Barnaby Joyce's Latest Prayer For Privacy Is A Bit Steeple

God help us.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was ambushed by a photographer as he was coming out of church on Sunday. In two separate videos posted to his social media accounts, Joyce — from behind the camera — follows the bearded, beanied bloke with the camera bag slung around his neck, asking who the photographer worked for and why he was lurking outside the church.

Joyce might have been hoping for a bit of sympathy from the public, but judging from the savaging his two tweets are currently receiving, complaining about privacy after accepting $150,000 from Channel Seven, and giving media interviews on almost every day of his ‘medical leave’, might have been a mistake.

‘Under intense scrutiny’ has become Joyce’s default mode of operating for about eight months now, first following his dual citizenship revelations last year, then the New England by-election, and the fallout from his affair with a former staffer. He was forced from the Nationals leadership, the deputy prime ministership, and his family home. He’s got a new child, a new partner, a new house and a new job description.

After last week's infamous interview, in which he again batted away or was not even asked the most pertinent political questions — such as the use of expenses and entitlements, why he stayed so long in his leadership position when he had this scandal hanging around his neck, and the arrangements that led to Vikki Campion being shuttled between different MPs’ offices — the media attention has only increased.

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It doesn’t help that, despite being on “medical leave”, Joyce has given media interviews or held public events or otherwise inserted himself into the news cycle basically every day.

But even considering all this, in isolation, ambushing a man outside a church is a step too far. A person should be able to head to their place of worship on a Sunday morning for a bit of quiet reflection (lord knows, the man has enough to be reflecting on right now). It’s not as though media have been starved of access to or vision of Joyce, considering his near-daily public event schedule. At a time when a person wants to be left alone, to go about their business quietly and without fuss, without harassment or scrutiny, they should be able to.

But that’s where the point Joyce was aiming to make with the extraordinary — some have even said “unhinged” — pair of videos collides nauseatingly with his past behaviour. Not just of last year, or last month, but of last week. Because while Joyce said on Sunday that “we need a tort of privacy” to protect highly-paid politicians from being followed, harassed or bothered while they go about their private business, he was in very recent days on the phone to Nationals state MPs in NSW, lobbying them to vote against those exact same freedoms for women trying to access vital and basic medical care.

NSW passed landmark legislation this week enacting 150-metre 'safe zones' around abortion clinics. This reform is aimed at preventing religious protesters — let’s not beat around the bush here, they are by and large religious protesters — from harassing women entering clinics, from pushing leaflets into their hands saying the course of action they are taking is ‘murder’, from brandishing large posters showing tiny foetuses and unborn children. The vote was brought on, in part, thanks to Nationals MPs in NSW. Both Nationals and Liberals MPs voted for the reform. It overwhelmingly passed, 61 votes to 18.

In the days leading up to the vote, Joyce freely admitted to hitting the phones and chatting to his state colleagues, urging them to vote no. He told Prime 7 News he was “allowed” and “entitled” to do so.

In one way, of course he is entitled to do so. While not a state MP, there’s nothing in the rulebook saying he can’t ring up his state-based mates and have a yak about the hot-button issue going through parliament that week. As he made clear in the paid Channel Seven interview, he is strongly anti-abortion, a view that he is entitled to hold.

But you can’t say on Thursday that women should not enjoy freedom of harassment when they’re trying to obtain medical care, then on Sunday whinge to the country at large that you yourself should have that freedom when there are incredibly legitimate questions about your conduct while an elected member of parliament on the public purse.

It takes quite some moral gymnastics to arrive at a position where you think highly-paid federal MPs under fair media scrutiny deserve more privacy and freedom from harassment than women entering abortion clinics, but our former deputy prime minister has landed it with ease.

Women attending abortion clinics are, by and large, not happy to be there. I admittedly have no first-hand knowledge of such a situation, but I could imagine that women would probably rather be anywhere else in the world at that moment, rather than having to run the gauntlet outside such a clinic, to keep their heads down and avoid looking at the posters, the fliers, the protesters trying to change their minds at the last moment.

For whatever reason -- be it sexual assault, an unplanned conception, family, religious or financial reasons -- many of these women do not have a choice. But Barnaby Joyce had a choice. A series of choices led him to that church on Sunday morning, being papped by a photographer lurking outside his church.

Image: Getty.

Barnaby Joyce chose to become a politician. Barnaby Joyce chose to make himself a popular public figure, to accept countless media opportunities, to shape himself as “Australia’s best retail politician”.

Barnaby Joyce chose to run for the Nationals leadership and the deputy PM role. Barnaby Joyce chose to start an affair with a member of staff, to conceal it, to make a series of baffling public relations and media decisions following revelations about that affair, to accept the paid Channel Seven interview.

Barnaby Joyce chose not to divulge answers to questions Australians have about that scandal, around the use of public money and the procurement of several highly-paid jobs for his new partner. He chose to insert himself into perhaps the most highly-divisive debate in NSW state parliament in 2018.

I don’t agree with whatever media outlet sent that photographer there — considering the man is meant to be on medical leave, and that we’ve still got enough recent Barnaby photos, vision and quotes to last a lifetime, any further paparazzi shots were probably a bit of overkill. To be honest, I have a bit of sympathy for him in this case. The man should be able to go to church in peace.

If only he could have a bit more sympathy for other people who feel ambushed, for others who experience harassment as they go about their own business.

Feature image: AAP