squared off in a battle over personal morality that will shake the federal Coalition to its foundation. It is hard to see how any working relationship between the two men can continue given the astonishing site of leader and deputy attacking one another.

But with Nationals MPs locked in behind Joyce — and apparently even more so in the wake of Turnbull’s attack yesterday — there is no ready resolution to what is now the greatest crisis in the federal Coalition since the Joh-For-PM campaign in the 1980s. But that occurred while the Coalition was in opposition. This is in government — although how much longer this shambles can be called a government isn’t clear now that it has descended into open conflict.

There are genuinely uncharted political waters. And all driven by the profound misjudgment and monumental ego of Barnaby Joyce.

Peter Fray

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