Since 20 children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, we’ve seen public calls for the release of crime scene photos – the idea being that the visceral horror evoked by images of young, brutalized bodies could spur some sort of action to combat the country’s gun violence epidemic.
The day after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, a Slate article echoed the demand for crime scene photos to be released, arguing that if Americans could actually see the bloodshed, we might finally say, “Enough is enough.”
As a scholar who specializes in photojournalism ethics, I’ve thought extensively about how journalism can responsibly cover gun violence, balancing the moral imperatives of seeking truth while minimizing harm. I’ve also studied how images can galvanize viewers.
Fundamental questions remain: What is the line between informing audiences and exploiting victims and their families? Should the media find a balance between shocking and shielding audiences? And when it comes to mass shootings – and gun violence more broadly – if outlets did include more bloody images, would it even make a difference?
The limitations of a photo
On the same day of the Parkland shooting, my research on news images of mass shootings was published. Given the intense yet fleeting nature of media coverage, I wanted to examine how news outlets cover these crimes, specifically through the lens of visual reporting.
The study analyzed nearly 5,000 newspaper photos from three school shootings: Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Umpqua Community College. Of those images, only 5 percent could be characterized as graphic in nature.
Most depicted the shock and grief of survivors, family and friends. These elements certainly make up an important part of the story. Nonetheless, they create a narrative where, as the Slate article put it, “mass shootings are bloodless.”
Does that matter?
Research has shown that when audiences feel emotionally connected with news events, they’re more likely to change their views or take action. Photographs of violence and bloodshed can certainly serve as a conduit for this emotional connection. Their realism resonates, and they’re able to create a visceral effect that can arouse a range of emotions: sorrow, disgust, shock, anger.
But the power of images is limited. After particularly shocking images appear, what we tend to see are short bursts of activism. For example, in 2015, following the publication of the harrowing image of a drowned Syrian boy lying facedown in the sand, donations to the Red Cross briefly spiked. But within a week, they returned to their typical levels.
The ethics of violent imagery
If a graphic image can inspire some action – even it’s minimal and fleeting – do media outlets have an obligation to run more photos of mass shooting victims?
Perhaps. But other concerns need to be weighed.
For one, there are the victims’ families. Widely disseminated images of their massacred loved ones could no doubt add to their already unthinkable grief.
Moreover, we exist in a media landscape that overwhelms us with images. Individual photographs become harder to remember, to the point that even graphic ones of bloodshed could fade into ubiquity.
Another concern is the presentation of these images. As media consumers, so much of what we see comes from manipulated, sensationalized and trivialized social media feeds. As a colleague and I wrote last year, social media “begs us to become voyeurs” as opposed to informed news consumers. In a digital environment, these images could also be easily appropriated for any number purposes – from pornography to hoaxes – and spread across social media, to the point that their authenticity will be lost.
There’s another unintended consequence: Grisly images could inspire another mass shooting. Research indicates that news coverage of mass shootings – and in particular the attention given to body counts and the perpetrators themselves – can have a contagious effect on would-be mass killers.
Journalism has a responsibility to inform audiences, and sometimes a graphic image does that in a way that words can’t.
However this doesn’t mean that any and all gruesome images should be published. There are professional guidelines for deciding whether to publish these types of images – mainly, to consider the journalistic purpose of publishing them and the “overriding and justifiable need to see” them.
The extent to which graphic images should be present in our news media is an ongoing debate. And it’s one that must continue.
A new image emerges
Following mass shootings, there’s a predictable pattern of news media coverage. There are the breaking news reports filled with speculation. Then details of the perpetrator emerge. Reporters and pundits question whether or not it was an act of terrorism. Elected officials respond with “thoughts and prayers,” and debates about mental health and gun control rage. Finally, there’s coverage of the vigils and funerals.
But this time, there’s something new: images of resistance.
Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are stepping up and demanding action from the country’s elected leaders.
In an impassioned speech, senior Emma Gonzalez chastised lawmakers, stating, “We are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”
This, in the end, may prove to be more effective than any images of bloodshed or grief. Fanning across the news outlets and social media networks, these images of resistance seem to be spurring action, with school walkouts and nationwide protests against gun violence in the works.
Illustrations of protest, courage and resilience – from high school students, no less – might have the power to sink in.
Perhaps it will be these images – not those of bloodied victims – that will stir people from complacency and move them to action.
On February 14, in Parkland, Florida, 17 teachers and students were shot dead at their school by an estranged student armed with a high-powered, military-style rifle. Mass shootings at places of learning in the US are, sadly, not uncommon.
On this occasion, however, the backlash against the political establishment has been more fearsome than usual. Significantly, the target is the gun culture of the country itself.
Notwithstanding, US President Donald Trump has come up with a plan to tackle the crisis. He wants to arm and train thousands of teachers to carry firearms in schools.
Let’s examine the evidence for the efficacy of such an idea.
The Trump plan is not a new one. Many US state legislatures have modified their gun control laws or softened regulations, now allowing holders of “concealed carry” permits to take their firearms into a wide range of public places including bars, churches, and government buildings.
Some state laws allow schools to permit teaching staff to carry weapons on campus. In June 2015, Texan lawmakers passed a bill giving not only faculty members but even students at public and private universities in that state a right to apply for a permit to carry concealed handguns into classrooms, dormitories and other buildings.
It should be mentioned also that Donald Trump is a strong supporter of the National Rifle Association, the powerful US-based lobby group committed to the idea that a citizen has a right to bear arms. The thinking of this group is that the “good guy” with the gun will deter, kill or maim the “bad guy” (the would-be shooter) before he can unleash his lethal mayhem.
Is there any evidence that the Trump approach is workable? No, not a skerrick.
The evidence continues to mount against guns as a form of urban crime prevention strategy, and for the proposition that a greater proliferation of guns actually increases the likelihood of urban violence.
Researchers in 2010 found that gun availability positively influenced the rates of several violent crimes in a sample of cities across 39 countries. Further research reviewed data for 27 developed countries and concluded that the number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related deaths.
Significantly, van Kesteren concludes:
In high-gun countries, the risks of escalation to more serious and lethal violence are higher. On balance, considerably more serious crimes of violence are committed in such countries. For this reason, the strict gun-reduction policies of many governments seem to be a sensible means to advance the common good.
I do not know of one serious crime prevention advocate in the developed world who would suggest that children are safer in a school because of firearms in their teachers’ hands.
Leaving aside the possibility of theft of a gun, its misuse or an accident, it would be fanciful to suggest that teachers could be trained to make split-second determinations of who is a “bad guy” and who is a “good guy”. Even the most highly specialised armed forces units get that wrong sometimes.
And let’s not forget the cost of the plan. Trump needs to multiply the price of the weapons plus the costs of training by the number of teachers who volunteer to take on this task in the 100,000 educational institutions in the US today.
The evidence that countries with higher levels of gun ownership have higher gun homicide, gun suicide and gun injury rates is convincing. The US gun ownership rate (guns per 100 people) is more than five times the Australian rate. Its gun homicide rate is more than ten times the Australian rate.
Of all US homicides, 60% are committed by firearms. The equivalent figure in Australia (2010–12) is 14%.
The only ways to stop or reduce the likelihood of a school shooting is, first, to take seriously the role of the state in enacting laws to make firearm ownership an earned privilege and not a right, and second, to remove from public hands altogether, as Australia has done, automatic, semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. They are simply not needed in any 21st-century urban setting.
Are either of these things about to happen in the US? Not in my lifetime, nor in my children’s lifetimes.
Estimates in 2009 were that there were more than 300 million guns in private hands in the US. This figure would be significantly higher today, although one of the problems is that it is not known exactly how many people own how many guns.
They are not going to disappear in the foreseeable future. And if the deaths of 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six staff members, at Sandy Hook elementary school in December 2012 cannot re-direct the political wind, then nothing will – not even the cries of pain outside of the White House from families from Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Will more mass shootings occur in US schools and on college campuses in the years to come? Most certainly, with or without the implementation of Trump’s latest suggestion. Indeed, the situation is likely to get worse.
Unless something radically changes some time soon, Americans just have to live with the inevitable.
Barnaby Joyce has capitulated to intense pressure and announced he will stand down, declaring the government needs clear air and he could not continue on the frontbench with an allegation of sexual harassment hanging over him.
He told a news conference in Armidale he would quit as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister on Monday at an 8am party meeting, where a new leader will be chosen.
After hanging tough for more than a fortnight, Joyce said the final straw was the harassment allegation, by a Western Australian woman, that was made to the Nationals federal president Larry Anthony and revealed on Thursday.
He had asked that the allegation, which he denies, be referred to the police. “But it’s quite evident that you can’t go to the despatch box with issues like that surrounding you.”
Malcolm Turnbull, who last week said Joyce “has to consider his own position” and will be relieved at his departure from the frontbench, quickly affirmed in a statement that the Coalition “partnership is undiminished”.
The crisis over Joyce, sparked by revelations in the Daily Telegraph of his affair of his former staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion, has consumed and distracted the government, wiping out what promised to be a good start to the year.
The favourite to replace Joyce as leader is Michael McCormack, a junior minister from New South Wales. He is minister for veterans’ affairs and minister for defence personnel.
Joyce informed Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann and his Nationals colleagues before his announcement. He did not speak with Turnbull, who is in Washington. A week ago, Joyce denounced Turnbull’s very personal attack on him.
Today he said it was “incredibly important that there be a circuit-breaker, not just for the parliament but more importantly a circuit breaker for Vikki, for my unborn child, my daughters and for (wife) Nat”.
He said that over the past half a month there had been a litany of allegations. “I don’t believe any of them have been sustained.”
He condemned “the leaking, the backgrounding … it will destroy not only our government. It will destroy any government.”
Joyce confirmed he would stay in the parliament, and said he wouldn’t snipe from the backbench. “I have a lot of things I need to do,” he said. He was writing a book, and he wanted to assist his colleagues where he could to keep their seats. And his baby would be born in April. So “I’ll have other things on my mind”.
Joyce’s exit to the backbench means another reshuffle, hard on the heels of the December changes. Meanwhile John McVeigh, a Queensland Liberal who is minister for regional development, will act in Joyce’s infrastructure portfolio.
Joyce has been leader of the Nationals and deputy prime minister since February 2016.
While Joyce’s stepping down will relieve pressure on the government, there will still be intense questioning next week in Senate estimates about the employment arrangements for Campion, who was transferred from Joyce’s office to that of Resources Minister Matt Canavan, and later to the office of then-Nationals whip Damian Drum.
You can’t help loving how the boy from Belgium is relishing his chance to walk in prime ministerial shoes, even if they’re borrowed ones and he can occupy them only briefly.
Mathias Cormann, whose glory moment has been picked up back in his home country, swarms over the media at any available opportunity, so it’s not surprising he’s taking full advantage of this rare moment as acting prime minister.
Luckily for Malcolm Turnbull – who’s having virtually no luck at the moment – Cormann is a man of detail, who treads carefully (even if he did have that brain-snap in the 2016 election, heaping praise on Bill Shorten, when he meant Turnbull – a slip that mortified him).
While many in the government were groaning at Barnaby Joyce’s self-serving media appearances while on “leave”, Cormann cast the deputy prime minister as moving to “put some order into some deeply personal matters that previously have spilled over into the professional domain”.
A Joyce loyalist noted the contrast between Cormann’s measured and quite sympathetic tone and Turnbull’s moral denunciation (and sex ban) that last week re-inflamed the crisis. If Turnbull had sounded more like Cormann the matter mightn’t have got such new life. But Turnbull was playing to his own political needs, as he saw them.
Cormann’s skills will be important next week, when the government faces Senate estimates, with probing about the arrangements for Joyce’s former staffer, now partner, Vikki Campion.
In the lower house Turnbull, fresh from his US trip, and Joyce, reeling from his faux leave, will face days of ferocious questioning.
That’s assuming Joyce is not removed by his party. Or doesn’t capitulate to the pressure, belatedly citing the good of the government.
His position appears to have been weakened rather than strengthened by his publicity tactic. On Thursday, Victorian Nationals MP Andrew Broad called for him to stand down, declaring he would raise the leadership in the partyroom on Monday (not all 21 Nationals will be there – a spill would require a separate meeting).
Joyce received another blow on Thursday, with the revelation a woman had made a complaint of sexual harassment against him (which he denies) to Nationals federal president Larry Anthony.
It’s unclear whether Joyce’s apparent command of the numbers up to this point would change if the Nationals had a spill motion before them.
If Joyce is still in his seat at the end of next week, the Nationals will have little choice but to bunker down behind him, in the vain hope that his claim his skin will repair is correct.
As of now, the Nationals are a party in shock, paralysed by an extraordinary, fluid and unpredictable situation.
On another front, the government this week was clumsy in its handling of Tony Abbott’s call for immigration to be slashed.
The former prime minister’s proposal might be judged bad policy – certainly that is my opinion – and seen as deliberate provocation, but it will resonate with many Coalition voters and potential supporters on the right.
It was a mistake to let Treasurer Scott Morrison lead the charge against Abbott – a better strategy would have been to leave it to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, whose portfolio includes immigration.
Abbott remains bitter about Morrison, a residue of the events of 2015. That turned Morrison’s takedown on immigration into something personal for Abbott, who countered by accusing Morrison of being prisoner of his department and declaring: “Scott should have the gumption to think for himself”.
If Dutton (who did make some comments) had carried the counter-case, the issue might have been lower-key. After all, it was not the first time Abbott has waded into this debate and it didn’t have to become such a big noisy story.
With the volume at full blast from both the Joyce and Abbott issues, the government drowned out Labor, where Shorten is trying to manage the party’s Adani policy, buffeted by the Batman byelection and the demands of the Queensland constituency, including a possible future byelection in Longman.
Early this month, at the start of the Batman campaign, Shorten appeared to be moving toward opposing the Adani project. He highlighted a claim that Adani put in an altered laboratory report when appealing a fine for contamination of wetlands, and said if Adani was “relying on false information” the mine didn’t deserve to go ahead.
Shadow cabinet discussed the Adani issue without reaching a decision.
Labor now appears to have walked back to a “let things take their course” line, in the expectation that Adani will fall over of its own accord.
Labor’s infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese said this week that government should set the broad policy framework, rather than deal project by project, and also pointed out that Adani has previously received the necessary approvals.
“What you don’t do is single out particular projects and then retrospectively change existing laws which would have ramifications across the board,” he said. “Very clearly the economics of the [Adani] project haven’t stacked up” so it had not been able to get finance.
Shorten this week was in northern Queensland announcing initiatives on jobs, hoping to inoculate Labor against allegations that by not supporting Adani it would cost the region employment.
As Shorten returns to the seat of Batman, which Labor is desperate to hold against the Greens’ push, there will be keen interest in whether he sticks to his line that Adani’s future depends on whether it stacks up commercially and environmentally, or he declares that Adani is already dead because it hasn’t jumped the commercial hurdles.
In the meantime, Labor can only be relieved that at least nationally, the government’s woes have given it useful cover as it struggles with its awkward Adani juggle.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is under intense new pressure following a call from backbencher Andrew Broad for him to stand down and an allegation that he sexually harassed a woman.
Broad said he would raise the leadership issue at Monday’s party meeting, saying that Joyce’s going to the backbench would be in the best interests of Joyce, the party and the government.
Meanwhile, a woman has made a complaint to Nationals federal president Larry Anthony accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.
Joyce strongly denied the allegation, saying it was “spurious” and “defamatory”, and went back to something 18 months ago.
“I ask the person to refer it to the police because I deserve my opportunity of defending myself,” he said.
After Broad’s salvo, the party’s Senate leader, Nigel Scullion, locked in behind Joyce. Its deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said: “There is no stronger advocate for regional Australia than Barnaby Joyce”.
But while Joyce earlier seemed to have shored up his position, there is now once again great doubt that he can survive. A self-justifying interview he gave to Fairfax defending himself appears to have backfired.
Eyes will now be on whether junior minister Michael McCormack signals he is willing to challenge Joyce. McCormack is considered the only viable alternative. He trailed his coat in a Sky interview earlier in the week, refusing to back Joyce multiple times before finally doing so.
Broad, who is the member for the Victorian seat of Mallee, on Thursday said in an interview on ABC Radio Statewide Drive Victoria: “It’s about having your mind clear to do the job”.
He said that at this point, Joyce’s “judgement is erred, he’s not thinking in a place where he can be put up as the acting prime minister of Australia. Some time out and hopefully some time to regroup and he may come back to make a further contribution.”
Broad, who spoke to Joyce before making his call, said he would be taking a resolution to the meeting from the local party members in his electorate saying Joyce should stand down.
He criticised Joyce for the high media profile he has adopted this week when he is supposedly on leave.
“He’s meant to be taking a break and he’s clearly playing to the media. You know, this is an issue that we should have let quietly die, and let’s get on with the core job but he’s not prepared to do that.”
Earlier – after the death of evangelist Billy Graham – Broad tweeted:
Scullion said: “If I was a betting man I’d think that Barnaby Joyce will still be deputy prime minister through the end of Monday”.
Scullion told the ABC he disagreed completely with Broad. “I’ve worked closely with Barnaby and I can tell you that right up to when he took leave … he had his mind completely on the job.”
“So we’ll get back on Monday and I hope and I trust that the National Party will return Barnaby to the leader[ship],” Scullion said.
“I have to say to Broado … he didn’t actually have to do that. I’m quite sure when Barnaby would have come in, let me tell you Barnaby is not a man who is afraid of democracy, so I suspect he would have come in and said by the way I’m going to spill my position just so you can all have a clear run at it,” Scullion said.
McKenzie said all Nationals MPs were welcome to bring issues to the partyroom. She also pointed out in a statement that Monday’s meeting would not be a full partyroom meeting, because of Senate estimates hearings.
Party sources noted there could not be a spill motion moved at that meeting. There would need to be a meeting of all 21 MPs for that to happen.
The ABC’s chief economics correspondent, Emma Alberici, did her job the other day. She wrote a well-researched analysis piece investigating whether the Turnbull government’s proposed company tax cuts would grow the economy and break Australia’s wages deadlock.
Alberici’s article came in for a lot of criticism from the Turnbull government for its one-sidedness and lack of balance. Later, the ABC took down the article from its website.
If you read her piece, you’ll see that, yes, she could have included more voices, and yes, the case for company tax cuts was forcefully argued against. But the argument and analysis was built on sound research, as Saul Eslake (one of Australia’s most senior and respected independent economists, who was quoted in Alberici’s story) has pointed out.
So, why on earth did ABC take the article down?
Part of the answer to this lies in the very editorial policies that are supposed to safeguard the ABC’s independence. The current wording of these polices function as a straitjacket on ABC journalists and make it hard for them to toe the line between analysis and opinion.
And that in turn makes the ABC look less independent.
High level of trust
One of the ABC’s greatest assets is the high public trust it enjoys compared to many of its commercial media competitors.
That trust is to a large extent built on the broadcaster maintaining and defending its independence from commercial, political and any other societal interests.
There are a lot of misconceptions regarding what a public broadcaster is. But one thing it is not is a government or state broadcaster.
There are certainly examples of some public broadcasters that are. One prominent recent case was when the Polish government in practice took control of the country’s public broadcaster and turned it into a government mouthpiece.
A serious case of self-doubt
The ABC Act and the ABC Charter are the safeguards of ABC’s independence from the government of the day. This independence was challenged to unprecedented levels by the Abbott government a few years ago.
A new major challenge to the ABC’s independence is the current change, driven by One Nation, to the ABC Charter requiring it to be “fair” and “balanced” in its reporting. If you recognise these terms, that’s because it used to be Fox News’ catchphrase.
The ABC is not turning into the Polish Broadcasting Corporation, but it has clearly lost a lot of confidence lately. In Alberici’s case, it appears it bowed to government pressure when it should have stood its ground.
But getting heat from the government of the day (regardless of the particular side of politics) is an indication that a public broadcaster is doing its most important job (provided you get your facts right): holding power to account. If you bow to political pressure, you’re not doing your job.
A public broadcaster with a confidence problem is a serious issue for political and democratic wellbeing.
Globally, there are between ten and 15 properly funded public broadcasters (depending on what level of funding you define as proper) with enough funding and safeguards to be able to call themselves editorially independent. This means there are only ten to 15 large repositories of in-depth public interest journalism – globally.
So, the case is strong for the Australian public to get behind the ABC and ask it to snap out of its crisis of confidence. Then it can get on with the job of keeping power to account – just like Alberici tried to do.
The federal government may be aggressively negotiating free trade agreements, but in other ways it is restricting trade. The government has been giving itself extensive new anti-dumping powers, targeting steel and aluminium markets in particular.
There was a nearly two-fold increase in anti-dumping investigations in Australia in 2017. According to the Productivity Commission, these protectionist measures “raise costs to consumers and reduce competitive pressures, leading to less efficient resource use in the country levying the protection”.
Higher tariffs lift the costs of imports and disrupt global supply chains. This harms consumers, producers and workers.
The Productivity Commission estimates that for every A$1 increase in tariff revenue, economic activity in Australia falls by A$0.64. The commission also says that for “every year that higher tariffs prevailed, GDP would be lower by over one per cent”. Thus, “a household that spends A$2,500 a fortnight on goods and services would be worse off by A$100 a fortnight”.
The Australian Department of Industry explains that:
dumping occurs when goods exported to Australia are priced lower than their “normal value”, which is usually the comparable price in the ordinary course of trade in the exporter’s domestic market.
A recent example of this in action was when the Anti-Dumping Commission found that major exporters of tinned Italian tomatoes were dumping their product in Australia. The government swiftly imposed dumping duties of up to 8.4%.
In principle, this is perfectly legitimate. World Trade Organisation agreements allow these duties to be imposed when dumping or subsidisation threaten to cause material injury to a domestic industry.
More power for the government
But recent changes to Australia’s anti-dumping laws, while purportedly aimed at “levelling the field”, place a greater legal burden on overseas businesses with more stringent submission requirements.
Moreover, legislative proposals tabled in the federal parliament in late 2017 could vastly expand the discretionary power the government has to set benchmark prices for imported products in the Australian market. These can even be set at higher levels than the prices in the home market from which they were exported.
Indeed, according to international trade law practitioners, “dumping duties at high rates will give the Minister an unprecedented price-fixing power over imported products, to the extent that foreign exporters and their Australian importers may be unable to compete in Australian markets”.
In other words, this proposal could exacerbate the trend of covert trade protectionism in Australia.
According to a 2017 WTO report on trade measures in the G20 countries, new anti-dumping actions have outpaced terminations by three to one. This is the largest gap since 2012. Australia also had a fourfold increase in new countervailing duty measures (trade retaliations, in other words) from 2015 to 2016, second only to the USA. In 2016 Australia started nearly one-third of all G20 trade retaliations.
The subjects of anti-dumping actions are usually technical barriers to trade that measurably affect certain industries. In the G20 countries most of these relate to agricultural policies.
Australia has in recent times raised specific trade concerns about the European Union’s agriculture policies, India’s minimum prices for wheat and sugar, Canadian subsidies for milk and wine, and the United States’ purchase of cheese stock, export credit guarantees and international food aid.
The anti-dumping data and legislative trends clearly show that Australia is at the forefront of the trend towards greater (covert) trade protectionism among developed countries.
Several government policies, including the abolition of the temporary work 457 visas, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s exemption of certain foreign financial suppliers from particular regulatory requirements, and the Mobile Black Spot Program (to improve mobile coverage in regional and remote Australia) have also come under scrutiny by the World Trade Organisation
This does not completely undermine Australia’s leadership in new free trade agreements in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. But it does show that Australian trade diplomacy is taking place within the creation of a less-than-liberal order of global economy.
Barnaby Joyce has dismissed a call from the Western Australian state Nationals for him to stand down, bluntly telling their leader they are irrelevant to the issue.
WA Nationals leader Mia Davies contacted Joyce on Tuesday to tell him he no longer had the support of the WA parliamentary National Party as the Nationals’ federal leader.
Davies said in a statement she was concerned as WA leader at the “ongoing damage” Joyce was causing the Nationals’ organisation.
“The Nationals’ brand across regional Western Australia has suffered as a result of Mr Joyce’s actions and he has become a distraction at both the federal and state level,” she said.
The state MPs urged him to consider his position “in the best interests” of both the federal party and its state branches, believing that position “no longer tenable”.
In his reply Joyce pointed out the WA Nationals didn’t have a federal MP – their last member (Tony Crook) spent his time “almost exclusively as an independent”. The WA Nationals were also not in a state coalition and prided themselves on “their ferocious independence”, he said.
“Therefore I find it surprising that a federal issue has so much momentum in the west when people in the east in the National Party have in the majority a different view – and to be quite frank, vastly more skin in the game,” he said.
The state Nationals in Victoria and New South Wales are staying out of the battle within the federal party, with Victorian leader Peter Walsh saying: “The federal leadership of the National Party is a matter for the federal partyroom”.
The Nationals crisis was no closer to resolution on Tuesday. If anyone wants to challenge Joyce next week there will have to be a move for a special party meeting because some senators will be missing from the routine Monday meeting, given that Senate estimates hearings are on.
By making it clear he would have to be blasted out, Joyce has transferred the burden of a leadership change squarely onto his colleagues, a number of whom had hoped he would just go quietly, saving them angst.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a strong Joyce supporter, said Joyce had the majority of support in the partyroom. “They see first-hand what he has done here in Canberra, the fights he takes up for us on our behalf, sometimes difficult ones to deliver big projects.”
“It’s my assessment the vast majority of my colleagues want to see Barnaby there and want to see him fight for regional Australia,” he said.
Canavan employed Joyce’s former staffer and now partner Vikki Campion when the Joyce office was seeking to move her on because her relationship with her boss was causing difficulties. Asked on Sky whether at that time he knew she was having an affair with Joyce, Canavan said: “Absolutely not”.
Campion had got the job on her skills and experience, Canavan said. “We were looking to expand our digital media presence.”
NSW Nationals senator John Williams said the feedback he was getting was that “you must stick with Barnaby” and that people were “over the media running [the story] all the time”.
In the US – for which Malcolm Turnbull leaves on Wednesday – comedian John Oliver has ridiculed the Joyce saga on his show Last Week Tonight. Joyce was already comedy fodder in America after his colourful threats to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs after they were brought to Australia illegally.
Former Nationals deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has added his voice to those pressing for a rapid resolution of the Nationals crisis, as Malcolm Turnbull admits he doesn’t know whether Barnaby Joyce retains his partyroom’s support.
“It has to be resolved quickly,” Fischer told The Conversation. Earlier on Monday another former deputy prime minister, John Anderson, speaking to The Australian, advised Nationals MPs to act swiftly to exercise their responsibility and urged Joyce to think through his situation very carefully.
But the Nationals remained apparently paralysed, with Joyce on leave, dug in and defiant, feedback coming from the party’s grassroots that he should step down as leader, and his support eroding in the officialdom of the party.
Sources in the Joyce camp say there is no way he will step down before Monday’s party meeting.
They say if Michael McCormack – considered favourite to succeed Joyce if he quits or is ousted – wants the job, he will have to challenge in the partyroom and the parliamentary party will have to own the decision it makes.
In face of Monday’s Newspoll, in which 65% said he should stand down, the Joyce sources argue the election is still more than a year away, giving time for the fallout from the current furore to pass.
Nationals federal president Larry Anthony held a phone hook up of party officials late on Monday to take soundings.
McCormack, who is veterans’ affairs minister, on Monday trailed his coat in an awkward Sky interview in which he repeatedly dodged giving backing to Joyce.
Asked multiple times whether Joyce had his support, McCormack avoided answering. “I’m sure that members of the National Party are listening to our constituent,” he said.
“Barnaby Joyce is the leader, there is no spill, there is no vacancy at the moment and certainly Barnaby Joyce will continue to be the leader as long as he gets the support of the National partyroom,” he said. “There is no challenge at the moment.” And there was plenty more of the same.
Finally, a cornered McCormack said: “Of course I support Barnaby Joyce. He is our leader”.
On 3AW, Turnbull was asked whether Joyce was safe as leader. “Are you asking me whether he commands the support of the majority of members of the National Party? … I don’t know. He says he does and others have said he does, but these are all matters in the gift of the National partyroom,” Turnbull said, adding, “a partyroom, I might add, which I have never sought to influence in any way”.
Meanwhile Turnbull is coming under media pressure over precisely what he knew and when about Joyce’s affair with his former staffer, Vikki Campion, his now-pregnant partner.
The timing question has become particularly pertinent since Turnbull’s very personal denunciation of Joyce’s behaviour on Thursday, because the rumours of the affair including the pregnancy had already been rife when Turnbull appeared with Joyce to celebrate the New England byelection win in Tamworth on December 2.
Pressed on when he initially knew about the affair Turnbull repeated that Joyce had “at no time said to me that he was in a sexual relationship with this woman … He never made that admission … to me.”
Turnbull said he couldn’t recall when he first heard a rumour about it.
Asked whether he did not consider asking him, Turnbull was evasive: “I’m not going to go into the private discussions I have had with him, other than to say that at no stage did he say to me that he was having a sexual relationship with this lady”.
Pushed on whether he had been misled, Turnbull said: “I’m not going to go into those discussions”.
Bill Shorten moved to keep all attention on the Coalition by cutting off the government’s attempt to put him in the spotlight because he had not clarified Labor’s position on Turnbull’s ban on ministers having sexual relationships with their staff.
“If we get elected, we’re not going to overturn it,” he said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made it clear she was less-than-impressed with the ban, having condemned any such idea when asked a week before Turnbull announced it. She said the change brought the code in line with many workplaces across Australia. Pressed on her attitude, she said: “I will abide by the ministerial code of conduct”.
Newspoll has found that 64% of voters back the ban.
Victorian Liberal backbencher Sarah Henderson told Sky the standard should apply in every MP’s office.