Just short of two and a half years ago, it was revealed that Barnaby Joyce was a New Zealand citizen. The then New Zealand Prime Minister, Bill English, confirmed that “unwittingly or not” Joyce [if it was Joyce, it was unwitting] was a citizen of the country because his father was born there. As if trying to put pressure on the High Court, then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was confident that Barnaby would not be disqualified when he infamously said “The leader of the National Party, the Deputy Prime Minister, is qualified to sit in this House and the High Court will so hold”1. Barnaby Joyce, using the same sort of ludicrous tactic as Malcolm Roberts2 tried to convince himself that as neither his parents nor he had ever applied to register him as a New Zealand citizen, he would be OK.1 Despite their confident statements, Turnbull and Joyce turned out to be dead wrong, as Joyce was disqualified by the High Court. That meant there had to be a by-election in Joyce’s electorate of New England. However, before, he could again nominate, he had to renounce his rights to New Zealand citizenship, which he did. He won the by-election easily and returned to parliament in December 2017. Only two months later he resigned his ministerial and party leadership positions after eventually being found out by the mainstream media [reported months earlier by independent media3] for doing a bit of trouser work with his former staff-member Vikki Campion, such that she was in the pudding club4. Joyce’s loss of the leadership of the Nationals and his ministerial posts meant an immediate decrease in his income by almost 50%. At the same time, he had to support two families, so he was short of cash and occasionally made that clear when talking to the media5. So, what did the government do for him? They made him the Drought Envoy, but his extra salary was kept secret. However, while he was drought envoy, he claimed $675,000 in travel expenses (including for his ‘work’ as a backbencher). It is unclear what proportion of these were backbencher expenses and drought envoy expenses, and the government has refused to provide details. However, in that time, Joyce spent less than three weeks ‘on the ground’ in drought affected communities outside his own electorate6. Nice work if you can get it.
It was revealed in parliament that Joyce never produced a final report, and Joyce reacted angrily to this claim stating that he sent “an awful lot” of correspondence to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, including by text message (presumably by SMS or WhatsApp). Joyce has said that he’d be happy to release his drought envoy messages, but in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for these messages, the Prime Minister’s Office said that they could not release “any correspondence, including text messages and Whatsapp messages” between Joyce and Morrison “regarding his work as drought envoy” by claiming it “would substantially and unreasonably interfere with the prime minister’s functions”. The Guardian was told “The prime minister is the head of the national government and your request presents a significant challenge to the day-to-day execution of his duties.”7,8 Now, when you send SMS messages and WhatsApp messages not only are they recorded on the receiver’s phone, but also on the sender’s phone. So, unless Barnaby Joyce has deleted them all from his phone, they should be available for release to the parliament and the media. Using Joyce as a source would not impinge on Morrison’s hectic schedule of shoring up his support for his leadership after his shambolic Hawaiian debacle.
Given Morrison won’t release them, I expect that it will turn out that Barnaby has deleted them from his phone, and they will never see the light of day. This is not because Morrison is too busy, but because they never existed in the first place, at least not in the form that constitutes a report that any real public servant would have to produce in similar circumstances. This Drought Envoy ‘job’ was simply a way for the government to use taxpayer funds boost Joyce’s income to help him to support two families after his horizontal folk-dancing peccadillo.