I’m writing this on the beach at Largs. In case you think I’ve finally flipped, I should point out that I’m not in Ayrshire on a freezing February day. I’m in Largs, South Australia, just outside Adelaide and I’m basking in the sunshine on a beautiful late summer’s day. I’m currently performing at the Adelaide Fringe, and while Scotland does seem a long way away, the similarities with home are quite striking.
Fringe time In Adelaide does feel very like Fringe time in Edinburgh, although I seriously doubt that I’ll be filing my August copy from Portobello Beach. The two cities are very similar. Not only do they have an annual international arts festival, they have a zoo with two pandas and they are currently constructing a meaningless extension to their tram network.
The similarities do not end there. Like in Britain, no party here has an overall majority so the government is a coalition of the Liberal Party (who are actually the equivalent of the Tories) and the National Party, who are somewhere to the right of UKIP and the DUP but without the sectarian baggage. There is even an Australian Conservative Party. I dread to the think how right-wing they might be.
Although it is a modern, dynamic outward-looking country, on occasion there is an outdated quaintness about Australia that invokes memories of Britain in the nineteen-seventies. This is particularly true about the current political crisis gripping the country.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, an odious reptile of a man, best described as Boris Jonhson without the wit, erudition or charm, is currently involved in that most old-fashioned of political scandals, namely, shagging his secretary. Not only is Joyce a married father of three, but he is soon to become a father of four as the afore-mentioned staffer is now up the spout to use local terminology. For over a month, he was refusing to resign over the matter.
Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull (imagine John Major after a charisma bypass operation and you should get a fairly accurate picture of what the guy is like) has been faced with a deluge of demands to sack his deputy PM but was unable to do so, as Joyce owed his position as Deputy PM to being leader of the National Party, so could bring down the government and force a snap election.
In fact, to update an old joke, the Australian Government was starting to resemble a piece of Ikea furniture. One loose screw, and the whole cabinet looked like it could fall down. That gag was first made in the early nineteen-sixties on the ground-breaking satirical TV show That Was The Week That Was, referring to the Profumo affair. It has since been trotted out every five or so years to laugh at the antics of Cecil Parkinson, David Mellor, Paddy Pantsdown (Ashdown), John Prescott and numerous others. If there is one constant in politics, it is that middle-aged ministers can’t keep their dicks in their pants. Power is an aphrodisiac, furthermore – which explains why an individual as repellent as Barnaby Joyce can be deemed sexually attractive by even one woman, let alone two.
To further heighten the constitutional crisis, Turnbull had to fly out to the USA to meet Donald Trump, and a ridiculous fudge had to be constructed to prevent the Deputy PM being Acting Prime Minister in his absence. Joyce was consequently put on leave ‘to spend time with his family and loved ones’ according to the official statement. Exactly which family and which loved ones he will be spending time with is unclear. It may have made more sense to send Joyce off to the States for the summit with Trump, as that surely would have been a meeting of minds.
However, there is a modern twist to this particular affair, namely that Joyce voted ‘no’ in Australia’s referendum on gay marriage in 2017. At the time he said that he believed in ‘traditional marriage’. So we should applaud him for the consistency of his opinions. After all, there can be few things more traditional than shagging your secretary and getting her knocked-up. It’s a tradition as old as politics itself.
Joyce, however, was determined to tough it out, taking the tack that this was a personal matter and that it was wrong for the Canberra press pack to be hounding his research assistant, Vikki Campion, and printing her picture on the front pages of the red tops. In a prepared statement to Parliament, he said that she should be allowed her privacy, claiming that ‘I can’t understand why a pregnant lady crossing the road is front page news’. Far from diffusing the situation, this only led some to suggest that he was a total bastard, as he couldn’t even remember the woman’s name after a night of passion.
Unable to sack his deputy, Turnbull’s only option has been to propose a law that prohibits government ministers from having sexual relations with their staff. This will be Barnaby Joyce’s legacy. Very much like his namesake Eric Joyce, the ex-MP for Falkirk who had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old constituent in 2012, two years before the Scottish referendum, allowing legislation to be put in place to lower the voting age to sixteen, thus removing the ridiculous situation where it had been legal to have sex with your MP before you were old enough to vote for them.
Further allegations of sexual harassment led to Barnaby Joyce finally resigning before this saga dragged on even longer. Effectively, he lost the support of his own party members, even National Party rednecks deeming his behaviour to be beyond the pale. Even then, the denouement to the story was pure comedy gold. Joyce, wearing a ridiculous cowboy hat, announced to the press without a hint of irony that: ‘I have informed the acting Prime Minister that I think pulling out is the smartest thing to do right now’. The almost unanimous response to which has been ‘Yeah, mate, six months too late’.
Vladimir McTavish will be performing his solo show ‘Scotland: The State Of The Nation’ at Yes Bar, Drury Street, Glasgow on Sunday 25 March as part of the 2018 Glasgow International Comedy Festival. Free entry to anyone carrying a copy of Scottish Left Review.