I have made no secret of my opinion about Barnaby Joyce. Perhaps the most egregious issue for me relates to his, and his party’s, handling of the confidential complaint about his conduct by Catherine Marriott.
When a person acts in a way that causes offence or hurt, even without intending to cause offence or hurt, it is behaviour that must be acknowledged, and amends must be made. Both Mr Joyce and the National Party have denied any wrongdoing in relation to Catherine Marriott, which is, in itself, a serious problem.
Oddly, this political strategy of denial has found some sympathy in the community. It seems there is an underlying concern about the trial by media that plays out when high profile people are accused publicly of sexual misconduct. People seem to lose sight of the seriousness of the alleged behaviour instead being captured by the discomfort of the very public discussion about it.
I have taken time to consider the arguments put to me in relation to Mr Joyce’s innocence. The common theme is that the National Party could not make a determination in relation to the alleged incident and because he hasn’t been found guilty, he must be innocent. There are also some perceptions that the investigation was undermined by the trial by media.
Let’s put some context around the issues.
Ms Marriott made a confidential complaint to the National Party that was ultimately leaked to the media. She did not ever desire or intend for a trial by media. It is much more likely that her complaint was used politically by agents inside the Nationals or the Liberal Party.
The leak confirming the confidential complaint and identity of the complainant was a terrible betrayal of Ms Marriott that punished her and tainted the public perceptions around the complaint.
The publication of the complaint and the complainant gave Mr Joyce a platform to address the issues publicly and promptly. He labelled the allegation “spurious and defamatory” and immediately turned the issue into a “he said, she said” affair.
- Catherine Marriott ‘collateral damage’ of Coalition infighting
- Marriott “extremely disappointed” by Joyce harassment findings
I would argue that Mr Joyce has made some damning errors in how he has responded to the allegation and to the outcome of the Nationals’ investigation. He and the Nationals created a trial by media and arguably lost.
First, and most importantly, there was an incident. Something happened. It caused great distress in a competent rural leader with an impeccable reputation. In turn she felt compelled to lodge a formal complaint about it. The Nationals investigation then found that Ms Marriott was credible and clearly distressed.
It is entirely possible for actions or comments to be misconstrued. So, if we give Mr Joyce the benefit of the doubt here and consider that he did not intend to offend or distress, how should he respond?
Normal people who have caused distress or offense unintentionally, usually respond with an unreserved apology. This apology would usually be along the lines of:
“I understand that my actions have caused offense, distress and anguish. This was not my intent and for this I offer an unreserved apology. I apologise that my actions could be misconstrued and have inadvertently resulted in such distress. I will do everything in my power to make amends to the person involved. I will undertake to ensure that my actions and/or my circumstances do not allow this kind of misunderstanding to happen again.”
If Mr Joyce was indeed misunderstood, this apology is not an admission of guilt and would have quelled the public interest. His inability to make such an apology speaks much more to the likelihood that he is not innocent.
Mr Joyce’s feigned outrage and insistence that the allegation was spurious and defamatory is problematic.
The allegation was confidential and if an appropriate protocol had been adhered to by the National Party, it would never have seen the light of day and therefore couldn’t be defamatory.
The National Party, with a clear internal conflict of interest, could not declare Mr Joyce innocent. They did not make a determination on the allegation, which is not the same as an exoneration. So spurious is out too.
In the end, all I see is a politician who habitually refuses to take responsibility for his own actions. In his tell all television interview, Mr Joyce famously looked at his infant son and bemoaned how much trouble the child had caused. He blames other people for his political woes with no regard for the fact that inevitably the arguments for his downfall were fuelled by his own actions.
If they won’t sack Barnaby for his treatment of Catherine a Marriott and others, which he won’t even acknowledge let alone apologise for, then they probably use this guy as a role model.— Peter Mailler (@PeteMailler) December 16, 2018
Clearly, Mr Joyce has some staunch support, but a question remains about his effectiveness as a representative of New England or the bush or his party. He has become a key lens through which the rest of the country interpret the values of all country people.
Without contrition, Mr Joyce is unlikely to be able to influence anyone aside from his staunch supporters. It is hard to see what value he can add to the political discourse for regional Australia amidst the ongoing turmoil surrounding the now public and unresolved allegations of sexual misconduct that threaten his legitimacy and will not simply go away.
Mr Joyce’s redemption, if there is to be any, can only begin when he takes responsibility for his own actions. That would be demonstrated by a sincere, unreserved and necessarily convincing apology to Catherine Marriott for the hurt he has caused her, regardless of the circumstances or intention around his offending behaviour.
- Peter Mailler is a third generation livestock and grain farmer from northern NSW. He holds a degree in Agricultural Science and founded the Country Minded political party.
The story Why the Marriott case makes Barnaby’s political future untenable first appeared on Farm Online.