View From The Hill: How Does David Littleproud Handle the latest Barnaby Joyce Embarrassment?

What to do about Barnaby? That’s the question facing Nationals leader David Littleproud after the former deputy prime minister was videoed sprawled on a Canberra street following too many drinks at a couple of Parliament House functions last week.

Barnaby Joyce had fallen off a planter box. The footage showed him still talking on his phone. He was speaking to his wife Vikki Campion. In colourful language, as he lay prone, he was berating himself for his situation.

Joyce said later he was “embarrassed”. The explanation being given is that the alcohol didn’t mix with medication he is on. (Apparently the functions, incidentally, were run by the hoteliers and the wine producers.)

On Sunday Joyce said he didn’t want to say anything more.

Barnaby Joyce blamed mixing a “prescription drug” with alcohol after he was seen lying on his back on a footpath in Canberra mumbling into his phone in a viral video. Credit: supplied.
Barnaby Joyce blamed mixing a “prescription drug” with alcohol after he was seen lying on his back on a footpath in Canberra mumbling into his phone in a viral video. Credit: supplied.

Campion and some Coalition colleagues have criticised the fact the person shot a video rather than giving Joyce some help. It’s a fair point, but Littleproud would know it is not the real point. Especially in these times, when there has been a great deal of scrutiny on the conduct of MPs and staffers, this sort of behaviour just reinforces the negative image of politicians.

It is not as though this is a one-off instance of Joyce being in trouble. He has a litany of scandals and scrapes behind him.

Joyce is the opposition spokesman for veterans affairs. We don’t hear a lot from him on that subject. But he has high visibility.

Last week we saw him on the ABC’s Nemesis series, launching into Malcolm Turnbull for the former prime minister’s public attack on Joyce’s affair with Campion, who had worked in his office. Turnbull as a result famously announced the so-called “bonk ban”, prohibiting ministers having sex with their staff. Joyce, also caught up in other controversy at the time, ended up quitting the Nationals leadership and the deputy prime ministership.

Also last week, he was prominent at a demonstration against renewables.

Anthony Albanese is applying some pressure over the videoed incident. “People will certainly make their own judgments on that. People will see that footage, they will look for an explanation that […] has some credibility, and they’ll look for leadership from the leader of the Liberal Party and the leader of the National Party about this.

“I think people will also think to themselves, what would the response be if that was a minister in my government being seen to be behaving in that way?”

Opposition leader Peter Dutton plans to speak with Joyce. But as a National, Joyce is squarely Littleproud’s problem. However, as they say, it’s complicated.

If Littleproud disciplined Joyce – for example by removing him from the frontbench – he potentially could make trouble for himself.

Most obviously, he would lose a frontbench position which he couldn’t hang onto because the Nationals are over their quota within the Coalition. (Some say that could be a positive, because the Nationals are likely to lose a position in the next reshuffle anyway.)

More seriously, Joyce has his tribal supporters, in a divided party. They would defend him to the hilt, claiming this sort of unfortunate thing could happen to anyone (the counter argument is that it always seems to happen to Barnaby).

Among some Nationals, there’s the feeling Joyce is stalking the leader. Not that that is new either.

On the other hand, what will people think in Nationals heartland about the standards the party promotes? Or will they simply dismiss the matter, saying “that’s just Barnaby”?

The Conversation

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