Sunday, 18 February 2018 

David Rowe AFR

I am not here to moralise.

Turnbull, 15 February 2018

This creeping notion that women need protection from men, that we are weak creatures against men’s rampant desire for sex, is not good for women. It’s regressive.

Gay Alcorn, Guardian

Over the last couple of weeks political journalists have been conducting a debate on the ethics of reporting Joyce’s private life that has perhaps been a little pompous as ultimately the decision of what they write about and get published will depend on the newspapers and media outlets that generally employ them.

There has been humbug. Some claimed that there was public interest just as there would be if Turnbull had had an affair. Well yes. There would have been prurient interest in it, no doubt, but attempts to apply that to the usual meaning of “public interest” are unconvincing. There were rumours that Curtin had long-running affairs while he was married, but would knowing the nitty grits of him and Belle at the Kurrajong Hotel have been needed to judge his competence as wartime Prime Minister?

In reality the debate is reflecting a broader one: how do political journalists cover politics that is unravelling, and how far do they follow it down the rabbit hole of reporting on the sex lives of the generally unattractive occupants of Capital Hill?

The Nationals exemplify that unravelling, being a party that more than the other major parties has long ago lost its role but remains at the centre of the political establishment. The Country Party, as it was then called, was formed in the 1920s to represent rural business interest diverging from their metropolitan brethren, especially on tariffs and devaluation, but by the 1970s and early 1980s the slashing of tariffs and floating of the dollar had made it redundant.

Having lost its role representing sectional interests, the Country party did what political parties usually do, become an ideological cause and try to find an audience for it. In the 1980s it changed its name to the Nationals, posing as a social conservative bulwark against the Labor government and the Peacock leadership on issues like AIDS and immigration. This ballooned to farce with the Joh for PM push in 1987. After that fiasco, the Nationals leader Ian Sinclair was dumped and his replacement toned down the rhetoric and tacked closer to the Peacock Liberals.

That was even less successful, and the leader lost his seat at the following year’s election in 1990. There then followed a series of leaders who no one can remember the name of. This has not stopped the rot, and the Nationals have seen the loss of formerly safe seats to independents and other parties – just as Labor is now also experiencing.

The destabilising impact of established parties losing safe seats cannot be over-estimated. It erodes the whole system of internal patronage and central control. It has left National MPs to fend for themselves and rely increasingly on a personal following. Hence the rise of the “maverick” or “retail” National politician, like Joyce, that begins to resemble the independents that threaten to replace them. This comes less from any real connection Joyce has with the electorate but rather a distancing from the political elite with their la-di-dah articulateness and effete ability to string a sentence together.

Bringing Joyce to the leadership was intended to lend what is a fairly obtuse conservative cause some “retail” and the impression that it is backed by real Australians out there, somewhere. This might work on a local level but as another major party found out, putting someone who pitches himself as against the traditional political class into the leadership can be fraught. It has left Joyce isolated and vulnerable to two symptoms of a broader unravelling.

The first was the breakdown in the long running Parliamentary consensus to ignore the citizenship requirements of Section 44 (i) of the Constitution, which forced him to the New England by-election. The second was the breakdown of consensus not to delve into senior politicians’ private lives which held until very recently, and curiously only ended after the recent by-elections when the Prime Minister’s Office was assured that its slim majority remained intact.

Some commentary has suggested that Turnbull’s attack on Joyce has backfired and Joyce has now dug in. But that’s what was happening already on the hope it was going to blow over.

Even stranger has been the argument that Turnbull has damaged the relationship between him and Joyce with Joyce having backed him against the Liberal right. It forgets that Joyce was never a fan of Turnbull taking over from Abbott and immediately after he did so applied conditions to the continuing of the Coalition, which we may never know but can surely guess. It also over-estimates how much Turnbull needs Joyce’s protection from the right even if it exists. It is another example of the under-estimation how damaged the right is, presumably because it is mostly down to an event that neither the right nor left want to acknowledge, the vote for same sex marriage – a disgraceful assertion of public will that last week a committee in the Senate, that pinnacle of Australian democracy, assured us would not happen again if it can help it.

By turning all the issues swirling around Joyce into an old-fashioned morality issue, Turnbull has not only deflected attention away from the more awkward accusations of rorting, but now put the Nationals and the social conservatives on the Liberal right, like Andrews, in the position of having to defend the last thing they want to defend.

But what was more interesting was how Turnbull did it.

It’s been forgotten that the idea for the “bonking ban” wasn’t raised by Turnbull but independent MP Cathy McGowan, and supported by the Greens, following a similar move in the US House of representatives in response to the “Me Too” campaign.

But any connection between Joyce’s affair and what the Me Too is supposed to be about is incomprehensible. There is not the slightest hint that Vikki Campion is having a baby with Joyce and living with him under anything but full consent, precisely the consent that has been denied in the rape and sexual assault allegations that prompted the Me Too campaign.

Unfortunately, instead of posing any real institutional challenge that couldn’t be accommodated in a Hollywood awards ceremony, the direction of Me Too has turned inwards onto one of personal behaviour and morality. This is what Greer and Deneuve warned about, resulting in two leading feminists from a generation that risked a lot (Deneuve her career and imprisonment) and achieved a lot, especially on abortion, being condescendingly ticked off by today’s media feminists who in Australia have not achieved very much at all, especially on abortion.

With his purple ribbon on, what Turnbull did in the Parliamentary courtyard was to take the left-feminist approach approved by McGowan and the Greens and fuse with it good old fashioned moral conservatism to expose Joyce and the Nationals on their own ground. As Gay Alcorn has nicely noted in the Guardian, the result is something that could have been written in the fifties, with the codes of conduct and the protection of helpless women that Greer and Deneuve did so much to break down and today’s regressive feminists have now helped to restore.

The right may still wreak revenge on Turnbull for what he did last week, but they have been further weakened by it. Joyce is clearly finished and the “retail” experiment may be over. But what will the Nationals then replace him with?

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Sunday, 18 February 2018.

Filed under State of the parties, Tactics

Tags: , ,


6 responses to “Retail”

  1. Doug on 18th February 2018 11:17 am

    A stronger PM would have called Joyce’s bluff back in September 2015 when the 30th negative Newspoll appeared and Abbott was rolled.
    Turnbull, scarred by Joyce’s interference in the Liberal Party room which saw him rolled for Abbott, no doubt had already checked with Joyce before he rolled Abbott and, as a supplicant seeking Joyce’s imprimatur, was apparently only too willing to sign away everything he had previously declared as his principles other than wanting to be PM. Hence the secret Coalition Agreement, as dictated by Joyce.
    Turnbull clearly wasn’t prepared to do another stint as Opposition Leader following an inevitable Labor win in the 2016 election, so in the spirit of carpe diem, went supine in the face of Joyce’s demands.
    His alternative would have been to point out to Joyce the inevitable electoral defeat the Abbott-led Coalition was facing and calling the shots himself. As has been reported elsewhere, a number of Libs told him not to accede to Joyce’s demands – after all, where else could Joyce go if he wanted to stay in power and collect $400k every year.
    Turnbull is finishing as he started – weak and dithering. Joyce should be finished not because of his personal life, but because of his ministerial incompetence, which has been spelled out very succinctly in the editorial in The Saturday Paper of 17 February.

  2. Doug on 18th February 2018 12:50 pm

    For your reading pleasure, I am re-posting a contribution from the Comments section of Crikey, posted by Jack Robertson
    February 16, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    It’s an economic showdown, if you arx me. Scratch away the laughably prissy bullsh*t about sex in the workplace and it’s a snapping – one hopes – of the ideological tension that’s been building for yonks. The depth of distrust and resentment in the National Party at the Spiv Economics of Born-To-Rule Liberals like Turnbull is the thing that’s no longer coalition-viable. I for one – remote country boy, sure, with a lot of dumbly-ingrained sympathy for our polity’s Barnaby Joyces, maybe even affection – wouldn’t mind seeing the end of the Coalition in my lifetime, not one bit. Not the way the Libs have gone. It hasn’t been a good fit for decades. If Joyce has stones he might even pick up the phone to Bill Shorten, right about now. Why not? See how Turnbull goes forming government without the eternal butt of LNP jokes; the hillbillies from the bush, the sheep town dopes, the rural village fools, the smelly farm oiks with their one good suit and the cowsh*t on their RM’s, a-ripe for a big city taking for a-ride. Ho ho ho, look at the hayseed morons from Sh*tsville we clever metro wide boys have to put up with…

    F*ck the Liberal Party. Why not? To any Nat with an ounce of self-respect Turnbull’s Head Prefect D*ck Act of yesterday was surely nauseating, in all its lifted-nose, coiffed-hair disdaining glory: condescending, morally sanctimonious (but only selectively and belatedly), gutlessly weather-vaning in the p*ssant winds of electoral expediency. An opinion poll on Joyce’s approval rating was all it took to turn him into Mrs Curtain Twitcher at number 22, appallingly dressed up as #MeToo ‘leadership’, 100% Turnbull style: strictly from the rear, post-stoush, post-risk, bereft of conviction, all pantomime Debating Club smarm. How pathetic that the gallery would largely gullet this garbage narrative without even a frisson of nauseous aftertaste. The debasement of public life: jesus, how much lower can this sh*tshackled cast of fourth rate polly-n-press mediocrities drive us all? And how can we turn the whole rubbish show off?

    There’s something truly sick-making, though, about the Head Boy crap: about being lectured on ‘morality’ by a wealthy, fairweather opportunist who made his dubious fast fortune by a) chucking some spare cash at someone else’s good idea and sitting back on his arse until b) a total fraudster chucked (Someone Else’s) Stupid Money at his chunk at the lying height of the Spiv IT con, then c) bailing out with his grotesquely bloated cut, then d) parking it mostly in unproductive property and faraway spiv accounts, then e) strutting his anointed way casually into the Lodge as a brilliant ‘capitalist’, like he was Dale Carnegie. Except that Malcolm Turnbull isn’t a ‘successful businessman’, is he (or, except for our times): He’s a spiv; a hustler; a pump-n-dump flim-flam artist, like most others among our current corporate leadership, squawking for their next tax cut/handout (“More please, more! More, more, more…’)

    Lecture us on morality? Yeah right. Like that of so many other ‘self-made’ men of his era, the PM’s defining ‘successful business fortune’ is profoundly immoral, if you can only vomit up the koolaid we’ve all apparently drunk: it came straight out of the massed life savings accounts of a multitude of duped small investors, in his case by way of WorldCom and corporate crook Bernie Ebbers. Turnbull the businessman is ‘successful’, sure, but only as the quintessence, the functional uber-model, the perfect individual manifestation of the utterly un-moral, sustained economic theft that has now brought the western democratic world to the edge of unviable electoral implosion. And to stave off the deserved economic reckoning for their rank greed and duplicity that is at least twenty years overdue, these…suited fakes contrive up evermore fantastical ‘social’ and ‘political’ reckonings – for others. Always, with others as the focus of moral condemnation. Identity politics, terrorism, unions, political correctness, even attacks on the ‘politics of envy’ and ‘class warfare’ itself (the f*cking audacity of them)…and all things sex, too, of course. Of course, sex.

    And how they ditch all erstwhile allies as required, as they glide oikishly down this expedient path. So sure…eventually, inevitably…well, now it’s the Nationals. Yep, ho ho, now even the socially-redneck Nationals know what it feels like to be the target of the well-to-do Lib’s moralising sleight-of-hand (rather than its usual enthusiastic, loyal second): the rich getting us to aim our disapproving eyes anywhere but at their own grotesque, civically ruinous greed.

    Welcome aboard, Nationals! Welcome aboard the good ship diversion.

    Barnaby Joyce may be a lot of unpleasant things, and whatever fate awaits him he has no-one much to blame but himself. You sow, you reap. But like most National Party coalition members since Thatcherism took hold of the planet, he’s had to navigate a political lifetime of making a virtue of – and/or making the best of – a brand of immoral, scorched earth economic spivvery that has positively savaged the regions and the scrub, the Australian communities that rely existentially more than any on the exact antithesis of neoliberal economics: on networks of people acting communally, for a greater good (collective local happiness, local betterment…simple local survival); on functioning mutual obligations between interdependent citizens (not atomised ‘consumers’); on a selfless effacement of individual ambition; on generational continuity, on ‘safety in numbers’, on slow, sustainable economic long-termism. Much of the allegedly ‘new’ economics – freer trade, globalised markets, agricultural modernisation and adaption – have been in no way inconsistent with this bread-n-butter stuff of rural life; in no way automatically bad for the ‘Nats heartland’ (do you really think country people are pig ignorant, reactionary hillbillies, too stupid and scared to ever change anything?). Nope: globalisation and the National Party can work together just fine. It’s been the ferociously toxic, utterly opportunistic add-ons of neoliberal ‘economics’ – the cult of personal greed, the arcane financial chicanery, the senseless privatisation of viable public infrastructure (for the sake of consultant fees, carve-up slices, deals, ASX games), the multinational giganticism – that’s killed the bush…and it’s been exactly these things, not the authentic pluses of freer trade, that have enriched the big end of town’s battalions of self-satisfied ‘ersatz capitalists’, all these faux-‘successful businessmen’ exactly like the PM.

    So sure, Joyce is morally flawed; maybe a hypocrite, maybe even a bit of a grub, or a bad drunk, or just hopeless, for all I know. But whatever his clearly multiple faults, I’ll take their kind over the deep-seated (but deeply buried) nastiness, the ruthless (but icily gentrified) self-servery, the odiously-projected delusions of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ and ‘rationality’ spewed forth by the Head Boys of the modern-day Liberal Party. Any day of the week. I watched Turnbull’s sermon on workplace sex the other day, I wanted to punch him in the head. And I’m a very gentle country boy who would never hurt a fly.

    I just will not be lectured about ‘morality’ by the economically-thieving Malcolm Turnbulls of Australia. And I hope the National Party finally has the collective guts to tell him and his spiv chums to go shove their coalition up their silk-trousered a*ses. It would be much more civil than everything else than has emerged in this truly base week.

  3. F on 18th February 2018 1:13 pm

    Joyce his a terrible politician, he is a punchline, and his so called retail value is nothing more than the ability to garner millions from wealthy weirdo donors like Gina and feed a largely decrepit and lazy Gallery sound bites.

    He had no real challenger in New England, and shockingly, the media played very nice indeed. All this nonsense about “not having a verifiable source” is just that: nonsense. The recent coming to light of this is backed by exactly nothing in the way of sources. What was stopping them months ago.

    Typically, the media initially made it all about them and their so called integrity. This is still happening; should they or should they not report such affairs? How about they report and analyse the quite obvious abuses of power displayed in the employment of Campion and the use of taxpayer monies for the most personal of reasons, sex.

  4. Doug on 18th February 2018 4:44 pm

    F – indeed. No-one can expect us to believe that Joyce’s daughters driving around Tamworth traducing him for his personal behaviour was not newsworthy. Turnbull’s one seat majority had to be protected, and it was.

  5. Not Trampis on 20th February 2018 10:07 am

    Can I add something here as a token social conservative.

    I have written about this at my place but here goes
    Joyce is the leader of a p[arty that has upholding family values and the institution of marriage front and centre which I applaud.

    As long as Joyce is leader that is now seen as shite for everyone to see. The Nationals are the same as the ALP!!

    They are highly vulnerable to one nation because of this ( losing to the ALP on preferences).
    Joyce is now seen to have lied to:
    his wife,
    his children,
    His PM ,
    his electorate
    he is also seen as not being a catholic at all!

    The reason this is important is because for a social conservative there is no private life. your public and private life is the same.

    He is also a fraud on trying to portray himself as a farmer. He was an accountant. No more no less. He appears not to have any framers as clients which is bewildering.
    He got his family to go from Queensland to NSW for political reasons.
    His arguments in the same sex fiasco can be seen as shite as well together with being a strict catholic!

    If Tony Windsor finds a independent who is genuinely a family values man then Joyce will be toast in New England?!

  6. Raine on 21st February 2018 1:51 pm

    Great stuff Doug
    Your point about the media enabling his re election is right.
    The re post from Jack Robertson’s epic also head hurtingly good.

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