Australians all let us rue Joyce

Barnaby Joyce says it is like a boarding school. The corollary is that he must think of himself as a child.

“If you become part of that boarding school, then you will try to make that your life and you will try to get ahead in that boarding school called Parliament House,” he said this week. “Big, white building on top of a hill. It’s a boarding school because you all travel down there. They ring the bell, you go here. They ring the bell, you go there. You all eat dinner together. Sometimes, you sleep together.”

That is the problem with Joyce: the politics never elevates above the schoolyard. He is a child and he is indulged by a system built for childish men. The bell he complains of is the one that asks him to vote on legislations, the one that encourages him to do his job. Urges call to him but duty is not one of them.

Politics as Joyce describes it is without responsibility. As he made his way between television interviews this week, selling his unctuous memoir, he presented himself as a man to whom life simply happened.

He described himself straying in bars, depressed, medicating with alcohol. He described himself as a lie.

“Winston Churchill had his black dog: mine was a half-crazed cattle dog, biting everything that came near the yard,” he writes in his book.

“But the downside comes as well, when you get sad in the afternoon because it’s the afternoon and there are not enough clouds in the sky…”

Mental illness is an issue that bedevils high office. Joyce is right to reflect on the demands of public life, on the peculiar strains of our democracy. He is right to call it isolating.

But for Joyce, these concerns are not systemic. His worry is for himself. He is bitter at his treatment, still smarting at the outcome of his affair. His anger at Malcolm Turnbull is petty and misplaced, his position as untenable now as it was then.

Joyce is and was a study in self-interest. It defined his portfolios, emboldened his hypocrisy. He is a vision of entitlement. His whole life has been a boarding school, an edifice to uninterrogated privilege.

To watch Joyce this week was to watch a man who once held the second highest office in the country parading between radio spots as if he were a contestant evicted from a reality TV show. There was the same vacuity, the same grasping opportunism.

There was a sense in this one man of everything our politics lacks, not because it was there in him but because it was so conspicuously absent and because that absence has never once held him back.

“The proceeds of the book go to me,” he said in one interview, growing slightly defensive. “And to, um, to support my family. And that’s about it. And if I can… remember, I’m basically supporting two families at the moment.”

Joyce is making do, as the country has since he entered politics.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 11, 2018 as "Australians all let us rue Joyce".

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