There are a number of good reasons why Barnaby Joyce should not merely not return to the Deputy Prime Ministership but leave politics — as, indeed, so many of his colleagues urged him to do a few months ago as his behaviour became increasingly deranged.
There’s the fact that Malcolm Turnbull’s recovery only really began when Joyce was ousted as Nationals leader and he no longer had influence over the government’s policy direction and presentation, providing hard evidence that Joyce was a problem, not a solution, to the Coalition’s woes. There’s the fact that Joyce left behind a number of major policy problems from his rotten administration of the Agriculture portfolio, including allowing sheep to be boiled alive in their own shit for profit, and corruption and maladministration in the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
And there’s the serious matter of the unresolved sexual harassment complaint brought against him, and the convenient “no finding” conclusion by his own party. Even press gallery journalists seem to forget Joyce resigned not because of his extra-marital relationship — the revelation of which has never been justified as being in the national interest, despite the media handing itself awards for it — but because of a complaint of sexual harassment that the Nationals apparently would like us to forget about.
It is unacceptable for any figure with such an unresolved complaint hanging over them to come to high office, whatever the degradation of standards of public life that have been inflicted by Donald Trump in the United States. But while the matter of whether Joyce engaged in sexual harassment remains unproven, what is far clearer is that the Coalition embarking on yet another leadership change — its sixth since entering government five years ago — will be a final demonstration to a jaded electorate that everything it thinks is wrong with politics is true. Politicians really are only in it for themselves, they really are disconnected from the real world, they really are obsessed with silly internal games.
Much of this isn’t true. Believe it or not, a great many politicians on all sides are there because they actually want to make Australia better, as they see it. But that doesn’t stop the navel-gazing, the revolving door leadership, the game-playing that overtakes them en masse in Canberra. And the return of Joyce would expose as a particularly ridiculous lie Scott Morrison’s insistence that Malcolm Turnbull’s ouster was merely some sort of blip that we should all just move on from, that he’s getting on with governing, that he’s on voters’ side. A good chunk of Morrison’s colleagues — who complained two months ago about the Liberals’ leadership debacle — are now determining whether they’re on Barnaby’s side or Michael’s side.
There’s no point asking when these people will learn. They won’t. And they’ll keep alienating voters until it stops being Pauline Hanson and the racists eating their lunch and she’s replaced with someone far more dangerous, someone yet unknown but with greater skills and a functioning brain, someone ready to gorge themselves on the disaffection and anger created in the electorate by a profoundly self-indulgent political class.