How Barnaby Joyce's booze fest made me reflect on my own obvious bias

How Barnaby Joyce’s booze fest made me reflect on my own obvious bias

barnaby joyce

Late Friday afternoon I see a news update pop up on my phone. It’s a story pertaining to Nationals frontbencher Barnaby Joyce, and immediately I know it’ll be worth the read.

Footage published on Friday by the Daily Mail show Joyce, inexplicably sprawled on the ground next to a planter box in popular Canberra precinct (well known for its plentiful bars and pubs), Braddon. Joyce is filmed having a phone conversation with his wife Vikki Campion while uttering the words: “Dead f**cking c*nt”.

Joyce has admitted to drinking prior to the incident, suggesting that a cocktail of a “prescription drug” mixed with booze led to “certain things” happening.

This morning, Joyce told Seven’s Sunrise that “obviously I made a big mistake” and “there’s no excuse for it” but “there is a reason”.

“It was a very eventful walk home, wasn’t it,” he said.

“I should’ve followed … I’m on a prescription drug, and they say certain things may happen to you if you drink, and they were absolutely 100 per cent right. They did.”

Mr Joyce said over the weekend that the incident was “very embarrassing” and happened when he was walking back to his accommodation after parliament had risen late at 10pm.

“While on the phone I sat on the edge of a plant box, fell over, kept talking on the phone, and very animatedly was referring to myself for having fallen over,” he told the ABC in a statement.

What our reaction to this story says about us

On Saturday morning, my partner and I were talking (and laughing…a lot) about the footage over breakfast. Our response, like much of the nation boiled down to this: “Standard Barnaby”.

Memes circulated across social media, and some quick-thinking Canberran humorously chalked an outline of Joyce’s body next to the planter box where the incident took place. I shared it on our Women’s Agenda group Slack channel with three laughing emojis.

The chalk outline. Image: Reddit.

But this morning, as I was thinking more deeply about the situation, I was left with a profound sense of shame. Because I know, in my heart of hearts, that if a female parliamentarian were to act in the same way, my response wouldn’t be to laugh it off and deem it standard practice.

We have always given social and cultural licence to male politicians acting like they live in a frat house.

We lauded former Labor PM Bob Hawke’s “world record” allegedly achieved at Oxford University for a beer scull of a yard of ale in 11 seconds. The admiration 40 years on is still so strong that Hawke has a brewing company and multiple beers named in his honour.

When Tony Abbott missed a series of key parliamentary votes in 2009 because he was drunk and passed out on a couch, we shrugged it off. When he broke a table in his office after his election loss, we did the same.

When Kevin Rudd’s trip to a New York strip club was reported, voters loved it.

We let male politicians off the hook for what we deem as “laddish” antics, when really what we’re staring down the barrel of is a total disregard for their privileged and highly public positions as well as their duty to represent the interests of voters.

And Joyce has always been given greater leeway. In 2018, Jacqueline Maley wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald that a woman would not be afforded the “level of personal complexity” that Joyce is. We observe his regular transgressions and rather than question or condemn them, we relegate them to the wild world of Barnaby Joyce. It’s good to have a colourful character in parliament.

The prime minister’s response to Joyce’s latest misdemeanour is telling. Albanese firstly said the incident was a matter for the Nationals party, and avoided making a comment when asked about it during a radio interview on Friday.

When accused of sexism on the matter, Albanese then said Mr Joyce should explain himself.

But the truth is that Albanese wouldn’t have wanted to take an emphatic stance against Joyce’s conduct lest Australian voters accuse him of being a party pooper. No one likes a Barnaby buzz kill.

Yet, when Lidia Thorpe was filmed outside a strip club in Melbourne yelling explosively at a group of men (allegedly about Indigenous affairs), Albanese was swift and sharp in his condemnation. He described her behaviour as “clearly unacceptable” and urged her to “get some support”.

In 2021, Nationals Senator Sam McMahon lost her preselection race just days after accusations reared that she had been drunk in the parliament – which she denied and blamed instead on hypertension.

My point with this is not to condone the the abuse of alcohol by one group and not another, but to show how palpable the double standard is between men and women in politics. And how this double standard infiltrates and influences all of us.

Even me.


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