MEMO TO BARNABY: ‘Staying quiet would be a good idea now’
THE panel tried valiantly to talk about bullying, and Michaelia Cash, and ISIS and Adani and the Tasmanian election result, but in the end, the ABC's Q&A; was always going to be about Barnaby.
The only surprise was it took 20 minutes before they arrived at the subject.
But when they did, the feeling was unanimous: Memo Barnaby: Just. Stop. Talking.
After a weekend in which Barnaby Joyce - the former deputy PM, who, despite resigning a week ago and asking for privacy - had given an interview saying there was a "grey area" over whether he is the biological father of partner Vikki Campion's baby, both sides of politics agreed it might be best if he stopped talking now.
As did Sharri Markson - the author of the original story outing Joyce's affair and the fact that Campion is pregnant.
As Deputy Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek put it: "I think if I were advising Barnaby Joyce, I would think staying quiet would be good idea."
As stories were surfacing elsewhere of Campion's ex rejecting any suggestions the baby was his, Plibersek was advising Mr Joyce to stop giving interviews: "He's feeding the hand that bites him at the moment."
The Q&A panel of Plibersek; Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity, Angus Taylor; Greens leader Richard Di Natale, author Kamila Shamsie and Markson opened proceedings by tackling the issue privacy in the wake of Michaelia Cash's threat to expose rumours female staffers in Parliament last week, so it was always going to spill into the Joyce debate.
Ms Plibersek said Ms Cash has "overstepped the bounds of common decency" with her threats and taken too long to withdraw the comments.
"We can stand up for ourselves, but staff don't have that opportunity to set the record straight," she said.
Mr Di Natale said the furore exposed a "really macho, toxic" parliamentary culture that is "especially tough for women".
Markson said the comments certainly weren't going to encourage women "to want to enter politics, either as a politician or a political staffer".
"It was a brutal wake-up call for ... very smart, bright women," Markson said.
"Why would they enter a career in politics, why would the next generation want to ... when they'll be accused of these unsubstantiated slurs?"
By the time Plibersek had made the point that, "If you're a man seen alone [in Canberra] with a young woman now, the assumption is automatically to this rumour stuff. That's a real problem," it was clear the Barnaby question wasn't far away.
It came from an audience member, who challenged Ms Markson on why Mr Joyce didn't deserve the same level of privacy "surrounding his private life and offered the same courtesy you believe the targets of Michaelia Cash's rant does?"
Ms Markson said they were two completely different topics.
"In the one instance with Michaelia Cash, she threatened to name young women who are the subject of rumour when nothing had been proven at all and they are not public figures. And it's not even true as far as I'm aware," Ms Markson said.
"In the other instance, you had the Deputy PM of the country ... who has conservative family values, has campaigned against same-sex marriage, has campaigned against a vaccine because it might make women more promiscuous, a Deputy PM who has left his wife and four daughters for a media adviser who is now pregnant.
"Not only that, but then authorised, so he signed off on the creation of new jobs for her with two politicians within his own party. While living for six months in a free rental from a National Party donor. The two things couldn't be more different."
Ms Markson said Mr Joyce, "when he was Deputy PM, deserved every ounce of scrutiny that we in the media apply to him. His family didn't and we were very respectful to his wife and his four daughters. We never once hassled them".
"In that role he deserved every ounce of scrutiny and politicians, when they go into this job, they know they need to be accountable to voters," she said.
#QandA if politics inspired us rather than slaughtering each other we might be more engaged.— Dr. Jessica Revill (@Heartmenders1) March 5, 2018
Ms Shamsie said it was fair game "if you're going to make a big deal about being all 'family values', then you're setting yourself up for someone to come at you".
"It's very striking to me that in Britain Jeremy Corbyn's wife is never seen with him. They made a conscious effort that he's not going to do that. He's not going to use his marriage or wife, she will not hold his hand or make tea for interviewers or do anything of that sort.
"So if someone is doing that, if they're putting themselves forward in that way, then I'm afraid they are opening themselves up and their private life to scrutiny."
Host Tony Jones said the Joyce affair was the biggest political story of the year, but asked if, now that he has stepped down, is it time to leave him alone.
Ms Plibersek said while people have a right to their private lives, "they don't have a right to spend taxpayers' money in any way they choose without accounting for it. They don't have a right to fail to disclose gifts from donors, That's our [the Labor Party's] only interest.
"The Labor Party has not been interested in his personal life. I feel sorry for everybody involved," she added, suggesting now might be the time for Barnaby to stop giving interviews.
A LOW THING TO DO
Mr Di Natale said it was time to give the "family or families in a very difficult situation time to process what's happened". But he was astounded at Mr Joyce's weekend "grey area" of paternity revelations.
"I have to say, having read his comments over the weekend, I was lost for words," he said.
"I thought it was a particularly low thing to do, to accuse somebody of that.
"And at this point I think there's the welfare of former staffer, family with four kids, a child and I think we should just let them get on and sort out what is a very difficult situation."