‘Reputation rehabilitation’: Debate rages over Joyce’s paid tell-all

The relationship between Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion was revealed by a daily newspaper.

The relationship between Barnaby Joyce and Vikki Campion was revealed by a daily newspaper. Photo: ABC

Barnaby Joyce has been criticised after reportedly accepting $150,000 for a tell-all television interview, a move one media ethics expert said resembled a “reputation rehabilitation strategy”.

The former Deputy PM, who resigned over an affair with his former media adviser Vikki Campion amid questions over his use of public money, is set to appear on Channel 7’s Sunday Night for a $150,000 fee, according to The Australian.

At the height of the scandal, Mr Joyce had given a sit-down interview with Fairfax Media demanding the media “move on” and respect his privacy.

On Sunday, government ministers sought to distance themselves from Mr Joyce’s decision, with one labelling the controversy a “distraction”.

“It’s not something that I’ve done and I won’t do it, but as I said it’s a matter for Barnaby,” Human Services Minister Michael Keenan told Sky News.

In an interview on Insiders, Health Minister Greg Hunt noted he was appearing on the ABC program free of charge and “for the love of it”.

Asked about the payment, Mr Hunt said it was a matter for Mr Joyce and Ms Campion.

Later on Sunday, Mr Hunt said he was “absolutely certain, 100 per cent certain” that no cabinet minister would accept money for an interview.

Seven’s offer to pay Mr Joyce, and his decision to accept the money, has been widely criticised. The Australian reported that Channel 9’s 60 Minutes had also sought a paid interview.

Dr John Harrison, a media ethics expert from the University of Queensland, said he expected Sunday Night would show Mr Joyce as a “doting dad”.

“This is Joyce’s reputation rehabilitation strategy at work,” he told The New Daily. “He’s got a very good media adviser.”

Since moving to the backbench, Mr Joyce has remained in the public eye, speaking out on issues such as live sheep exports and sensationally setting a Christmas deadline for Malcolm Turnbull to improve the government’s fortunes.

A report in News Corp on Sunday claimed the appearance fee would be placed in a trust fund for Mr Joyce’s six-week-old son Sebastian.

The same story quoted a cabinet minister describing the paid, tell-all interview as a “tacky stunt” and questioning whether Mr Joyce was “even interested in the government doing well”.

The former Nationals leader would be expected to declare the fee in his register of interests, which requires MPs to outline “the nature of any other substantial sources of income”.

Mr Joyce, who has four daughters with his estranged wife Natalie, now officially declares Ms Campion as his partner.

After quitting as Deputy PM, his pay was cut from $416,000 to a backbencher’s base salary of $203,030.

Last week, the parliamentary expenses watchdog denied a freedom of information request to access Ms Campion’s staff travel expenses, saying the disclosure could “endanger life”.

Nationals Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie did not defend Mr Joyce on Sunday, but did argue that “people write memoirs all the time”.

“Politicians tell their stories in a variety of ways throughout their careers. I don’t think it’s up to me to be making commentary on the morality of that or otherwise,” she told the ABC. 

“What Barnaby Joyce and Vikki decide to do in their private life is their business.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he did not have a view and that Labor was not interested in the “personal matters of Mr Joyce”.

A number of MPs have declared income for books they have written, but it is very uncommon for a politician to be paid for a television interview.

Dr Harrison said Sunday Night was required to disclose the payment during the program under the journalism code of ethics.

“It will interesting to see whether the producers have the moral strength to say, ‘Yep, we did and that’s how much we paid for it’,” he said.

Dr Harrison argued the tell-all interview was more about “what interests the public than what is in the public interest”.

“I think this is just tabloid titillation. I think what is much more important is the stuff that’s being denied under freedom of information,” he said.

“One would have thought that the Sunday television programs would have learnt from Channel 9’s experience in paying for the Lebanon kidnapping story.”

Mr Joyce’s office was contacted for comment.

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