Grattan on Friday: Turnbull’s excoriation of Joyce has changed the game, but how?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the most spectacular manner, Malcolm Turnbull has publicly trashed his relationship with Barnaby Joyce.

The results of what one Nationals source described as Turnbull’s “roll of the dice” at Thursday’s extraordinary news conference are unpredictable.

Turnbull gave his deputy prime minister no notice of the swingeing attack he would launch on Joyce’s extramarital affair with his former staffer, Vikki Campion, now his pregnant partner.

Joyce had made a “shocking error of judgement”, Turnbull said, which had “set off a world of woe” for all the women affected and “appalled all of us”.

Turnbull was announcing he was putting a sex ban into the ministerial code of conduct. He’d consulted his colleagues on that. But it was the excoriation of Joyce that came out of the blue, stunning the Nationals.

After a week-and-a-half of political hell, Joyce was already in about as bad a place as one can imagine a politician might be, short of the dock of a courtroom.

Turnbull all but disowned him – as far as a Liberal prime minister can do with the leader of the Coalition’s minor party. It was clear Turnbull would just like Joyce to stand down.

Joyce had already been dispatched on gardening leave for next week, when he was due to be acting prime minister. Turnbull said he had “encouraged” him to take leave.

That in itself said it all. If Joyce is too much of a political handicap to undertake the routine duties of acting prime minister, it is hard to argue he’s up to being deputy prime minister.

Within the Nationals Joyce shored up his position on Wednesday to give himself a chance of rehabilitation. But after Turnbull’s character reference, he might as well wear a sandwich board saying: “I’m a terrible person”.

After days of the opposition and media trawling through the work arrangements for Campion, and the free accommodation in Armidale Joyce got from a local businessman, Turnbull says Joyce has given him “an unequivocal assurance” he hasn’t breached ministerial standards.

With abundant caution Turnbull quotes Joyce’s word, rather than his own judgement, and there’s been no independent assessment.

Maybe Joyce has been within the code. But now Turnbull has made it clear – after initially wanting to keep away from Joyce’s private life – that he believes the Nationals leader has breached decent moral standards and he has decided to call him out on that.

A week ago, Turnbull was describing the Joyce imbroglio as “a deeply personal matter relating to Barnaby Joyce and his family”. On Thursday he radiated absolute disgust at the sordid saga.

Turnbull’s approach went from initially staying solid with Joyce by saying as little as possible to letting him have it with both barrels.

It went from dismissing a proposal from crossbencher Cathy McGowan for a “conversation” about workplace relations in parliament to slapping on a sex ban that doesn’t even exempt a minister who’s single.

What changed? The story had gone from something potentially containable to a cluster bomb damaging the whole government, and presumably feeding into the next Newspoll.

In particular, it threatened a dangerous backlash among women. Turnbull has pitched the ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff with a heavy gender emphasis. “Most of the ministers, most of the bosses in this building” were men, he said.

The ban is similar to that recently passed by the US House of Representatives, although that is legislated and this is not.

Remember Julie Bishop’s reaction to the American ban – “we wouldn’t want to cross the line so that the moral police were able to dictate what happens between consenting adults”. Turnbull has put his policeman’s helmet on.

Joyce started Thursday deeply wounded. He ended the day bleeding even more heavily. The stories won’t let up. He faces the firing line again when the House of Representatives resumes the week after next. He’ll also be pursued in Senate estimates.

His office is inundated daily with slews of media questions; he lives with the knowledge that fresh damaging information could destroy him.

Imagine his political life from now. Travelling regional Australia’s back blocks will be downright embarrassing, as he wonders what those women offering cups of tea are thinking.

As well, he’ll be dealing with the demands of his new domestic circumstances – including the glare of publicity around the baby, arriving within weeks – as well as the legacies of leaving his old home life.

The Nationals are in an appalling situation.

They’ve stuck by Joyce – they think he’s the best they’ve got and their default position is loyalty. They’ve given him time. But logically, they should bring forward their assessment of the chances of his getting back on his feet.

Assuming they are slight, the party would be better to face the fact quickly and give a new leader – who’d likely be the little known Michael McCormack, a junior minister – maximum time before the election.

But that’s where Turnbull’s “roll of the dice” comes in. The Nationals this week were prickly about perceived meddling from the Liberals. They don’t like outside interference. How will they react to Turnbull’s assault? Will they dig in further behind Joyce?

And then there’s Joyce himself – stubborn and presumably desperate. He’s not so far shown any sign of giving in under political and personal pressure that would drive most leaders out. He’s relying on being able to keep his grip on the parliamentary numbers.

“He’s not like everyone else – he’s a different cat,” says a colleague.

The ConversationJoyce is fighting like a cornered tiger to hang onto the position he coveted for so long. It’s not clear whether Turnbull’s denunciation has harmed or helped his chances. Or how, in the immediate future, he and Turnbull can work together.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Turnbull announces sex ban – and signals Joyce should consider his position


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has announced that, from now, sexual relations between ministers and their staff will be prohibited under a change he has made to the ministerial code of conduct.

Addressing a news conference late on Thursday, Turnbull also strongly hinted he would like to see Barnaby Joyce step down.

Joyce had made “a shocking error of judgement in having an affair with a young woman working in his office”. In doing so he had set off a “world of woe” for his wife, daughters and indeed his new partner, and had “appalled all of us”.

When asked why he wouldn’t urge Joyce to resign, Turnbull pointed out that he was leader of the minor party in the Coalition.

But his preference was clear. “Barnaby has acknowledged his fault, his error, his grief about his conduct. He has to consider his own position obviously. These are matters for Barnaby Joyce to reflect on.”

Earlier Turnbull told parliament that when he visits the US next week, Senate leader Mathias Cormann – not Joyce – would be acting prime minister.

Turnbull said the ban on sexual relationships would apply even if the minister was single.

The ban parallels a prohibition last week passed by the US House of Representatives – although that was included in legislation while this is only in the ministerial code, and is only enforceable politically not legally.

It also follows a call by crossbencher Cathy McGowan last week for a “conversation” about conduct between MPs and their staff. Her call was dismissed at the time.

Turnbull said then: “Members of parliament, ministers all have to be accountable for their actions. As grown-ups, we are all accountable for our actions. Relations between consenting adults is not something that normally, you would be justified in, if you like, seeking to regulate.”

But government sources said Turnbull had been working on the sex ban all week.

Turnbull told his news conference the Joyce affair had raised “some very serious issues about the culture of this place, of this parliament”.

He said the present ministerial code was “truly deficient”.

“It does not speak strongly enough for the values that we should all live, values of respect, respectful workplaces – of workplaces where women are respected.”

He said this respect in workplaces was not entirely a gender issue. But “most of the ministers, most of the bosses in this building” were men and “there is a real gender perspective here”.

He said that whatever people might have turned a blind eye to in years past, in 2018 it was not acceptable for a minister to have a sexual relationship with someone who worked for them.

“It’s a very bad workplace practice. And everybody knows that no good comes of it.

The Conversation“Of course you know what attitudes in the corporate world and elsewhere are to this kind of thing. So, it is about time that this change was made. Probably should have been made a long time ago.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnaby Joyce dumped as acting prime minister next week


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has delivered an effective vote of no-confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, announcing he will not be acting prime minister next week, but instead will go on a week’s leave.

This follows Turnbull telling parliament twice earlier this week that the Nationals leader would act in his place when he visits the US next week.

The acting prime minister will be Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who is the government’s Senate leader. Joyce will be on leave for a week from Monday.

The Liberals’ deputy leader, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, would normally be next in line, but she is scheduled to be overseas. She did offer to cancel those arrangements, but that option was not taken up.

On Wednesday Joyce shored up his support within the Nationals to continue as leader, but on Thursday he was seriously on the back foot.

In parliament, the opposition pursued his relations with businessman Greg Maguire, who provided him with an Armidale apartment free of rent for six months, worth a total of about A$12,000.

Joyce said that when his marriage had broken down and he was standing for the New England byelection, Maguire approached him and in the discussion offered the accommodation. He had said he would pay, but this was refused by Maguire, Joyce told parliament. He said “he didn’t have to worry about it because I was a mate.”

Maguire has previously told two journalists that Joyce had made the initial approach.

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The opposition also asked about a $5,000 payment made by an agency under Joyce’s then-agriculture portfolio to a Maguire business for a 2016 Agricultural Industry Advisory Council dinner at an Armidale hotel that the businessman owns.

Joyce said he did not know about the payment. “Obviously decisions in the vicinity of $5,000 don’t generally go across the minister’s table.”

The Senate late Thursday passed by 35-29 a Greens-Labor motion calling “on the deputy prime minister to resign from his position … for clearly breaching the standards required of ministers; and if he does not resign, calls on the National Party to sack him as leader.”

The ConversationEarlier, the opposition failed in an attempt to have the House of Representatives call on Turnbull “to immediately sack” Joyce for “clearly breaching the prime minister’s statement of ministerial standards”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nationals rally behind Joyce’s leadership but he is on notice


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce has secured his colleagues’ backing to hang onto his leadership and Malcolm Turnbull has flagged he will be acting prime minister next week, despite the potential for this to cause further distraction for the government.

Although he is safe for now, Joyce is essentially on notice as leader.

In the short term, he is hostage to any new serious revelations in the media, and in the medium term, to his party’s assessment about whether he has become a political negative, as a result of his affair with his former staffer Vikki Campion, who is expecting his child.

Over the last few days Nationals MPs have been divided between a minority who wanted to force him to quit, his supporters who regard him as the party’s strongest asset, and those uncertain about what should be done.

Joyce is said to be very aware of the hurt in the party and the fact that he has to work to mend the political damage he has caused.

After a week of mounting crisis since the story broke, and intense internal discussions among Nationals MPs and by Joyce with his colleagues, senior Nationals went out in the media on Wednesday to strongly support the status quo.

Joyce’s recently elected deputy, Bridget McKenzie, who had been previously silent, told Sky she’d give “my absolute rolled gold guarantee … that come tomorrow, come Friday, Barnaby Joyce will be leading the National Party”.

Asked what she had to say to the women in the party, she said: “Look, there is an unease I think for all of us, looking at this as a woman.

“But I think we also have to recognise that we are realists. These things happen, in every family, in every town, in every workplace, across the country. It’s whether it impacts on his ability to deliver …

“So yes, there may be a bit of uncomfortableness around his personal life at the moment, but in terms of delivering, what does a woman want out of her parliamentarians and politicians? She wants us to come up here and work our backsides off delivering for them and for her family. That’s what he does.”

Nationals whip Michelle Landry said: “Barnaby will remain our leader. He has done a lot for us, particularly in regional Australia and I think we should give him a fair go with it.”

David Littleproud, promoted by Joyce to cabinet in December, said Joyce would continue to have the support of the Nationals’ partyroom.

In parliament, Bill Shorten asked Turnbull whether he still retained confidence in Joyce and “when the prime minister is overseas next week, will the deputy prime minister be the acting prime minister of Australia?”

Turnbull was as brief as he was previously, when he answered both questions with a yes. “You asked me earlier in the week, and the answer is the same as it was earlier in the week,” he said.

Some Liberals have been unhappy at the prospect of Joyce being acting prime minister when Turnbull visits the US, believing he will be pursued by the media, creating more bad publicity.

But not to have him acting prime minister would amount to a vote of no confidence in him.

The opposition pursued Joyce’s accommodation arrangements in his New England electorate where businessman Greg Maguire, his friend, provided him with six months’ free accommodation, worth some A$12,000, in an Armidale townhouse.

Labor plans to delve into the staffing arrangements made for Campion when Senate estimates are held the week after next.

After 24 hours in Canberra calming the troops, the Nationals’ federal president Larry Anthony said: “I think the vast majority of the parliamentary team are supportive of Barnaby.”

The ConversationHe said it was now important that the Nationals MPs “get back into their constituencies over the next week – people want to see them working and supporting their communities”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why social media is in the doghouse for both the pollies and the public


Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The Labor Party’s recent decision to ban its candidates from using their own social media accounts as publicity platforms at the next federal election may be a sign that society’s infatuation with social media as a source of news and information is cooling.

Good evidence for this emerged recently with the publication of the 2018 findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer. The annual study has surveyed more than 33,000 people across the globe about how much trust they have in institutions, including government, media, businesses and NGOs.

This year, there was a sharp increase in trust in journalism as a source of news and information, and a decline in trust in social media and search engines for this purpose. Globally, trust in journalism rose five points to 59%, while trust in social media and search engines fell two points to 51% – a gap of eight points.

In Australia, the level of trust in both was below the global average. But the 17 point gap between them was greater – 52% for journalism and 35% for social media and search engines.




Read more:
Social media is changing the face of politics – and it’s not good news


Consequences of poor social media savvy

Labor’s decision may also reflect a healthy distrust of its candidates’ judgement about how to use social media for political purposes.

Liberal Senator Jim Molan’s recent sharing of an anti-Islamic post by the British right-wing extremist group Britain First on his Facebook account showed how poor some individual judgements can be.

If ever there was a two-edged sword in politics, social media is it. It gives politicians a weapon with which to cut their way past traditional journalistic gatekeepers and reach the public directly, but it also exposes them to public scrutiny with a relentless intensity that previous generations of politicians never had to endure.

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This intensity comes from two sources: the 24/7 news cycle with the associated nonstop interaction between traditional journalism and social media, and the opportunity that digital technology gives everyone to jump instantaneously into public debate.

So Molan’s stupidity, for example, now attracts criticism from the other side of the world. Brendan Cox, the widower of a British politician, Jo Cox, who was murdered by a man yelling “Britain first”, has weighed in.

The interaction between traditional journalism and social media also means journalists can latch onto stories much more quickly because there are countless pairs of eyes and ears out there tipping them off.




Read more:
Social media can bring down politicians, but can it also make politics better?


The result of this scrutiny is that public figures can never be sure they are off-camera, as it were. This means there has been a significant reduction in their power to control the flow of information about themselves. They are liable to be “on the record” anywhere there is a mic or a smartphone – and may not even know it.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is caught on a boom mic quipping about the plight of Pacific Island nations facing rising seas from climate change.

Politics then and now

On Sunday night, the ABC aired part one of the two-part documentary Bob Hawke: The Larrikin and the Leader. In it, Graham Richardson says of Hawke:

He did some appalling things when drunk … He was lucky that he went through an era where he couldn’t be pinged. We didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have mobile phones. Let’s face it, a Bob Hawke today behaving in the same manner would never become prime minister. He’d have been buried long before he got near the parliament.

Would we now think differently of a politician like Bob Hawke if some of his well-documented excesses had been captured and circulated on social media in this way?

Perhaps not. Hawke was of his time, an embodiment of the national mood and of what Australians imagine to be the national larrikin character. He might have thrived.

Hawke is still celebrated for his ability to scull a beer.

With Hawke, what you saw was what you got. So he had a built-in immunity to social media’s particular strength: its capacity to show people up as ridiculous, dishonest or hypocritical.

And his political opponent Malcolm Fraser was, in his later years, adept at using Twitter to criticise the government of one of his Liberal successors as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

Yet by exerting the iron discipline for which he was famous, saying exactly what he wanted to say and not a word more, Fraser avoided the pitfalls that the likes of Senator Molan stumble into.

Indeed, US President Donald Trump’s reputation for Twitter gaffes hasn’t hurt his popularity among his base, and is even lauded by some as a mark of authenticity.

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So it is likely that the politicians of the past would not have fared very differently from those of the present. The competent would have adapted and used social media to their advantage; the incompetent would have been shown up for what they are.




Read more:
Why social media may not be so good for democracy


Social platforms under fire

Social media has the potential to strengthen democratic life. It makes all public figures – including journalists – more accountable. But as we have seen, especially in the 2016 US presidential elections, it can also be used to weaken democratic life by amplifying the spread of false information.

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As a result, democracies everywhere are wrestling with the overarching problem of how to make the giant social media platforms, especially Facebook, accountable for how they use their publishing power.

The ConversationOut of all this, one trend seems clear: where news and information is concerned, society is no longer dazzled by the novelty of social media and is wakening to its weaknesses.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nationals president urges party: don’t act hastily on Joyce


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Nationals’ federal president, Larry Anthony, has appealed to the party to give Barnaby Joyce “time”, as Joyce’s future sits on a knife-edge.

Anthony, who flew to Canberra for talks on the crisis late Tuesday, said afterwards: “It’s been an extraordinarily difficult time for the National Party, and clearly for Barnaby Joyce and his family, and for the government.

“It’s important people think very carefully about making any significant decisions. You are never wise to make decisions in the heat of the moment. Barnaby should be given time.”

With speculation on Tuesday about whether he’d last the week, Joyce’s greatest protection in the short term remained the absence of a strong alternative. The atmosphere in Coalition ranks was fevered, with the pressure all the greater because Joyce is due to become acting prime minister next week, a prospect that appals many Liberals. No-one knows what the next media story might bring.

Joyce on Tuesday morning issued multiple apologies, as he desperately tried to contain the damage of his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, who is expecting his child.

He was “deeply sorry” for the hurt he’d caused his wife and daughters, and “deeply sorry” Campion had been dragged into the controversy. The message to supporters and his electorate was that he was “deeply sorry” a personal issue had gone into the public arena.

Later there was a further apology in the Coalition partyroom, essentially for the trouble he’s caused.

“Every political career has a time of trial,” Joyce told the meeting, adding he was determined to work through his situation. He thanked colleagues for their solidarity.

To the extent there was solidarity, it was driven by necessity.

Angry Liberals are powerless – they have no say in who is Nationals leader.

A report that Malcolm Turnbull was ringing around senior Nationals was denied – Turnbull is said to have returned a call from a National who called him. A Liberal leader wading into a Nationals leadership matter would be as risky as jumping into crocodile waters.

The Nationals’ situation is perfectly described by the “rock-and-hard-place” cliché.

They have a diminished leader, discredited among their conservative base. But the alternatives are less than optimal for a small party that needs strong leadership to extract more for the bush than its numbers would justify.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan is a senator and so not an option. Darren Chester, whom Joyce dumped from cabinet in December, is a Victorian (and a social moderate) – if he were elevated, Bridget McKenzie would have to go from the deputyship because a party with its heartland further north couldn’t have two Victorians at the top.

That leaves Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, solid but not popular enough with his colleagues even to win the deputyship in recent ballots.

On anything to do with the Joyce issue Turnbull’s approach – in the partyroom, in parliament and in the media – is, figuratively, to hold his nose and point his finger at the culprit.

Turnbull on Tuesday again had to answer a batch of questions in parliament including about the definition of a “partner” for the purposes of the ministerial code.

That code bans “partners” working in ministerial offices. Joyce said on Tuesday that Campion was “without a shadow of doubt” his partner now but she wasn’t when she was on his staff.

“Partner is not defined in the relevant ministerial standards,” Turnbull said, directing attention to the definition used by the Department of Human Services.

The Human Services website says:

To determine if you’re a member of a couple … we’ll consider the following factors: financial aspects of your relationship; nature of your household; social aspects of your relationship; if you have a sexual relationship; nature of your commitment to each other.

Turnbull told parliament that “Centrelink considers a person to be in a de facto relationship from the time they commence living with another person as a member of a couple.”

The Joyce issue, however, has now gone beyond the detail of the arrangements made for Campion to move offices, and the like. As one journalist put it, it’s become “the vibe”. In many minds, a question of character.

Joyce’s present imbroglio is bringing out allegations of past tacky behaviour. A woman contacted the ABC on Tuesday recounting a strange incident that allegedly occurred at an early-evening cocktail party, hosted by the Collections Council (a peak body for galleries, libraries etc), in Parliament House in 2009 or 2010.

Joyce, then a senator, was one of the few politicians there. The woman, a senior academic and a director of the (now-defunct) council, says she chatted to him – he was charming and merry but not drunk. He gave her his card. When they parted “he grabbed my buttock and squeezed it,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Conversation.

She said that before Tuesday she’d only related the incident to her family. A story in the Murdoch papers about alleged bottom-pinching elsewhere – totally denied by Joyce – prompted her to speak out. Joyce’s office said of her claim that it was “being asked to comment on an anonymous person who has never made a complaint”.

The ConversationJoyce, for all his campaigning strengths, has always been unpredictable, a potential time-bomb. He steadied and focused as he concentrated on pursuing the leadership and then in his earlier days in it. Now the time-bomb has exploded and the Nationals are in a deep funk, not knowing what to do.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Barnaby Joyce affair highlights Australia’s weak regulation of ministerial staffers



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Barnaby Joyce has denied he breached ministerial standards with the employment of his partner, Vikki Campion.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Yee-Fui Ng, RMIT University

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce continues to face questions about the employment of his former media adviser – now current partner – Vicki Campion. Campion left Joyce’s office last year to take another ministerial adviser position with Resources Minister Matthew Canavan, and then with Nationals whip Damian Drum.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has claimed Joyce did not breach the Statement of Ministerial Standards regarding employment of spouses and family members as Campion was not his partner at the time of her appointment. Joyce has also denied he breached the ministerial rules.




Read more:
Labor moves in on the Barnaby Joyce affair


What is the role of ministerial staffers?

Ministerial advisers are politically partisan staff who are personally appointed by ministers to work out of their private offices.

These advisers have become an integral part of the political landscape in the last 40 years. The number of Commonwealth ministerial staff increased from 155 in 1972 to 423 in 2015.

The advisers undertake a wide range of functions. Tony Nutt, a former senior ministerial staffer, said:

… a ministerial adviser deals with the press. A ministerial adviser handles the politics. A ministerial adviser talks to the union. All of that happens every day of the week, everywhere in Australia all the time. Including, frankly, the odd bit of, you know, ancient Spanish practices and a bit of bastardry on the way through. That’s all the nature of politics.

How do they fit in our system of government?

The modern Westminster ministerial advisory system is built on the 1853 Northcote-Trevelyan report in Britain.

In the 18th and early 19th century, it was difficult to be appointed to a UK government office unless you were an aristocrat with the right connections to a very small elite. The Northcote-Trevelyan report rejected appointment based on patronage. It argued this led to difficulties in getting a good supply of employees in the public service compared to other professions.

This report forms the basis of the Westminster public service today. Public servants are expected to be neutral and apolitical, and recruited and promoted on the basis of merit. The intention was very much to purge the system of patronage.

Ministerial advisers pose a challenge to the Westminster system as they are largely recruited on a partisan basis and are expected to be politically committed to the government of the day. This undermines the intentions of having ministerial advisers who are recruited on the basis of merit, rather than patronage.

How are ministerial staff appointed?

Australian ministerial advisers are employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act as ministers’ personal staff.

The employing minister determines the employment terms and conditions of ministerial advisers; the prime minister can vary these. The law is sparse and does not stipulate any precise requirements in terms of staff appointments.

In practice, the appointment of ministerial advisers is based on a party-political network of patronage. The primary consideration is loyalty to the political party – not merit.

There have been notorious instances of the appointment of unsuitable staff. These include then deputy prime minister Jim Cairns’ appointment of his mistress, Junie Morosi, as his principal private secretary (although she was considered spectacularly unqualified for her position).




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Is Barnaby’s baby a matter of ‘public interest’ or just of interest to the public?


Some prime ministers have instituted a centralised process to reduce the appointment of unsuitable candidates. However, my research has shown that some senior ministers are able to circumvent such a process due to their position within the party.

Also, these processes primarily seek to filter candidates based on political danger – rather than on merit considerations.

Is there a breach of the rules in Joyce’s case?

Turnbull’s Statement of Ministerial Standards provides that ministers’ close relatives and partners are banned from being appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices. They also must not be employed in the offices of other members of the executive government without the prime minister’s express approval.

Joyce and Campion claim their relationship started after her appointment – so the government has argued this clause does not apply.

However, the ministerial standards also specify that ministers must declare any private interests held by them or members of their immediate family. And under the Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff, ministerial advisers have to disclose – and take reasonable steps to avoid – any real or apparent conflicts of interest connected with their employment. Staff are required to provide their employing minister and the special minister of state with a statement of private interests.

Therefore, the relationship between Joyce and Campion should have been disclosed when it arose, as there might have been an apparent conflict of interest connected with Joyce’s ministerial position. It is then up to the prime minister to decide what is to happen following this.

But both the standards for ministers and for their advisers are not legislated. They are not enforceable in the courts or in parliament. Enforcement is handled completely within the executive, which has an incentive to bury embarrassing material wherever possible.

This means any breaches of the standards by ministers and their advisers would be handled behind closed doors, without any formal scrutiny by parliament or any external bodies.

The enforcement of ministerial and adviser standards has been patchy. Whether a minister resigns depends on the prime minister of the day and if there is media furore and public outrage over an issue.

Are the rules too lax?

The legislation governing the employment of advisers is sparse and limited to affirming ministers’ powers to employ their advisers. Beyond this, there is no legislative requirement for ministerial advisers to adhere to certain behavioural rules.

The weak appointment rules have allowed Campion to be shuffled around different offices without a formal appointment process.

Other Westminster countries have stricter restrictions on the employment of advisers, either through a cap on the number of advisers (as in the UK) or a cap on the total budget for advisers (as in Canada).

The UK has a cap of two advisers per minister. Australia has no such limits.

Australia has the weakest regulation of ministerial staff when compared to other similar Westminster democracies. Other countries have stricter regulations that both restrict the actions of advisers and increase transparency.

The ConversationAustralian ministerial staff are now very important players in our democracy, but ministers and advisers are weakly regulated within our system. The law has lagged behind, but now is the time for reform.

Yee-Fui Ng, Lecturer, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Queensland Nationals Barry O’Sullivan’s advice on the Joyce affair: ‘don’t shoot your best horse’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Outspoken Queensland Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan has declared Barnaby Joyce a “once-in-a-generation type of politician” who remains a big asset to the Nationals despite the sharp grassroots reaction to his affair with his former staffer.

With some Nationals reeling from the backlash to the revelations amid speculation about Joyce’s future, O’Sullivan went on the front foot on Monday night.

“We’ve not seen any government that has done more for the bush than this one, with Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister,” he told The Conversation.

“I don’t want to lose one of the best politicians we’ve had in my lifetime. Are you going to shoot your best horse because he jumped the fence and was found in the neighbour’s paddock?”

O’Sullivan’s strong defence came as Malcolm Turnbull was forced in parliament to express his confidence in Joyce.

When Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked Turnbull whether Joyce would be acting prime minister when Turnbull visits the US next week, and whether he still retained confidence in Joyce, Turnbull kept his answer as brief as possible.

“Yes in response to both questions,” he said.

Turnbull is known to be furious with Joyce, whose affair with Vikki Campion, now expecting his child, has dominated headlines and distracted the government since the story broke in the Daily Telegraph mid-last week.

Turnbull and his office struggled on Monday to avoid being ensnared, as questions were put about the movement of Campion, who was shifted to the office of Resources Minister Matt Canavan after her relationship with Joyce started to cause problems in his office. Later she took up a position in the office of then Nationals whip Damian Drum. She left government at the end of last year.

Under the ministerial code of conduct, a minister’s “close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the executive government without the prime minister’s express approval”.

The opposition asked whether Turnbull or his office was involved in creating a new position last year in either Canavan’s or Drum’s office.

Turnbull said he was advised the Nationals were provided with a number of personal staff positions as a share of the government’s overall staffing pool. “The distribution of those staff members between Nationals’ offices is a matter for the National Party,” he said.

“I’m further advised that at no time did the Nationals fill all vacant staffing positions.”

The government is arguing that Turnbull was never officially informed that Campion was the partner of Joyce – who remained married to Natalie Joyce – and so the question of prime ministerial approval did not arise.

O’Sullivan said the Nationals base had expressed disappointment and frustration at Joyce’s behaviour.

“But no-one is challenging his ability to do the great job he has done,” O’Sullivan said. “Do we want to chip away at him until he’s gone?”

O’Sullivan, who said he was not personally close to Joyce, has a reputation as a straight talker. Last year he spearheaded the backbench Nationals move that led to the government capitulating to pressure for a royal commission into the banks, which commenced on Monday. He was critical of Joyce’s demotion of fellow Queenslander Keith Pitt in the December reshuffle.

Treasurer Scott Morrison told the ABC on Monday night: “There’s no-one I know in the parliament who is a stronger advocate for rural and regional Australia.

“While events regarding Barnaby’s private life … are disappointing, most importantly to his family and others, that doesn’t change the fact that Barnaby, over a long period of time in his public life, has dedicated himself to public service and the people he represents.”

The ConversationAsked about the code’s provision about partners not being employed without prime ministerial approval, Morrison said Joyce “can’t have two partners at the same time and he was obviously still married”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bad politics shouldn’t sink good ideas for public interest journalism


Matthew Ricketson, Deakin University

The Senate inquiry into the future of public interest journalism began as a gleam in the media-trained eye of Labor senator Sam Dastyari. It ended on February 5, 11 days after he left parliament, his political reputation in tatters over his conduct in relation to Chinese donors to the Labor Party.

This suggests the inquiry’s recommendations are unlikely to get much traction, but the very real issues it was investigating remain unresolved. How did quality media get into such a pickle and what can be done about it?

The three main developments that fed into the inquiry were: proposed changes to media ownership restrictions; the collapse of the business model that has for years sustained print media’s profitability; and the rise of “fake news” and its influence in the 2016 Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump.

The government had made two previous attempts to change the media ownership laws created in a pre-internet age. But the effect of the changes, which were finally passed in 2017, has largely been to protect existing mainstream media companies while failing to encourage new entrants into a highly concentrated market.

Meanwhile, according the journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the collapse of the business model has prompted mainstream media companies to lay off around 25% of journalists between 2012 and 2017.

Media companies have cut costs but have been powerless to stem the flood of
advertising revenue to global behemoths Google and Facebook. Google’s market capitalisation is about half Australia’s gross domestic product, the Senate report notes.

The business model problem remains. As a result, the loss of journalistic talent and experience has led to significant gaps in reporting, especially in courts, state parliaments and local and regional reporting, according to the Civic Impact of Journalism research project.

Lack of resources has also made news organisations increasingly vulnerable to “fake news”. Indeed, it was the growing alarm about “fake news”, coupled with yet another round of redundancies at Fairfax Media, that provided Dastyari with the public and political impetus to begin his inquiry.

In addition to Dastyari, the inquiry lost two of its most knowledgeable members – Greens senator Scott Ludlam, who resigned from parliament over his dual citizenship, and Nick Xenophon, who resigned to contest a seat in next month’s South Australian election.

The Coalition government was always unlikely to pay much heed to a Labor-chaired inquiry, but in its 149-page report the senators have grappled with important public policy issues. Their eight recommendations are:

  1. Adequately fund public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS.

  2. Guarantee future funding for community broadcasting.

  3. Embed digital media literary in the Australian curriculum.

  4. Extend deductible gift recipient status to not-for-profit news media organisations who engage in public interest journalism.

  5. Ask Treasury to do modelling on extending tax deductibility to all
    Australians who subscribe to news media outlets engaging in public interest
    journalism.

  6. Ask the Australian Law Reform Commission to conduct an audit of current laws that hinder journalists’ ability to report on national security and border protection issues.

  7. Review defamation laws.

  8. Expand legal protections for whistleblowers and other confidential sources for journalists.

These ideas are all worthy of further debate. The final three recommendations all tackle crucial press freedom issues. The call for adequate funding for the ABC and SBS follows sharp cuts under the past two Coalition governments. The community broadcasting sector has also been treated with disdain.

Teaching children the value of public interest journalism, and how to distinguish it from what the public is interested in, would be a good first step to developing a generation of more savvy media consumers.

The middle two recommendations tackle the vital question of how to pay for quality journalism. One recommendation supports not-for-profit outlets while the other would potentially benefit media outlets that rely on subscriptions. The latest in a long line of industry hopes for finding a sustainable business model is to build subscription numbers.

The senators rejected submissions from numerous people and organisations recommending some form of direct subsidy from government, either for existing media companies or to encourage new entrants.

There are clearly issues here of potential government interference in editorial independence, but the senators overlooked three points. First, many other countries around the world already provide direct subsidies, as is detailed in chapter five of their report. Second, there is evidence that editorial independence can be safeguarded. Finally, there is a long history in Australia of directly subsidising the news media industry, as outlined in both this report and the Finkelstein media inquiry in 2012.

The Public Interest Journalism Foundation has suggested the government extend the model of the Australia Council and set up an independent body to fund journalism. This also seems a good idea.

Whatever happens to these recommendations, the clock is ticking. If public interest journalism continues to be starved of resources, journalists’ ability to unearth maladministration or corruption will be winnowed even further. Of course we won’t see it, because journalists won’t have been able to tell us.

As Bob Woodward of The Washington Post observed:

The central dilemma in journalism is that you don’t know what you don’t know.

The ConversationImagine a world where we didn’t know about the Watergate scandal that Woodward was first to uncover.

Matthew Ricketson, Professor of Communication, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

US approach to security is deeply troubling – and it’s not just about Trump



File 20180208 74512 1ctlotn.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Is Donald Trump really the one setting the direction of US security policy?
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Media coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency has fixated on his outlandish, off-the-cuff tweets, his ill-conceived and inflammatory positions on immigration, race relations and climate change, his “America First” mantra, and his unrelenting attacks on the various inquiries into collusion with Russia.

The image created has been of a man who, though ignorant, vulgar and deeply polarising, struts the political stage. But is Trump really setting the direction of US security policy?

Mounting evidence suggests the theatre around Trump is so mesmerising that we have lost sight of how the US security establishment wields power – and to what end.

The picture is becoming clear

The security establishment is no monolith, nor does it function as a conspiratorial cabal. Personalities and institutional interests compete for attention and resources.

Yet it has a reasonably coherent mindset, which has its origins in the early days of the Cold War. It is a sense of belonging to a club that connects first and foremost the Department of Defence, various arms of the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies, but also significant voices in other key government departments, areas of the judiciary and Congress, and some of America’s most influential think-tanks and corporations – in particular the leading arms manufacturers.

How this security establishment is handling the Trump phenomenon is an intriguing story, highly complex, and still unfolding. However, several pieces of the jigsaw are beginning to fall into place. Three merit special attention:

  • the competition for influence within the Trump administration

  • the Russia investigation

  • the unmistakable shift in US strategic planning.

Taken together these form a picture of a political and military elite intent on maintaining control of US security policy. They feel the need to immunise it from Trump’s erratic behaviour and his supposedly pro-Russian inclinations, and revive a Cold War mindset that views Russia and China as major adversaries.

The battle for influence

Though Trump and the security establishment may be suspicious of one another, there is also common ground. They disagree not about placing “America first”, but about how this should be done.

The security establishment prefers a carefully devised, longer-term strategy and a less confrontational approach toward friends and allies. It sees value in continuing to extol the virtues of free trade and democracy, though it does not necessarily practise what it preaches.

And it is generally suspicious of personal deal-making – especially where this involves Russia – to which Trump is drawn by instinct, and commercial interest and experience.

The security establishment has therefore made it a priority to gain influence within the administration. It took no more than six months for reliable establishment figures to be firmly in the saddle: Jim Mattis as defence secretary, John Kelly as White House chief-of-staff and H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.

Key Trump campaign advisers thought to have cultivated links with Russia or be otherwise unreliable – including Michael Flynn (whom Trump initially appointed as national security adviser), George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Stephen Bannon and even Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner – have been gently or not-so-gently eased out of their previously influential roles.

Trump himself is seen at best as an unknown quantity, and at worst prone to dangerous illusions about the prospects of cultivating a fruitful personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Behind the lurid accusations of Russian meddling in the US presidential election and alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and more recently behind the claims and counterclaims of obstruction of justice by the Trump administration, we can now discern a far more significant jostling for control of US policy.

The ‘new’ Russian threat

The Russia investigations being conducted by congressional committees and by special counsel Robert Mueller are clearly designed to put Trump on the defensive. Congressional Democrats are doing all they can to prolong these inquiries – in some cases with the support of senior Republican senators close to the intelligence community.

Hundreds of witnesses have already given evidence to these inquiries. Many more are expected to appear. And in public comments and her recently published memoir, Hillary Clinton, well known for her antipathy to Putin and his reassertion of Russian influence, has been at pains to identify Russia’s meddling in the election as a key factor in her defeat.

Yet the hard evidence so far produced to support the charges of Russian interference has been scant to say the least.

Putin and his underlings are no angels. But as journalist Aaron Mate has argued:

In Russiagate, unverified claims are reported with little to no scepticism … developments are cherry-picked and overhyped, while countervailing ones are minimised or ignored. Front-page headlines advertise explosive and incriminating developments, only to often be undermined by the article’s content, or retracted entirely.

Whatever the outcome of these various inquiries, one thing is clear. The security establishment has concluded that a resurgent Russia needs to be contained and that any advocacy of dialogue with it must be nipped in the bud.

Allegations of Russian interference in the politics of the US and other Western countries are part of a larger strategy that aims to magnify the threat Russia poses and to thwart any intention on Trump’s part to reset the relationship.

Donald Trump has been keen to offer a hand of friendship to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Back to the Cold War

The national defence strategy Mattis recently unveiled delivers a stark message. Countering China’s rise and Russia’s resurgence are now at the heart of US policy. The Cold War outlook is back with a vengeance.

To this end, the US military will confront its adversaries across the spectrum of conflicts – mainly in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region, but without neglecting the Middle East.

American armed forces will modernise and build its readiness for future conflicts and consolidate military ties with allies and partners around the world. But conspicuously absent is any notion of neo-isolationism or renewed dialogue with Russia – both of which featured prominently during Trump’s presidential campaign.

The national defence strategy should, in any case, be read in conjunction with the national security strategy released in December 2017 and the more recent nuclear posture review released last week.

The shift in US strategic priorities, which is well under way, will affect all aspects of defence budgeting, weapons development and force management. Training is already focused on high-intensity conflict with major adversaries. Heavily armed deployments are stationed continuously in Europe and across East and Central Asia.

The plan is to modernise all three arms of the US nuclear arsenal – land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles – and design low-yield nuclear weapons that make them more readily usable. In other words, the US is boosting its capacity to escalate non-nuclear conflicts into nuclear war, thereby lowering the nuclear threshold.

Trump’s rhetoric of “fire and fury” is at first sight in accord with these developments. Whether he fully understands them is another matter.

The ConversationWe may not much like what Trump says or wants to do. But even more troubling is the US security establishment’s vision of the future. For US allies, not least Australia, it spells danger and much heartache.

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.