When The Daily Telegraph first reported on Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion’s relationship and soon-to-arrive baby, I actually skipped over the story.
Couldn’t have cared less. Would have preferred to read the funeral notices.
It wasn’t so much the ethical question that was very quickly raised over public interest; I just have a filter that means I care very little about the relationships of people I don’t personally know.
To put it the simplest possible way – who Barnaby Joyce has knocked up doesn’t interest me in the slightest.
Of course, since then, this has become a much bigger story than a yarn about a middle-aged politician and the office affair that led to a baby.
By the way, while I very rarely find myself on this side of a sexism debate, I strongly believe this story would have been handled very differently if the roles were reversed and a female Deputy Prime Minister had fallen pregnant to a junior male staffer. This story has proved we still have a long way to go in how the media and society treats the same situation differently depending on the gender roles related to the specific situation.
What this story has become about is trust and importantly has justified the scepticism that so many people have when it comes to politicians.
The way this has been handled in the past fortnight has well and truly failed the pub test.
And it got worse on Monday when the Prime Minister’s office said this when asked whether the Ministerial Code of Conduct had been broken in relation to the job positions given to Ms Campion: “The Deputy Prime Minister did not breach the Ministerial Code of Conduct because Ms Campion was not his partner at the time of the staff appointments.”
Now we’re in 2018 and having a baby with somebody does not necessarily mean you’re in a relationship.
But given what has been put on the table, it would be hard to argue that Ms Campion didn’t qualify to be called Mr Joyce’s ‘partner’. Maybe the code of common sense needed to be applied.
Either way, it comes across as though a few highly paid media advisors sat around a table and tried to find the best line of absolute spin they could to try to distance the Prime Minister from the whole situation.
The spin machine continued on Tuesday when Mr Joyce made a statement about the ongoing scandal, again using the ‘partner’ technicality in an effort to put himself in the clear.
There is a chance Barnaby Joyce could escape this mess. The fact that it’s a personal issue clearly uncomfortable to discuss means there’s a possibility the whole thing could eventually blow over, especially if no direct evidence emerges that satisfies the Code of Conduct being breached.
Somehow, I don’t think that is how this is going to end.
Malcolm Turnbull is headed overseas next week and it’s been indicated that Mr Joyce will be the Acting Prime Minister. That ensures the story gets yet another angle and another week in the headlines.
Then of course there’s a baby being born in April – perhaps the youngest ever victim of a political scandal.
What initially appeared to be a personal and juicy story that would come and go has emerged as a fully blown unwanted migraine for the Turnbull government.
I’m struggling to see how Mr Joyce survives.
He may well get through this in the short-term, but I can’t fathom how Mr Joyce could confidently lead the Nationals to the next election. The stigma surrounding him will surely be too damaging to the Coalition brand.
Many will argue that at its core this remains a deeply personal issue and Mr Joyce should not be judged on such matters. But times have changed – public figures are very much judged on what happens in their personal lives, especially if it appears the values one has pushed for so long are being questioned.
How will this end?
Mr Joyce will eventually resign; aware that the ongoing whispers have the potential to bring down an election campaign in 2019.
Whether that’s fair or not will be debated for a long time to come. But Mr Joyce could have avoided this by showing the care and judgement we’d expect from a Deputy PM in the first place.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.