On 25 January I wrote Surviving in an age of outrage - the personal space. I have the second post on the public space almost ready to go, but my thinking there took me in new directions that I'm still working through.
The genesis of the 25 January post was in fact a conversation about Barnaby Joyce in Armidale prior to the by-election. I wasn't thinking, I was relaxed, had forgotten other views. My friend suddenly said I must go. I realised he was going to avoid what might have become a fight. This is a very old friend, someone whom I really value. I know his views, I disagree with him in many cases, but I do not wish to lose his friendship. I really value it. Better to exercise discretion and shut up. I wish I had done so sooner.
A little later, I realised that I was censoring my public views as well. This came as a bit of a shock. I am not a cultural warrior. I always try to be fair. I want to encourage discussion, to untangle issues. There are certain contested areas such as Aboriginal history and policy where I am very cautious indeed. But to realise the extent to which I am now self-censoring made me very uncomfortable indeed.
I will complete the second post. For the moment, I am providing a context for the brief remarks that follow.
In the two weeks that followed my post on Mr Joyce I watched the deluge of publicity as issue after issue was picked up and thrown into the mix without balance or time for analysis.The original issue of morality as it related to sexual conduct and relations was still there all the time even when denied, aided by the PM's response.
This also became clear at a dinner Wednesday night where the only real issue was the response to to the morality of the affair. The PM's ban was also supported on the grounds that this was no more than the private sector was already doing.
Thursday morning my attention was drawn to this piece of sleaze misreporting from the Canberra Times repeated in the Age. As you might expect given my background, it left me somewhat unhappy.
On Friday morning came the allegations of sexual misconduct. Apparently the lady in question is unhappy that her complaint was made public. I would have thought that inevitable in the circumstances. That morning, the front page of our new guardian of public morality, Sydney's Daily Telegraph, carried Barnaby Joyce on one side of the front page, a story on sexting between two NSW state Liberal MPS, a story later repeated in the Australian.I can't give links. They are now behind the paywall. I looked at the story and thought here it comes.
Later that morning, Mr Joyce resigned as party leader. Then the Northern Daily Leader ran an editorial: This hasn’t been about the affair for a while. I really flipped, tweeting "As an exercise in cant, hypocrisy and back covering this editorial takes the cake. The Joyce matter was everything about sex and what was appropriate to report. Other things were then thrown in. We will all be the poorer for this". Over the top perhaps, but I leave it to you to judge.
Clearly, all the issues that have been ventilated over recent weeks will require some clarification. For that reason, the whole thing is likely to roll on for a while yet. I won't comment on these or the political ramifications at this point because I have no idea how all this will unfold.
I finished my 9 February post on Barnaby Joyce and the question of public versus private morality with these words:
While reporting might not have affected the election result at the time, I do think that the current controversy will have some adverse political effects on Mr Joyce and the National Party. Of more importance, however, is what the case might mean for the dividing line between public and private morality. Are the Daily Telegraph and the other newscorp outlets in their role as "defenders" of public morality taking us down the path previously followed by the British tabloids with their sometimes salacious coverage of moral, generally sexual lapses, by British public figures? Alternatively, will Australia follow the route that the US seems to be going of outright bans on sexual relations between elected officials and their staff? Or maybe both, since the second is likely to lead to the first anyway?
I don't know. I can't answer these questions. The current sometimes febrile debate around relationships suggests a continuing shift in attitudes towards morality, the emergence of new views on what constitutes acceptable behaviour, new views increasingly enforced by various forms of social and legal sanctions. The effect appears to be a progressive widening of the scope of public morality at the cost of private morality.I think that the two weeks since I wrote have largely answered these questions. I may not like it, but we do seem to have entered the domain that what the public are interested in constitutes the public interest, that this now determines the shifting line between public and private morality in a way that we haven't seen before in this country.
The Australian provides more information on the sexual harassment claims against Mr Joyce.
Discussion in comments referred to the selection process for APVMA HQ in Armidale. While it's peripheral to this post, this is my response: Canberra Times sleazes over Armidale and APVMA