The rise to power of Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce has come to a dramatic halt as news of his marital infidelity dominates the headlines.
The political fallout has been immense, but predictable. On Thursday, the Senate passed a motion that called for Joyce for to relinquish his post as Deputy Prime Minister. Greens leader, Richard Di Natale called on Joyce to resign and even demanded that the Nationals fire him if he refuses.
The Prime Minister, who commented that Joyce had made a “shocking error of judgement”, responded to the scandal by changing the ministerial code of conduct to prevent Federal Ministers from having sexual relations with members of their staff.
Joyce’s shocking lack of moral fibre has jeopardised any real political power conservatives in Australia have, and has threatened the delicate balance of power between the right-wing and left-wing factions of the coalition Government.
Following the usurpation of the conservative Prime Minister, Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull – a prominent voice of the left-wing faction of the Liberal Party – many on the right hoped that a Joyce-led Nationals would be able to counteract the centre-left leaning Liberal Party with their brand of traditionalism.
Naturally, Barnaby Joyce’s marital infidelity and dishonesty puts the trustworthiness of politicians in question.
A large part of the fury over Joyce’s affair is not the sexual infidelity, but the fact that he dipped into the public purse to finance the charade. As the political scientist and commentator, Jennifer Oriel stated in her article, “Barnaby Joyce’s Greatest Sin is Being Conservative”, the combination of corruption and marital infidelity violates the most basic codes of common decency.
Barnaby Joyce’s behaviour is precisely the reason Australians are cynical about politicians.
The idea that people ought to be cynical about politicians is hardly news to anyone with any real knowledge of history, politics, or human nature.
The reason countries like Australia place so many checks and balances – separation of powers, the Constitution, an independent judiciary – on those in power is that power tends to have a corrupting effect on the human soul.
As Lord Acton famously put it: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The greatest measure against tyranny is the establishment of a political and legal system that places restrictions on power. We should be thankful that Barnaby Joyce’s biggest transgression was marital infidelity, and not much worse besides.