Madonna King: Barnaby Joyce is back in and, as a result, women are out

Brittany Higgins gave us hope for change in politics. Barnaby Joyce's resurrection dashed it, Madonna King writes.

Brittany Higgins gave us hope for change in politics. Barnaby Joyce's resurrection dashed it, Madonna King writes. Photo: TND

Foolish is probably best how I feel about the re-election of Barnaby Joyce as Nationals’ boss. Foolish.

You see, a few months ago, when we were talking about Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos and Grace Tame, I felt women had a fighting chance at changing a narrative that shamed us all.

Women, young and old, Labor and National, felt emboldened.

Finally, it seemed doors were being poked ajar, and their voices were being heard. Perhaps too softly, but still heard.

The talk was about quotas. About ensuring proper representation of women. About listening to those who make up half the voting population.

At schools, the power of speaking up was encouraged, and thousands and thousands of Australian school girls opened up online to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of male peers.

Behind closed doors, enormous work is still being done – particularly by girls’ schools – to address that; to empower girls to stand up for themselves and to report wrongdoing.

Across the nation, it seemed change was afoot.

And then, this week, Barnaby Joyce was reinstated as Nationals’ leader and Deputy Prime Minister.

The same Barnaby Joyce who resigned in 2018 after a sexual harassment allegation was made against him. (A lengthy investigation by the party was unable to reach a conclusion over that accusation.)

barnaby joyce harrassment women

Catherine Marriott, right, made sexual misconduct allegations against Mr Joyce.

The same Barnaby Joyce who was caught out following revelations of an affair with his former media adviser Vikki Campion

Now none of that should disbar him from holding the nation’s second top job.

People change, and the new Nationals’ leader has even admitted he hopes he is now a better person.

But hope that real change is afoot is dead.

Because if the conservative parties even valued, a tiny bit, the push to improve the voice of women, a discussion around the re-election of Mr Joyce would be more than a few murmurs.

The only conclusion is that the national interest in elevating the status of women – and our daughters – was a passing fad.

It was opportunistic to listen, just to mute the accusations being levelled against the government.

So what has Mr Joyce’s re-appointment taught us?

That any transient focus on women is now over. Shade’s been called on our time in the sun.

And that coal in a few Queensland marginal seats is more important to the Nationals than the role women might play inside and outside the party.

Mr Joyce keeps being referred to as a ‘retail politician’. But the world’s changed; just ask any retailer.

In effect, he’s a fighter. He’ll bruise for every vote, understands the big sprawling electorates where people do it harder than most, and isn’t afraid to say what he thinks.

Would he call a female colleague a “flash bit of kit’’ like he did a few years ago?

No. Because he’s also learnt to rein himself in, where it counts. And where he hasn’t, so far, he’s got away with it.

His re-election this week to head the Nationals shows one thing above all else: When push comes to shove, parties still value political skills over personal skills in their leaders.

Oh and in another boot, on Thursday afternoon it was announced Mr Joyce will replace the ousted Michael McCormack, as a member of the special cabinet taskforce for the status of women.

Winning the next poll will trump choosing a good role model, in any vote, at any time.

And that’s what has to change for women to be given a fighting chance.

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