Local News

Barnaby Joyce is being publicly dragged right now but we can't stop thinking about Natalie

As her husband's transgressions dominate the headlines, it's her private life being thrust into the spotlight too.

By Kate Wagner
The word 'hypocrite' is thrown around a lot when it comes to politicians. It's used often in cutting political commentary and public discourse and boy, do they toss it around in Parliament House; it's probably the most common barb slung by elected officials at their opponents. This week, allegations of hypocrisy have reached fever pitch as Barnaby Joyce's affair with a former staffer were exposed.
Affairs in politics are hardly new, but Barnaby's proclivity to quote the "sanctity of traditional marriage" as his reason for abstaining to legalise same-sex marriage while cheating on his wife of 24-years is especially smarting.
Other politicians were quick to condemn the coverage of his "private life" – an angle summoned by selflessness and sincere concern, I'm sure.
The day news of his affair broke, a bold Barnaby faced off with Leigh Sales and he postulated: "Once we start going through this salami slicing of a private life, where does it end?"
I'm not a publicist, nor do I work in PR, but if I could give Barnaby any advice at this point in his career, it would be to not use a salami metaphor when talking about an extramarital affair.
It has since emerged the relationship was an open secret in Canberra as well as his electorate, which will come as no surprise to anyone who's tried to keep something secret in a small country town. This revelation has angered some, leading to accusations of journalists not doing their job, for having the backs of dishonourable pollies.
Christopher Dore, editor of The Daily Telegraph who that broke the story, rejects such allegations. "We ran it the very first day we were 100% sure of the facts," he told Crikey.
"Truth is, it was merely a rumour until we confirmed it and had enough information to publish."
It's true pesky defamation laws would certainly hinder such a salacious story being published without all of the facts, but would they have waited as long to earnestly dig if it were a female politician cheating on her husband of 24-years, pregnant with a former staffer's baby instead?
If you think for a second this has nothing to do with gender, I'll subtly point you to the constant scrutiny and questioning Julia Guillard, Julie Bishop and Gladys Berejiklian endure for not having children - something many would define as a private life.
But what's been bothering us most about this story isn't Barnaby's 'hypocrisy', the sexist disparity or journalist responsibility: we're more concerned about Natalie Joyce.
For the most part, families of politicians are normally off-limits to media; children and spouses didn't sign up for the scrutiny of public office and more often than not, people don't really care about the private lives of pollies.
Barnaby's transgressions has taken the country by storm. Imagine the shame (albeit unwarranted - she has nothing to be ashamed about) of your husband impregnating his former staffer being played out for the whole country to see?
Natalie must also feel the sting of being betrayed when she loyally stood by her husband on his way to the top.
While it's true political wives are, for the most part, spared from scrutiny, we'd be naïve to think there isn't a constant pressure to perform. Everything changes when someone becomes an elected member, especially if they reach heights of deputy prime minister like Barnaby. So while the salaciousness of Barnaby's affair may be titillating for some audiences, thoughts for his spurned wife and children are not far from anyone's mind.
From an autonomous woman with her own opinions, aspirations and job, Natalie was forced to place her career on hold to "support Barnaby through his political life".
"Our family life has had to be shared during Barnaby's political career and it was with trust that we let campaign and office staff into our homes and into our lives," she said in a statement.
"Naturally we also feel deceived and hurt by the actions of Barnaby and the staff member involved."
Imagine sacrificing everything that makes you you; muting aspects of your life and personality so your partner could succeed. Then to experience a very public implosion while you're still struggling with what many consider the ultimate betrayal – it's as enraging as it is devastating.
The dutiful wife in this story makes the whole sordid affair especially heart wrenching; to put your own career by the wayside and epitomise a loyal partner only to watch it thrown back in your face hits a nerve with us all.
It's impossible not to think of Cassandra Thorburn in this story. A successful journalist who gave up a promising career at the ABC to support her family while her husband, Karl Stefanovic, barrelled his way to success in the same field.
When the Today Show celebrated a ratings victory after the demise of their marriage, Cassandra emphasised just how costly the win was for those left at home.
"Apparently Today Show finally won a year," she posted. "This took a huge toll on my family and I, and I'm congratulating myself today for all the effort that went into making that [the ratings] happen."
She went on: "The suggestions, the story ideas, the constant counselling of questions for years. I'm giving myself a pat on the back tonight, as I know many people will also know how much effort I put into it."
Say it louder for those in the back.
Cassandra's decision to simply acknowledge her contributions to the show's success saw her branded by some media as bitter and vengeful. While the sexist characterisations are certainly nothing new, it well and truly proved even if you sacrifice everything, you can still be the bad guy when you're a woman.
Just like Cassandra, Natalie sacrificed a lot during her 24-year marriage for the sake of her high-profile husband, so some anger and resentment is more than a little justified.
Given that Natalie quietly hired a public relations agency after the news broke, we can assume we haven't heard the last from her just yet - let's hope her comments and feelings are covered with less searing misogyny than those from Cass.