News, Culture & Society

Barnaby Joyce: Why Nationals leader is most powerful person in Australian politics right now

When Barnaby Joyce talks, Australia – and the Liberal Party leadership in particular – listens. You can knock him down, but he’ll come back again, stronger. 

Social media companies and environmental activists are also listening carefully to whatever Joyce says. They may not like him, but they can’t avoid dealing with him.

The Nationals’ leader and Deputy Prime Minister’s massive hold on federal politics comes despite his party holding just 16 of the 151 seats in the lower house and five out of 76 in the upper house.

But the lack of numbers does not hold Joyce back – the Liberals need him to remain in power. He knows it and so does Scott Morrison. 

The Liberals’ need is the Nationals’ opportunity, and Joyce exploits that every step of the way, putting National Party voters before the national interest on anything to do with the bush, from addressing climate change to saving koalas. 

But it is his daughter Bridgette’s recent bad experience at the hands of online trolls that has really seen Joyce show just how powerful he is. 

Barnaby Joyce (third from right) with his daughter Bridgette (third from left). former wife Natalie (left) and their other children

Barnaby Joyce (pictured right) with his partner Vikki Campion and their sons Sebastian and Thomas

Barnaby Joyce (pictured right) with his partner Vikki Campion and their sons Sebastian and Thomas

For many, the relationship between the junior and senior partners in the Liberal-National Coalition government is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

But for Joyce, it is the natural order of things. From the day he entered parliament after the 2004 federal election, he has never been shy about his thirst for power. 

The proof of that is he is now in his third stint as Deputy Prime Minister. 

He first stepped down as deputy PM in October 17 when his eligibility for a New Zealand passport caused him to resign, renounce his ties to NZ and face a byelection, which he won easily. 

Some say the relationship between Barnaby Joyce (pictured right) and Scott Morrison (left) is a case of the tail wagging the dog

Some say the relationship between Barnaby Joyce (pictured right) and Scott Morrison (left) is a case of the tail wagging the dog

Not long after, in February 2018, he had to step aside again after his relationship with political staffer Vikki Campion was revealed and he was subject to a formal complaint alleging he had sexually harassed a Western Australian woman.

His party’s investigation into the allegations was unable to make a determination, and its report remains confidential.

Joyce and Campion have since had two sons together, and Joyce also has four daughters with his ex-wife Natalie. 

In 2018 Joyce was replaced by Michael McCormack as Nationals leader, but he saw McCormack as too close to the Liberal Party and challenged him for the leadership on February 4, 2020. He was unsuccessful then, but challenged McCormack again in June 21 this year and was returned as leader of the Nationals and Deputy Prime Minister. 

He wasted no time in making his presence felt again in the corridors of power in Canberra.

Having spent much of his political career as a climate change sceptic, Joyce suddenly last month said he had ‘no problems’ with backing net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – so long as regional communities are protected and fossil fuels continue to supply affordable energy and export sales. 

Then Treasurer Scott Morrison (standing) hands Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (second left) a lump of coal during in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on February 9, 2017

Then Treasurer Scott Morrison (standing) hands Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce (second left) a lump of coal during in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on February 9, 2017

It was a stunning turnaround for a man who looked ecstatic to be holding a lump of coal in parliament on February 9, 2017. But Joyce’s previous firm opposition to doing doing much, if anything, about climate change means everyone listens when he appears to change his mind. 

A year ago, Joyce rushed to defend then NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro for a state policy that protected property owners at the expense of koalas. 

Joyce said ‘none of us wanted koalas to die’, but he was less concerned about the protection of koala habitat than he was about the protection of property rights. 

Environmentalists will be hoping Joyce’s change of heart on carbon emissions will be followed by more concern for koalas.

Barnaby Joyce rushed to defend John Barilaro over a policy that protected property owners at the expense of koalas

Barnaby Joyce rushed to defend John Barilaro over a policy that protected property owners at the expense of koalas

But the biggest influence Joyce has had on politics in recent days has been about the power and influence of social media companies.

From a government that rarely threatened more than a slap on wrist to social media firms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, suddenly Scott Morrison was taking no prisoners. 

‘Social media has become a coward’s palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people’s lives and say the most foul and offensive things,’ Morrison said at a press conference.

The possibility of a serious crackdown made headlines around the world. 

Morrison added that it was ‘not a free country’ if people could destroy lives with impunity. ‘So people should be responsible for what they say, in a country that believes in free speech. 

‘I think that’s very important … we intend to set the pace because we value our free society and in a free society, you can’t be a coward and attack people and expect not to be held accountable for it.’

It was Morrison who made these strong statements, but it was Joyce who was behind them.  

Bridgette Joyce, daughter of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, was subjected to hateful comments online

Bridgette Joyce, daughter of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, was subjected to hateful comments online

Joyce had just found out that his daughter Bridgette was being abused by anonymous online trolls, supposedly for being in a relationship with John Barilaro, who had just announced his retirement from NSW Parliament.

Bridgette had worked for Barilaro, but it was a ‘devastating lie’ that they’d been in a relationship, her father said. 

Joyce was enraged at the attack on his child, but unlike most affronted parents, he had the power to do something. 

He called Morrison last Thursday morning to demand the government brought the US social media corporations to heel. 

Joyce says he told Morrison: ‘This is enough.’ And Morrison listened, and acted. 

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk