Barnaby Joyce: paternity tests don't make you a father
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Barnaby Joyce: paternity tests don't make you a father

I have a spare bedroom. It has enough space for a bassinet and a feeding chair. I would like to offer that room to Vikki Campion, the partner of Barnaby Joyce and expectant mother of his baby.

Why am I suddenly offering refuge to a pregnant perfect stranger? Because on Sunday, the basest depths of Barnaby Joyce's character were further exposed.

Former Deputy Prime Minister  Barnaby Joyce during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra last month.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra last month.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In an interview with Fairfax's Mark Kenny, the former Deputy Prime Minister and former leader of the National Party said the baby boy he and Ms Campion are expecting in April would be raised as his but said the identity of the biological father was "a grey area".

In other words, he expressed – in public - the greatest personal disloyalty to a partner I can recall. To paraphrase, Barnaby Joyce claims he does not know if he is the father of the baby to be born in April.

Ms Campion was present for some of the interview, initiated by Joyce, in which he mentioned the "grey area".

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But there are other translations to these revelations.

One, Joyce is positioning himself as a good guy, who will stand by his woman, no matter the circumstances of the baby's conception. Two, there is nothing to see here. You busybodies need look no further because there was no rorting.

But let me offer alternative readings.

No matter how Joyce tries to reposition himself, his history is clear.

He has steadfastly opposed non-traditional marriage formation. He has opposed sex before marriage. He has invited moral panic around cervical cancer vaccines. He campaigned against equal marriage. Let me repeat that. He campaigned against equal marriage. He voted for drug testing welfare recipients. He told the unemployed to "get off their backside and do your very best to find a job". Now he is, at the very least, trying to sow doubt in the minds of the public.

There is no recovery from any of those positions.

Barnaby Joyce is not the worst person in the world because fortunately his disloyalty and transparent self-interest in this instance affects two people, his partner and their baby.

But as an instance of horrifying and hurtful personal politics, I can't think of another politician who has come close – and in such a public way.

And these revelations come on top of comments he made to a number of journalists in February where he said he wanted privacy, where he said his private life should be off limits.

"It's like 'I can't get you so I'm gonna throw anything' . . .the tide will turn because people will get bored of it."

Yet here you are, feeding the frenzy time and time again. There with your tea towel, there with your weatherboard nine there, with throwing your partner under a bus.

I've always believed that the personal is political and that politics are personal. I was devastated when Senator Penny Wong wouldn't stand against her party's ridiculous position on equal marriage; and horrified by the Labor Party's general acceptance of the hateful way we treat genuine refugees in this country. The Liberal Party's demonisation of welfare recipients, including single parents, is ghastly wedging. The extraordinary way in which the Liberal Party makes war on workers.

We need to lift people up not drag them down in both our private and public lives. Yep, we all have inconsistencies but none so much as Barnaby Joyce.

Here's what worries me most. He told Mark Kenny he had no intention of getting a paternity test. I would normally agree that this is the best course of action.

DNA is just one tiny aspect of parenthood, nearly irrelevant.

What matters much more is who gets up to feed and change the baby in the night. Who reads to the baby. Who dresses the darling child and cuddles him when he cries. Who mashes the banana and runs alongside the bicycle to make sure he doesn't fall off. And when he does, who is there with bandaids and kisses and the urging to get back on the bike.

It's the timetables and the late night worries and the being there when it counts. I cannot speak for the four glorious daughters of Natalie Joyce but I've read the back catalogue of interviews. Barnaby Joyce was rarely there.

But paternity in this instance matters to the people of Australia, because it may provide evidence of wrongdoing. Or it may not.

Actually, a paternity test would be utterly awful for that reason.

I have a solution which would maintain the privacy Barnaby Joyce claims he wants.

He should resign from New England. Allow New Englanders an honourable member in the real meaning of the word.

Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist, and an academic at the University of Technology, Sydney.

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