If you thought Barnaby was going to just fade into the background, think again …

Barnaby Joyce has always been effective at exploiting the media. He had a product that they lapped up: a confected “authenticity”; the accountant and Riverview alumnus posed as a salt of the earth, true blue old-style Nat, complete with Bjelke-esque gabble. Journalists loved the maverick pose and then, when he surrendered that in a quest for the leadership of his party, they loved his “plain speaking” and his readiness to offer a quote on anything. Joyce became the front bar monarch reigning with a schooner instead of a sceptre in the local pub. He was good copy, and he knew it. He and the media existed in a perfect symbiotic relationship.

That Joyce was entirely without substance, a man of poor judgement, a man given to the making extraordinarily damaging statements off the top of his head, a believer in kooky conspiracy theories, rubbish science and half-arsed economic ideas, never troubled the media. Few questioned his rise to the deputy prime ministership; few wondered how good an idea it was that a man of such apparently limited intellect — and little to no common sense — should be a key figure in cabinet. “Best retail politician in the country” we were told, a bloke who could channel rural Australia like one of those overpriced, taxpayer-funded irrigation channels Joyce got for his irrigator mates channelled water.

The government is still, months on from his departure, cleaning up his mess. The live export debacle, which still has a way to go despite the government’s efforts to pretend everything will be fine, is Joyce’s doing, 100%. He’s the reason why the disgraceful shiny bums in the Department of Agriculture failed to do their job of regulating that brutal trade. He’s responsible for the environment that gave us the footage of sheep being cooked to death in their own shit on the Awassi Express.

Which turns out to be an apt metaphor for what Joyce did to his own career. He gave the media a priceless gift: a real-life, actual sex scandal, complete with offspring and resignation, one that tore the government apart and obsessed the media for weeks. As yet, we still lack any public interest justification for the original publication; no form of misconduct or breaches of rules have been revealed, but that was quickly swept aside by the government’s spectacular mishandling of the aftermath (remember the effort to turn it into a character assault on Bill Shorten?) and then the open warfare between Turnbull and his deputy.

And it’s a gift that will keep on giving — courtesy of Turnbull’s bonk ban, the media are now freed from having to bother justifying publishing details of political affairs. Generations of journalists — each one smaller than the one before as the media dies — can toast Turnbull and Joyce for the excuse of running lurid headlines about Canberra affairs.

But now, Joyce is exploiting the media again, to the tune of $150,000. Suddenly, they don’t like it. There’s industrial-scale tut-tutting across the media. They’ve fallen out of love with Barnaby, even as he continues to deliver for them. Joyce is simultaneously suing News Corp for revealing the affair, they point out, as if Joyce had ever been consistent before. It’s distracting for the government, they note, as if Joyce had been a model of stability and discipline before. You can’t be in parliament but make money from media interviews, they argue, as if this good friend of Gina Rinehart has ever been pedantic about probity. 

Give us a break; $150,000 is cheap for what Joyce has delivered the media over the years, and the media has never been reluctant to take it. Joyce is their man, their creation. They owe him a lot more than $150,000.

How much blame do you think the media should shoulder for the Barnaby fiasco? Let us know by writing to us at [email protected].

Peter Fray

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