Barnaby's 'Nothingburger' Of An Interview Won't Stop The 'Circus'
Heavy on cute baby pictures, light on any serious detail or answers.
It was billed as a tell-all, an opportunity for Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion to answer the questions that linger over their relationship and how it was carried out while their salaries came from the taxpayer, to give the answers Australians had been asking for and to move on with their lives.
But while the pair wanted the interview to be a circuit breaker, their ticket to privacy, a kind of band-aid rip to expose themselves to intense media attention in the hope that media attention would then die away, it may have the opposite effect.
Because while the hour-long feature aired on Channel Seven's Sunday Night was heavy on cute baby pictures and scenes of the new couple looking lovey-dovey, it was light on the sort of detail any serious observer wanted to know about:
- were the travel claims and other publicly-funded entitlements enjoyed by Joyce and Campion all above board?
- what were the circumstances that led Campion to be shuttled between the offices of Joyce and fellow Nationals MPs Matt Canavan and Damian Drum?
- why did Joyce campaign for re-election in the New England by-election as deputy Prime Minister when, as he said in the interview, he "just knew straight away... I was gonna lose my job as the deputy prime minister"?
Instead, we got questions about whether Joyce was good at changing nappies.
This is not some Hollywood celebrity baby that fans were dying to get images of, to coo and fawn over. To be blunt, Sebastian is an interesting -- and, yes, admittedly cute -- footnote to the wider public interest story here. That the above questions were not just skated over, but avoided entirely, was disappointing. Veteran political analyst and national affairs editor of Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper, Dennis Atkins, called the interview a "nothingburger".
Sunday Night supplied us with some great pictures of a baby boy and a new family finding its way in the world, but did not shed light on any of the most pressing political points. In that way, it means the Joyce controversy will not fade away anytime soon.
Because it was never about the baby. It was never about the intimate details of their relationship. Many have enjoyed casting comment from on high about the morals of cheating on wives and fiances and the rest, but those are all simply footnotes to this story.
It all comes back to power, hubris and money. Were the pair abusing taxpayer-funded entitlements to carry on their affair? One of the first hard questions posed to them last night, which both deflected, was about when the affair started.
This isn't just a tabloid gossip question, to get into the minutiae and gritty details of their relationship. The question goes to how long Joyce directly employed the woman he was in a relationship with, the woman who travelled constantly on the taxpayer dime. It goes to further questions about whether any improper decisions were made about slapping the company credit card down for hotels, meals, flights and more.
Secondly, we are still none the wiser about how and why Campion was shipped from Joyce's office to the offices of some of Joyce's closest confidantes, those being his ally Canavan and the Nationals party whip Drum. As previous reporting has detailed, those MPs already had highly-paid media advisors on staff. Why did they need another?
In the absence of comment from Joyce or Campion, these personnel arrangements have been seen as attempts to cover up their relationship, or at least shield it from scrutiny. No answer to these questions were aired.
Third, and most importantly for some, Joyce hit the campaign trail for the New England by-election late last year -- a poll forced by his dual citizenship, which would prove to be only the second-biggest scandal the Tamworth MP would face -- campaigning as the deputy Prime Minister.
In the Sunday Night interview, Joyce claimed that, on hearing the news that Campion was pregnant, "I just knew straight away that.. I was gonna lose my job as the deputy prime minister". Let's leave aside the fact Joyce took more than two weeks to resign after the news of Campion's pregnancy became public, and only then under extreme pressure from colleagues, and go to the idea of honesty in campaigning.
Campion said she learned she was pregnant in "late winter last year", which we can take to mean July or August. Joyce says he knew "straight away" he would lose the deputy Prime Ministership. So why didn't he think this was a pertinent fact to reveal to the voters of New England while he was campaigning through November for the December 2 poll? The voters thought they were casting a vote for the deputy PM, when in fact the man himself knew that title was soon to disappear -- it was only a matter of timing.
"I accept that there were public interest questions, definitely," Campion said in criticising media outlets for their intrusion into the new couple's lives. But despite that admission, very few answers relating to the public interest were revealed.
We don't know any more about any public spending incurred during their time working in the parliament; we don't know why or how Campion was pinballed between political offices; and we don't know why Joyce didn't feel the need to reveal a very important detail about his working future, a revelation he knew was salacious enough to bring him down, to the New England voters. These are legitimate questions to ask of the nation's former deputy PM, so don't expect them to float off into the ether.
"It got to a point where we had to end the circus", Campion said on Sunday, as one of her reasons for agreeing to the interview. Despite their best hopes, the lack of answers means the "circus" probably won't be ending any time soon.