‘Soft’ voters scathing about Turnbull’s handling of sex in politics: focus group research

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull handled the Barnaby Joyce affair badly and his ban on ministers having sex with members of their staff is risible, according to “soft voters” in focus groups held last week.

The research, done ahead of the South Australian election but canvassing views about the federal leaders as well as state issues, also found people critical of Bill Shorten, especially disdainful of what they saw as his “opportunistic” position on the Adani coal mine in Queensland.

Four focus groups each of nine or ten “soft” voters – those who had not decided who to vote for in next Saturday’s election – were conducted on March 7 and 8: two each in Adelaide and the regional city of Murray Bridge. The work was done by Landscape Research on behalf of the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

These soft voters, meeting on the heels of Turnbull’s Newspoll slump in the wake of the Joyce affair, believed Turnbull misjudged the public mood on the issue, didn’t handle it well, and let it drag on to become much more of a distraction than it should have been.

“I didn’t think it was even any of his business to be quite frank,” a 61-year-old male real estate agent said. “He wasn’t even in the same party.”

Many soft voters wonder why Turnbull didn’t simply get Joyce to keep his mouth shut.

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Politics podcast: the ‘X factor’ in the South Australian election

A retired man in Murray Bridge said that “publicly dissing Barnaby … was bad”, while a customer services manager from the town thought “he should have got rid of him quicker”.

As for the sex ban: “That rule about no bonking in parliament was an absolute joke,” an Adelaide male security office declared, while a social worker in Murray Bridge thought it “probably inflamed the situation”.

A young woman from retail was sceptical about implementation. “It’s going to happen. They can’t stop it.”

A retired female cook summed up the cynicism: “I mean, for goodness sake!”, while another woman said: “At the end of the day does it really matter? Just focus on what you need to focus on and stop focusing on people’s sex lives.”

When it comes to representing Australia on the world stage, these voters prefer Turnbull over Shorten. But more generally, many see Turnbull hamstrung by his party, weak and wishy-washy because he can’t free himself and be true to his own beliefs.

There is a strong sense that Turnbull’s perceived lack of leadership has let down many voters who expected big things from him.

“There’s no passion anymore,” said an Adelaide pensioner. A retired male teacher thought he was “not a conviction politician. You don’t feel he’s got a set of beliefs.”

An older Murray Bridge participant struggled with the gap between Turnbull’s words and actions, as shown by recent events.

“He comes across as a very decent sort of man. He made a statement at the beginning of the year about his aspiration for things to be better in parliament. And then we have Michaelia Cash getting out of her tree and he virtually starts making excuses for her, and then we’ve got Peter Dutton and a couple of other ministers being very, very personal about the marital affairs of others, and he lets all that happen in spite of what he’s already said.”

Given Turnbull is seen as still preferable to his opponent, soft voters would like him to improve and “act like a leader”, and especially to gag the voices behind him, who they regard as undermining him.

But there is doubt that he can break through. A young male factory worker thought “he’s had too many scandals in his party and it’s starting to take effect on how people see him. Like, he has no control over his party. And people are thinking, maybe he’s not cut out for the job.”

Shorten is seen as having sat back and gloated at the government’s troubles. But there was a surprisingly high unprompted awareness of his “opportunistic”, “two-faced” position on Adani. Shorten’s union association also lingers in people’s minds.

A young Adelaide bank worker observed: “Recently he went up to Queensland and said he was in favour of the Adani coal mine and then he was in Melbourne and said he was against the coal mine. Flip-flops.”

Another Adelaide voter parodied Shorten’s statements on the project: “Yeah but, yeah but … we won’t tear the contract up but …”

The ConversationFor both leaders, these soft voters have become an unforgiving lot – which in part explains the attraction of casting a protest vote.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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


Xenophon’s SA-BEST slumps in a South Australian Newspoll, while Turnbull’s better PM lead narrows

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Although SA-BEST is averaging 27% in seats it is contesting, the major parties are less vulnerable to losing seats to SA-BEST than it may appear from primary votes.
AAP/David Mariuz

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The South Australian election will be held on March 17. A Newspoll, conducted in the three days from February 27 to March 1 from a sample of 1,078, gave the Liberals 32% of the primary vote (up three since the October to December Newspoll), Labor 30% (up three), SA-BEST 21% (down 11), the Greens 7% (up one) and the Australian Conservatives 6%. No two-party figure was calculated.

About half of SA-BEST’s drop is because it is contesting 36 of the 47 lower house seats, and Newspoll did not offer SA-BEST as an option in the seats it is not contesting. In the seats SA-BEST is contesting, it averaged 27%.

Read more:
With Feeney gone, Greens sniff a chance in Batman, and has Xenophon’s bubble burst in South Australia?

On the three-way better premier question, 29% supported Nick Xenophon (down 17), 28% incumbent Jay Weatherill (up six) and 24% Opposition Leader Steven Marshall (up five). Weatherill led Marshall 38-31 head-to-head (37-32 previously).

Although SA-BEST and Xenophon’s support has slumped, neither of the two major party leaders is at all popular. Weatherill’s net approval is -21, down two points, and Marshall’s net approval is -26, down three points.

The Liberals led Labor 42-38 on best party for the South Australian economy, and led Labor 37-36 on best to maintain the energy supply and keep power prices lower. SA-BEST voters favoured the Liberals 37-33 on the economy and Labor 35-27 on energy.

Although SA-BEST is averaging 27% in seats it is contesting, the major parties are less vulnerable to losing seats to SA-BEST than it may appear from primary votes. Most Greens will preference Labor higher than SA-BEST, and most Conservatives will preference the Liberals higher.

Labor’s biggest problem in South Australia is that it has been in government since 2002. Old governments cannot blame problems on their predecessors, and there is an “It’s Time” factor.

14-to-16-year-old Labor governments in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania were smashed between 2011 and 2014, so Labor in South Australia is doing well to be competitive. Picking fights with the unpopular federal Coalition government probably explains Labor’s competitiveness.

Only once in the four elections since 2002 South Australian Labor won has the party received a majority of the two party vote (in 2006). At the 2014 election, despite losing the two-party vote 53.0-47.0, Labor won 23 of the 47 seats, and formed government with an independent’s support.

Unlike other Australian electoral commissions, the South Australian commission is required to create electorally fair boundaries. The 2018 boundaries were drawn so that, based on the last election’s results, a party that won a majority of the two-party vote should win a majority of the seats, ignoring independents.

The result of this requirement is that boundaries have been changed to favour the Liberals. According to the ABC’s Antony Green, the new boundaries notionally give the Liberals 27 seats out of 47, to Labor’s 20. Including independents, the Liberals have 24 seats, Labor has 19 and independents four. Ignoring independents, Labor needs a 3.1-point uniform swing to gain four seats from the Liberals and a majority.

The South Australian upper house has 22 members, with half up for election every four years. Statewide proportional representation is used to elect the upper house, with a similar system to the Senate. The South Australian parliament abolished group voting tickets last year.

The new system has optional preferential voting above the line; a single “1” vote above the line will expire within the chosen party, and will not be passed on as preferences to another party. Voters can direct preferences to other parties by marking “2”, “3”, and so on, above the line.

With 11 members to be elected, a quota is one-twelfth of the vote, or 8.3%. Overall, the upper house has eight Liberals, eight Labor, two Greens, two Conservatives, one Dignity and one Advance SA (formerly SA-BEST). At this election, the members up for election are four Liberals, four Labor, one Green, one Conservative and one Dignity.

Federal Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Newspoll, conducted March 1-4 from a sample of 1,660, gave federal Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged on last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (up one), 9% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (down one).

This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 28th successive Newspoll loss, just two short of Tony Abbott. If Newspoll sticks to its schedule, Turnbull will hit his 30th loss in April, but parliament will not be sitting until the May budget.

Despite the argument about Bill Shorten and Labor’s stance on the Adani coal mine, Labor gained a point at the expense of the Greens on primary votes. However, the overall Labor/Greens primary is still stuck at 47%, where it has been since August.

Turnbull’s ratings appear to have suffered further from the Barnaby Joyce and Michaelia Cash controversies. 32% were satisfied with Turnbull (down two), and 57% were dissatified (up three), for a net approval of -25. Shorten’s net approval was down three points to -23. Turnbull’s lead as better PM narrowed from 40-33 to 37-35, his equal lowest better PM lead.

In the first Newspoll of the year, in early February, Turnbull was at a net -13 approval, Shorten at a net -18, and Turnbull led Shorten by an emphatic 45-31 as better PM. That Newspoll came after a controversy-free summer holiday period. Since then, Turnbull has lost 12 points of net approval, Shorten has lost five, and Turnbull’s better PM lead has narrowed from 14 points to two.

Read more:
Turnbull and the Coalition begin the year on a positive polling note – but it’s still all about the economy

Essential 53-47 to Labor

In last week’s Essential, conducted February 22-25 from a sample of 1,028, Labor led by 53-47, a one-point gain for the Coalition. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).

By 50-32, voters supported a ban on sex between ministers and their staff. Voters also supported a ban on politicians having extra-marital sex 44-36, and a ban on sex between managers and their staff in the workplace 48-35. However, voters were opposed to a ban on sex between workmates 55-22.

A total of 60% thought Barnaby Joyce should resign, with 26% saying he should remain in parliament, and 34% saying he should leave parliament. Only 19% thought he should remain deputy PM.

By 44-41, voters approved of the media reporting on politicians’ private affairs.

Only 23% thought Joyce’s sexual relationship with his staffer was a major concern. On the other hand, 60% thought alleged excessive use of travel entitlements a major concern, and 50% thought finding the staff member work in another minister’s office a major concern.

Essential asked whether four Indigenous-related issues, the republic and changing Australia Day were a high priority. Just 11% thought changing the date of Australia Day was a high priority, and 21% becoming a republic. All the Indigenous-related issues scored higher.

The ConversationBy 48-32, voters would support abolishing private health insurance subsidies, and using this money to include dental care within Medicare.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

Liberals likely to win Tasmanian election, while federal Labor’s poll lead widens

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On the stated figures, the Will Hodgman-led Tasmanian Liberals are most likely to win 13 or 14 seats out of 25.
AAP/Rob Blakers

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday. A ReachTEL poll, conducted for The Mercury on February 22 from a large sample of more than 3,100, gave the Liberals 46.4% of the vote, Labor 31.1%, the Greens 12.1%, the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 5.2%, others 2.0%, and 3.3% were undecided.

When undecideds are excluded, the Liberals have 48.0%, Labor 32.2%, the Greens 12.5%, and JLN 5.4%.

Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Sample sizes for each electorate in ReachTEL were 620-650. The Liberals had well over 50% in Bass and Braddon, and 49.6% in Lyons, implying they would win three of the five seats in each.

Read more:
Tasmanian election likely to be close, while Labor continues to lead federally

In Franklin, the Liberals had 42.6%, easily enough for two seats. In Denison, the Liberals had 33.8%, just enough for two seats.

On the stated figures, the most likely overall seat outcome is 13 or 14 Liberals out of 25, eight-to-ten Labor, and two or three Greens. So, the Liberals should win a majority.

Like other Tasmanian polls, ReachTEL has in the past skewed to the Greens and against Labor. At the last two federal elections, ReachTEL skewed to the Liberals in Tasmania, though it skewed against the Liberals at the 2014 state election.

Adjusting for ReachTEL’s skew, Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham thinks the most likely outcome is 13 Liberals, ten Labor, and two Greens. The next two most likely outcomes are 13 Liberals, 11 Labor, one Green; and 12 Liberals, 11 Labor, two Greens.

I do not think opposition to Labor’s anti-pokies policy caused the swing to the Liberals during the campaign. The most important factor was probably that many Tasmanians detest the Greens, and will vote for the major party most likely to win a majority. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that had appeared likely to result in a hung parliament.

The Greens’ vote of 12.5% in this poll is below the 13.7% they won at the 2014 election, and it could be lower given ReachTEL’s pro-Greens skew. It is likely the Greens are doing badly because Labor, under Rebecca White’s leadership, has become more left-wing, so the Greens are having trouble differentiating themselves from Labor.

Incumbent Will Hodgman led White by 51.8-48.2 on ReachTEL’s forced choice better premier question. Labor’s pokies policy was supported against the Liberals’ policy by a 57-43 margin.

ReachTEL 54-46 to federal Labor

A Sky News ReachTEL, conducted February 22 – the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned – had federal Labor leading by 54-46, a two-point gain for Labor since late January. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 11% Greens (up one), and 7% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% probably included some undecided voters.

ReachTEL is using respondent-allocated preferences, which have been better for the Coalition than previous election preferences, as One Nation preferences are flowing to the Coalition at a greater rate than the 50-50 flow at the 2016 election. By last election preferences, Bonham calculates this poll was about 55.5-44.5 to Labor. This makes it one of the worst polls for the Coalition this term.

Despite the blowout in the Labor margin, Malcolm Turnbull continued to lead Bill Shorten by 53-47 in ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question (54-46 in January). Although the Joyce affair appears to have damaged the Coalition, Turnbull is not being blamed.

Last week’s Newspoll, conducted February 15-18 from a sample of 1,630, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (steady), and 8% One Nation (up three). This was Turnbull’s 27th successive Newspoll loss, three short of Tony Abbott.

The overall Labor/Green vote in this Newspoll was 47%; the left vote has been stuck at 47% in Newspoll since August. Despite the Joyce affair, the overall Coalition/One Nation vote was up one point to 44%.

Turnbull’s ratings were 34% satisfied, 54% dissatisfied (37-50 previously). Shorten’s ratings were the same as Turnbull’s, and Turnbull led Shorten 40-33 as better prime minister (45-31 previously).

A total of 65% thought Joyce should resign as deputy prime minister, while only 23% thought he should stay. By 64-25, voters supported a ban on politicians having sexual relations with their staff. By 57-32, voters supported Shorten’s policy to give Indigenous people a voice to federal parliament.

As long as Republicans hold Congress, no chance of real US gun control

After the recent Florida high school gun massacre, there has been a renewed push for US gun control. However, as I wrote following the Las Vegas massacre in October, meaningful gun control will not happen under Donald Trump and the current Republican-controlled Congress.

Read more:
No chance of US gun control despite Las Vegas massacre; NZ left gains two seats after special votes

The Florida state legislature, which Republicans control 76-40, defeated a motion to debate a ban on assault weapons by 71-36, even as students from the affected school looked on. Instead, it passed a motion declaring pornography a public health risk.

Trump’s ratings are currently 39.1% approve, 55.6% disapprove, in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate. Before the gun massacre, Trump’s approval had risen to 41.5% owing to perceptions of an improving US economy; for several weeks, Trump’s approval was at least 40%.

Democrats lead by 47.0-38.8 in the race for Congress. Before the massacre, the Democrats’ lead had fallen to 6.4 points. All 435 US House of Representatives seats will be up for election in November, and also one-third of the 100 senators. Democrats probably need a mid-to-high single-digit popular vote margin to win control of the House of Representatives.

Read more:
Strong US economy boosts Trump’s ratings, as Democrats shut down government for three days

Italian election: March 4

The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of both chambers of the Italian parliament will be elected by first past the post, and the remainder by proportional representation.

Italy imposes a blackout on polling during the final two weeks of election campaigns. The last polls were published on or before February 16.

In the final pre-blackout polls, the centre-right coalition was in the high 30s, with the centre-left coalition and the populist left Five Star Movement trailing with about 27% each. A left-wing breakaway from the centre-left had about 6%.

Even though the overall left vote is about 60%, the right could win a majority owing to the first-past-the-post seats.

The centre-right coalition includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s old party (Forza Italia). Although Berlusconi is banned from contesting elections, he could be the power behind the throne if his coalition wins a majority in both chambers.

The Conversation

Read more:
Will elections in 2018 see 2017’s left-wing revival continue?

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

Barnaby Joyce: the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall

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Barnaby Joyce’s departure to the backbench obviously brings immediate relief for the government and the Nationals.
AAP/Marlon Dalton

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the end, the tough man crumpled. For a fortnight Barnaby Joyce had resembled someone out in the snow who’d broken through the pain threshold, as he defied massive pressure and political common sense to try to cling to his job.

But as the scandal engulfing him tore at the government, he finally gave way; on his own account, a sexual harassment allegation that was revealed publicly only on Thursday was the last straw.

Most observers thought the saga had to come to Friday’s conclusion. The media stories weren’t going to stop. They were of two kinds. There were those surrounding the employment arrangements made for his former staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion. The others were the various claims of inappropriate behaviour that kept surfacing.

His Nationals colleagues, despite their admiration for Joyce’s campaigning and other abilities, looked on aghast during the last two weeks, increasingly pessimistic about the way things were going. Never mind his enemies – by Thursday, even his loyalists could not see a way through.

Read more:
Barnaby Joyce wields the tea towel in the government’s soap opera

Within the government, clearly the relationship with Malcolm Turnbull was gone after the prime minister’s extraordinary personal attack last week and Joyce’s counterpunch. The staged weekend meeting to suggest a patch-up was farcical.

The fact that Joyce informed Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann, rather than Turnbull himself, of his impending resignation announcement says it all. Joyce’s opinion of Turnbull now likely matches what Tony Abbott thinks of Turnbull. Abbott had a thinly veiled jibe in his tribute to Joyce, saying “part of the problem has been poor management at the most senior levels of government”.

Joyce’s departure to the backbench obviously brings immediate relief for the government and the Nationals. What it will mean beyond that is more difficult to predict.

Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, seems virtually certain to become the new Nationals leader. He’s a junior minister with a relatively low profile, and has sometimes been shielded in parliament’s Question Time by more senior ministerial colleagues. The party is moving in behind McCormack, because there is no real alternative, and in an effort to show it is regrouping.

Another NSW National, David Gillespie, has also put up his hand – despite still waiting on a High Court decision about his constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament. But he is not a chance.

McCormack might grow into the job, as leaders sometimes do. Tim Fischer (unkindly) likes to remind me that I wrote him off when he became leader, and then had to acknowledge how well he turned out.

But taking over in these circumstances will be hard going for the new chief, who must sell himself in the electorate as well as establish enough authority within the government to enable the Nationals to punch above their numerical weight.

In the parliament, the Nationals are a top-down party. They number only 21, so they need their leadership to be strong – ideally not just the leader but their other senior ministers as well.

They are eons from the glory days of John McEwen, Doug Anthony, Ian Sinclair and Peter Nixon. But Joyce, under whom the party performed well at the 2016 election, enabled it to hold its own in the Coalition.

His successor will step into a Coalition climate in which many Liberals are furious that the Joyce scandal and the Nationals’ failure to resolve it quickly wiped out the government’s good start to the year. Also, even before all this happened, the rural Liberals, looking for more bounty and kudos, were flexing their muscle against their Nationals colleagues.

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Joyce (like Abbott before him) says he won’t snipe from the backbench. They all say that, the cynic might observe (especially a cynic watching Abbott’s run-up to Turnbull’s expected 30 losing Newspolls).

On the other hand, Joyce’s fall is different from that of Abbott. He was not knifed in a coup by his own party. Indeed, even on Thursday, some Nationals sources believed Joyce probably still had the numbers (whether they would have held in a spill is something else).

Joyce was brought down by his own behaviour, relentless media disclosures, and the reality that the government could not stand the damage being done to it.

Whatever he might say about being busy on other fronts, with the baby and all, discipline and quietness are not in Joyce’s nature. When he first entered the parliament as a Queensland senator, he crossed the floor countless times and caused many headaches for the Nationals’ leadership.

It would be surprising if, as a backbencher in the lower house, he keeps his opinions to himself, even if he eschews floor-crossing, given the government’s tight numbers.

It’s premature to judge how damaged Joyce is as a campaigner in regional Australia. Initial opinion polls are a limited guide. If it turns out he still has cache as a retail politician, it will be interesting to see how extensively the Nationals, under their new leader, choose to use him in the next election campaign.

At a human level, Joyce is the story of an unlikely rise and a self-inflicted fall.

Joyce – who garnered international publicity when he threatened to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs – has always been a larger-than-life politician, a distinctive brand.

When he arrived in Canberra in 2005, no-one thought he’d ever lead the Nationals. He punched through, overcame setbacks, and remade himself while retaining the characteristics that led people to regard him as authentic.

But then his personal flaws and indulgences cost him all he’d worked and schemed for, as well as bringing grief to many close to him.

The ConversationIn other times and circumstances, Joyce might have skated through, little harmed by the scandal. But today the personal can quickly become the political – something Joyce failed to understand.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull’s ‘sex ban’ speech reveals that politics is still not an equal place for women – but it is changing

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Malcolm Turnbull announces changes to the Ministerial Code of Conduct in the wake of the Barnaby Joyce affair.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

The appropriateness of Malcolm Turnbull’s trenchant criticisms of Barnaby Joyce’s “shocking error of judgement” and his announcement of a ban on ministers having sex with staffers has already been widely debated.

However, when he made those statements, Turnbull also raised much broader issues about the position of women in parliament that are worth discussing in more depth.

Turnbull acknowledged that there were “some very serious issues about the culture of this place, of this parliament” that involved gender.

He stated: “Many women … who work in this building understand very powerfully what I am saying”. Consequently, the old Ministerial Code of Conduct needed to be revised because it didn’t adequately reflect the values “of workplaces where women are respected”.

Turnbull went on to say:

I recognise that respect in workplaces is not entirely a gender issue, of course. But the truth is, as we know, most of the ministers, most of the bosses in this building if you like, are men and there is a gender, a real gender perspective here.

Turnbull is crafting an image of “protective masculinity”, of a fatherly protectiveness toward potentially vulnerable women, which he hopes will appeal both to social conservatives and feminists.

Leading Liberal Party social conservatives such as Scott Morrison have supported his ban. As has been pointed out, Turnbull’s position also references the challenging of conventional gender power relations in the workplace by movements such as #MeToo. (Though it should be noted that both some social conservatives and feminists may have reservations about the specific measures Turnbull advocates.)

Read more:
Fischer calls for quick resolution of Nationals crisis, while Joyce is determined to fight to the death

It was an acknowledgement of gendered power relations in parliament that more socially conservative predecessors such as John Howard or Tony Abbott would have been unlikely to make. Indeed, Turnbull’s broader statements also raise feminist issues that may cause some tensions with social conservatives in the longer term.

For example, why, as Turnbull acknowledges, are most of the ministers in parliament male?

Turnbull was pulled up when he mistakenly claimed to have the most female cabinet ministers of any Australian government so far. It was pointed out that, at best, his record equalled Kevin Rudd’s, and that number has actually dropped since the resignation of Sussan Ley.

Indeed, Rudd had a higher percentage of female cabinet members – 30% compared with Turnbull’s initial 27% that dropped to 24% after Ley’s resignation, and to 22% when Turnbull expanded his cabinet from 21 to 23. Furthermore, there is only one female minister out of the seven in the Turnbull government’s outer ministry.

Malcolm Turnbull poses with female ministers in December 2017.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Turnbull should be praised for having both a female foreign minister and defence minister, since these are senior portfolios not traditionally held by women.
Nonetheless, Peter Van Onselen has written tellingly regarding the apparent gender bias in Liberal cabinet selections, and the serious female talent that has been overlooked as a result, in both the Abbott and Turnbull cabinets.

Despite this, the situation has obviously improved markedly under Turnbull.

Julie Bishop has talked about her experience of being the only woman in Abbott’s first cabinet, and of how she’d put forward excellent ideas that were ignored, only to have a male colleague repeat the same idea and be lauded for it.

It was, she said, a form of unconscious bias that resulted in “almost a deafness”. Clearly cultural change and more respect for women in the workplace were needed there.

Furthermore, it isn’t just a case of the majority of ministers being male – so are the majority of politicians.

Women are seriously underrepresented among Liberal MPs. As of November 2017, only 22% of Liberal politicians were women (with Labor’s proportion then being 45%).

Consequently, it isn’t just the culture in ministers’ offices that needs changing. Some female Liberal politicians, such as senator Linda Reynolds, have drawn attention to the need for broader cultural change in the Liberal Party to ensure more female politicians are recruited and women’s abilities are recognised.

Some have even suggested that, given merit is clearly not being recognised in candidate pre-selection, the Liberal Party should consider introducing quotas like Labor has done.

Read more:
How the Liberals can fix their gender problem

Parliamentary culture in general remains highly gendered, with women often bearing the brunt of sexist attitudes. The culture is also one that has often rewarded particularly macho conceptions of masculinity that can disadvantage some men as well as women.

No wonder women can become the target or collateral damage, often aided and abetted by highly gendered media coverage. The problems are not just confined to the Coalition, pervading most if not all parties, although some are doing better than others.

Indeed, while it has substantially increased its number of female politicians, Labor sometimes falls back on some of its old habits in regard to gender. These include appointing exceptionally capable female candidates to try to improve Labor’s image after male politicians have made a mess of things — a scenario that former premiers Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner knew well.

Think of Kristina Keneally replacing Sam Dastyari in the Senate – although at least she is guaranteed her spot, unlike Ged Kearney, who is faced with the difficult task of trying to retain Batman for Labor against the Greens following David Feeney’s departure.

However, clearly things are changing, and the gendered nature of parliamentary politics is under challenge. Turnbull’s acknowledgement of gendered power imbalances in parliament reveals that, even if he avoided discussing his own party’s contribution to them.

The ConversationAll states in Australia, other than South Australia, have now had a female premier, with some having had more than one. While Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, regularly had her gender used against her, Australians will be watching the progress of New Zealand’s third female prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, with great interest. Perhaps, one day, we will even stop discussing her baby and her shoes.

Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide

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

China, North Korea and trade the key talking points when Turnbull meets Trump

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Malcolm Turnbull will be relieved to have some time away from the Barnaby Joyce affair when he arrives in Washington this week.
Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Malcolm Turnbull was no doubt relieved when the prime ministerial jet lifted off from Australian soil yesterday, bound for the United States and his first formal round of discussions in Washington with an American president.

In Turnbull’s own words – applied to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s domestic troubles – he will be hoping to leave behind a “world of woe”.

After a steadier start to the new year, the Joyce scandal, involving an affair with a political staffer, has cut the ground from under those improved prospects.

This has been reflected in the latest round of polling, which shows the Coalition slipping back against the Labor opposition. Turnbull’s own approval rating has taken a hit.

For these and other reasons, not least the need to establish a sound working relationship with a new administration, the prime minister will be looking to a circuit-breaker.

Read more:
Fischer calls for quick resolution of Nationals crisis, while Joyce is determined to fight to the death

Whether Turnbull’s “first 100 years of mateship” visit to Washington – with state premiers and business leaders in tow – provides a diversion from his domestic woes remains to be seen.

The hokey branding for the mission refers to the centenary of American soldiers fighting under Australian command on the Western Front in the Battle of Hamel in 1918.

In Washington, Turnbull’s discussions with President Donald Trump will focus primarily on China’s rise, the North Korean nuclear issue, and trade.

How to respond to North Korea’s provocations represents an immediate problem. But in the longer term, China’s expanding power and influence constitute the greatest security challenge facing Australia since the second world war.

In his public statements, Turnbull has been alternately hawkish and conciliatory toward Beijing, but it appears his instincts tend to align themselves with an American hedging strategy.

The Turnbull view of how to manage China’s rise was given particular expression in a speech in June 2017 to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. In this speech he called for “new sources of leadership [in the Indo-Pacific] to help the United States shape our common good”.

Turnbull’s Shangri-La speech was forthright for an Australian prime minister. He sharply criticised China’s “unilateral actions to seize or create territory or militarise disputed areas” in the South China Sea.

Beijing denies it, but it is clear it has been constructing a defence perimeter on islands and features in disputed waters. This prompted the following from Turnbull:

China has gained the most from the peace and harmony in our region and it has the most to lose if it is threatened … A coercive China would find its neighbours resenting demands they cede their autonomy and strategic space and look to counterweigh Beijing’s power by bolstering alliances and partnerships, between themselves and especially with the United States.

That speech was followed by increased efforts to expand a quadrilateral security dialogue between Australia, Japan, India and the US.

Turnbull’s visit to Japan in January for high-profile talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasised shared regional security goals with other members of the so-called Quad.

What steps might be taken to further develop security collaboration between Australia, the US, India and Japan will almost certainly be on the table in Washington.

The Trump administration’s appointment of Admiral Harry Harris, the outgoing head of the US Pacific Command, as the ambassador-designate in Canberra is a signal of its intentions.

Harris has a hawkish view of China’s expanding influence in the Indo-Pacific. His participation in a security conference in Delhi in January along with Australian, Japanese and Indian naval commanders was significant in light of stepped-up efforts to bolster maritime collaboration between Quad members.

However – and this is a sizeable “however” – Turnbull needs to be careful not to be sucked into an American slipstream where China is concerned. Australia’s commercial interests dictate prudence in how it positions itself between a rising China and the US under an unpredictable Trump presidency.

The new US National Defence Strategy exposed differences between Canberra and Washington in their views of “revisionist” China and Russia as threats to US hegemony.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop felt obliged to distance Australia from the Trump administration’s characterisation of attempts by China and Russia to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model”. She said:

We have a different perspective on Russia and China, clearly. We do not see Russia or China as posing a military threat to Australia.

Turnbull, for his part, provided a more nuanced response. He said:

We don’t see threats from our neighbours in the region but nonetheless every country must always plan ahead and you need to build the capabilities to defend yourself not just today but in 10 years or 20 years hence.

Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper and 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper (the two documents should be read in conjunction) sketched out a future in which the country needs to buttress its defence capabilities in light of China’s rise.

Apart from China and related security matters, Turnbull will focus on trade in Washington. He will no doubt try to persuade Trump to revisit his decision to pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The US withdrawal from the TPP, as one of Trump’s first executive acts as president, was disappointing. A trading bloc in the Indo-Pacific accounting for 36% of global GDP would have served as a counterweight to China’s surging trade and investment ambitions.

The revised CPTPP – including Australia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Vietnam and Brunei – remains significant. But clearly the abrupt US withdrawal has lessened its reach.

Significantly, Turnbull will discuss the CPTPP on the eve of the initialling of the agreement among the 11 remaining participants on March 8.

Trump has indicated he might be receptive to arguments for American re-engagement in the CPTPP process. However, this would require the renegotiation of provisions on such contentious issues as dispute settlements, copyright and intellectual property.

It is hard to see this happening in a timely manner. In a sense, the train has left the station.

Read more:
Trump and Turnbull have little cause for satisfaction over progress in Afghanistan

The Turnbull-Trump focus on China may also yield discussion about a competing regional infrastructure investment initiative to balance China’s “Belt and Road” program.

The latter is a vast Chinese infrastructure scheme. China is seeking to strengthen its influence in surrounding states by recycling a portion of its foreign exchange reserves in road, rail, port and other such projects.

It is not clear just how Turnbull and Trump might seek to provide alternative sources of infrastructure funding for projects to counter Chinese attempts to buy influence far and wide.

The ConversationSuch a scheme emerged from a pre-summit briefing in Canberra. The fact it is being floated attests to concerns in Washington and Canberra about China’s success in using its financial heft to extend its security interests.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Fischer calls for quick resolution of Nationals crisis, while Joyce is determined to fight to the death

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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.

The ConversationVictorian Liberal backbencher Sarah Henderson told Sky the standard should apply in every MP’s office.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Voters tell Barnaby Joyce to quit as leader: Newspoll

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce is coming under fresh pressure to stand down with 65% of voters saying he should quit as Nationals leader, in a Newspoll that shows the scandal hitting the government and Malcolm Turnbull.

The two-party vote has the Coalition trailing Labor 47-53%, compared with 48-52% a fortnight ago, halting the improvement the government had at the start of the year. This is the 27th consecutive Newspoll in which the Coalition has been behind Labor.

The poll comes as softer weekend messaging from Turnbull added to the confusion around the crisis, and how it will play out remains uncertain.

Turnbull and the Liberals want to see Joyce step down or be rolled by his party. But Turnbull is treading more carefully now that it is clear the Nationals could take umbrage and dig in behind Joyce if they think the Liberals are trying to dictate to them.

There is an increasing feeling in Nationals circles that Joyce’s position is untenable. The party’s MPs will get electoral feedback this week when parliament is not sitting and they are in their electorates. Joyce is desperately trying to hang onto his job despite the huge political fallout from his affair with his former staffer, now his pregnant partner. He is on a week’s leave.

In the Newspoll published in Monday’s Australian, Turnbull’s better prime minister rating fell five points to 40% and Bill Shorten’s rose two points to 33%, narrowing Turnbull’s lead to seven points. The Coalition’s primary vote declined two points to 36%; Labor remained steady at 37%.

The Australian reports that in the breakdown of voters wanting Joyce gone, 29% say he should step down as Nationals leader but stay in parliament as a backbencher; 15% believe he should step down and not contest the election; and 21% say he should leave politics at once. Only 23% said he should remain in parliament as Nationals leader.

Regional voters were more inclined to say he should go from parliament at once (25%) than city voters (20%). Men were more inclined than women to say he should leave politics immediately (23-20%).

After Turnbull denounced Joyce on Thursday and said the deputy prime minister “has to consider his own position”, followed on Friday by a counterattack from Joyce, the two men met for more than a hour in Turnbull’s Sydney office on Saturday.

On Sunday Turnbull described the talks as “frank and warm, friendly, good, constructive”, and said “of course” he could continue to work with Joyce.

He had not apologised to Joyce – “there was nothing to apologise for”, he said.

Turnbull said it was important “to meet, to work through the various challenges and issues that we face. Now the important thing is Barnaby and I are working closely together as we always have, he’s obviously taking leave coming this week and we look forward to him returning from that at the end of the week.”

He stressed “there are no issues between the Liberal and National Parties at all”.

Speaking on Nine’s 60 Minutes program, Turnbull said of his Thursday remarks: “I think Australians wanted to hear their prime minister’s heartfelt views about these events – they wanted to know what I felt about them. They wanted to hear it from my lips but also from my heart.”

He said he felt the values he expressed and the action he took “would have the overwhelming endorsement of Australians. I felt it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Turnbull said he had discussed with wife Lucy his ban, announced on Thursday, on ministers having sexual relationships with staff and she absolutely agreed with it.

Treasurer Scott Morrison, asked whether it could be “business as usual” if Joyce stayed Nationals leader, said: “It has to be. We’re a professional government.”

Morrison dismissed suggestions that the sex ban would be hard to enforce.

“You set out a standard that says, don’t sleep with your staff”, he told the ABC. “The point of a code is preventative. If you have a code you’re telling people, ‘you do this, understand by doing it, that you’ll be gonski’.”

“Now I’m happy to have a prime minister who’s been prepared to call out a political culture in this country that has been going on for decades, if not generations.”

His message to people who argued “private is private” was “I’m sorry, if you sleep with your staff, it’s not private any more, it’s public, because you’re a minister in a position of responsibility and power over those who work for you”.

The ConversationQueensland Nationals MP George Christensen posted on Facebook: “The bonk ban is bonkers! And it shows that the whole attack on Barnaby Joyce is driven by one thing: sex. As interesting as that topic is, it’s his private life.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Welcome to the new (old) moralism: how the media’s coverage of the Joyce affair harks back to the 1950s

File 20180216 131021 qboshf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Barnaby Joyce saga has been an example of ‘shake-the-tree’ journalism at its worst.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The Barnaby Joyce saga has given a great boost to what might be called “shake-the-tree” journalism: you shake the tree by running a sensational story and see what falls out.

The Daily Telegraph’s original public-interest case for publishing the first story of Joyce’s relationship with ex-staffer Vikki Campion was weak when weighed against the privacy intrusions on Joyce, his estranged wife, his daughters, and Campion.

However, that story has resulted in the emergence of three genuine public-interest justifications.

The first is whether Joyce breached the ministerial code of conduct by employing his partner in his office. On this he has prevaricated, saying that his partner was not so employed. Here he was clearly referring to his wife, not Campion. In the circumstances, this was a distinction without a difference.

The second matter of public interest concerns the expenditure of public money on jobs said to have been found for Campion when her presence in Joyce’s office became untenable. Her salary is reported to be about A$190,000.

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

The third is whether the Prime Minister’s Office was informed of this or whether Joyce misled them by omission.

Once the story came out in The Daily Telegraph, the media as a whole piled into a story they had all known about for months. And they have done so with a kind of shamefaced gusto, making up for lost time.

How much better it would have been if someone – anyone – in the Canberra gallery had succeeded in establishing at least one of those substantial public-interest justifications and broken the story framed around that.

Instead, the story that broke was coloured by the salacious moralism beloved of tabloid newspapers since time began.

It featured a large picture of Campion, heavily pregnant, a gross violation of privacy if ever there was one.

The Telegraph breaks the story in a gross violation of privacy.

Here it was: the fruit of sin. The impregnated mistress, to borrow some of the vulgar moralising language that has disfigured the coverage.

The photo has been defended by The Daily Telegraph’s editor as proving the truth of the story that Barnaby Joyce had got his staffer pregnant. It proves nothing of the sort. It shows a woman pregnant. It says nothing about paternity.

Then on Valentine’s Day, The Daily Telegraph was at it again, this time with a page-one picture taken in 2016 in which Joyce and Campion are sitting next to each other at an official function.

Campion is in the foreground and Joyce, according to the caption, “eyes off” his media adviser. The headline says: “Bad look”.

There are many ways of interpreting this picture and headline. One of them is that Joyce had sexual designs on Campion back then, which from the caption is clearly the main message The Daily Telegraph wished to convey, regardless of truth or context.

The Daily Telegraph’s February 14 splash.

But the picture is also about Campion. Although she is oblivious of the glance from Joyce, the reader is given the opportunity to inspect her as the “other woman”: we get a good look at her face, her figure and her legs.

Put the “bad look” headline with that, and the reader is invited to draw negative conclusions about her appearance and her character.

This judgemental tone, redolent with sexual possibilities and consequences, is a throwback to the busybody moralising of the 1950s and 1960s.

Then – before the sexual revolution and the rise of second-wave feminism – it was a staple of middle-class morality to take a gossipy and often hurtful interest in marital breakdowns and pregnancies out of wedlock.

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

So why is this throwback happening?

Professor Alison Dagnes, a political scientist at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and editor of a textbook on sex scandals in American politics, proposes a theory that goes like this: there is a well-documented loss of trust in institutions, one consequence of which is that the public is inclined to regard all politicians as scumbags.

Digital technology has equipped everyone with a camera and social media has provided everyone with the means of publishing. This has created a competitiveness of unprecedented intensity among media.

Scandals pique everyone’s interest, even among those who are not usually interested in politics. So any scandal that shows politicians to be the scumbags we suspect, guarantees lots of “likes” and “shares” on social media, generating a frenzy in traditional media and opening up the scandal to instant and reiterative public judgements.

This, in turn, adds to public distrust in institutions.

To this theory might be added two more possible factors.

The first is the shift in norms of privacy induced by social media and the ubiquity of mobile phones with cameras. Old understandings of the boundaries between private and public have been obliterated and new ones have not yet taken their place.

The second is people’s sense of entitlement to pass judgement on matters of which they have personal experience: intimate relationships, the primary school curriculum, the quality of driving on the roads. This is not new, but it is a powerful driver of attitudes.

The ConversationDoubtless there are other factors, but whatever they are, Western society does appear to be in the grip of a new moralism, and the tabloid media are adept at making the most of it.

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.

Joyce fires broadside at Turnbull, as Coalition crisis deepens

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce has lashed out at Malcolm Turnbull, accusing him of “pulling the scab off” Joyce’s personal life and interfering in National Party affairs.

As the crisis within the Coalition over the Joyce affair deepens, Joyce held a news conference to respond to Turnbull’s Thursday denunciation of his personal behaviour.

Turnbull – who has announced a ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff – accused Joyce of a “shocking error of judgement” over his affair with his former staffer, Vikki Campion, who is now his pregnant partner.

Turnbull also said Joyce should “consider his own position”, in effect flagging he would like the deputy prime minister to stand down.

Joyce on Friday said Turnbull’s comments were “inept” and “unneccessary”.

“I listened to it and thought that it was completely unnecessary – all that is going to do is basically pull the scab off for everyone to have a look at.”

In regard to the National Party, “there is nothing that we dislike more than implied intervention into the party processes”.

“We are our own independent political unit – we make our own decisions, especially around those who are the office-holders.”

That outside interference “locks people in … behind the leader. So I would not be making comments or implied comments about the leadership of the Liberal Party, and we don’t expect to get implied comments about the leadership of the National Party.”

The plunge in relations between the two leaders is now threatening Coalition unity, with uncertainty about how the situation will play out. While Turnbull is putting pressure on Joyce to go, some Nationals predict it will be counter-productive, as Joyce is saying.

Visiting Tasmania, Turnbull told reporters: “Joyce has my confidence as deputy prime minister”.

But he also said: “Barnaby has been considering his position and I do not think there is any question about that, but I have not called on him to resign. I have not asked him to resign – he has to form his view on his circumstances.

“He has a lot to reflect on given what has happened, and I say again, he has made some big errors of judgement and he acknowledges that.”

Turnbull dodged attempts to pin him down on when he first learned of Joyce’s affair with Campion. “I can’t recall when I first heard rumours but I can say to you that he did not say to me that he was having an affair with this woman – I’m not going to go any further than that.”

Joyce said that he was intending to make sure his relationship with Turnbull “get backs onto an even keel”.

He again made it clear he has no plans to resign.

“My colleagues support me. This was a personal issue – a personal issue that has been dragged into the public arena and I don’t believe that people should be resigning in any job over personal issues.”

Later Friday, Turnbull, obviously alarmed about the increasing fracture between the Coalition partners, told reporters he had not sought in any way to influence the deliberations of the National Party.

“Neither I nor my colleagues have made any criticism of the National party.”

The ConversationHe said criticism of Joyce’s conduct was not criticism of the National Party.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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