Malcolm Turnbull in the past 24 hours has once again reminded both political watchers and the Australian public of his poor political judgement. Just when it looked like the Barnaby Joyce affair and staffing scandal had blown over with Joyce agreeing to take a leave of absence next week with Mathias Cormann to be Acting Prime Minister while Turnbull visits the United States.
However Turnbull for some reason could not keep his disdain at Joyce’s actions and the damage it brought on the government to himself. In the Prime Ministerial Courtyard yesterday he not only announced the ludicrous new policy of Ministers being banned from having sexual relations with their staff but also hit out at Joyce personally claiming he had shown “a shocking error of judgement” and that he had “set off a world of woe for those women, and appalled all of us”.
They are pretty strong words for Prime Minister to use against his Deputy and Barnaby Joyce today clearly having had enough of being belted from all angles for the past week called Turnbull’s comments ‘inept’ and ‘unnecessary’ claiming “they caused further harm”. Joyce also lashed out again at the media, some of whom have been camping out in his New England electorate, interviewing neighbours at the apartment complex he is staying at rent free from business friend Greg Maguire.
Given that Turnbull also stated that Joyce should consider his own position it has been interpreted by some as an attempt to interfere in the leadership of National Party. The Liberals Party has no say in who the National Party leader is which has no doubt frustrated many Liberal MPs who believe the Nationals have been dragging the entire government down. Today’s feud is not just being viewed as one between Prime Minister and Deputy but the between the Liberals and National Party.
While it is understandable the tensions within the Coalition behind the scenes for Turnbull to lay it out publicly has only whipped the media into a further frenzy on the matter. Turnbull’s conduct is again a reminder of his pattern of poor political judgement. Last year he boldly proclaimed the High Court would find Barnaby Joyce was not a dual citizen, he also was dragged to the decision to hold a citizenship audit and a royal commission into the banks.
Just when people believe the Turnbull Government is on the mend the old Malcolm reemerges and messes things up again. The headlines today are ‘government in crisis’ with Nationals MPs are reported to have rallied around their embattled leader even more. Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek took the opportunity to hold a joint press conference to comment on the government’s woes and showcase their own strong working relationship.
Turnbull and Joyce had up until now had a good working relationship, despite their different political backgrounds and views they had managed to be a formidable political odd couple. Can the relationship be saved? Or has Turnbull go in too personally by publicly commenting about Joyce’s actions? Even if a manageable Coalition partnership can be salvaged this time, one suspects in a few months we will be talking about another Turnbull political overreach.