Our Say: Now it’s getting really personal in Canberra

THE Barnaby Joyce affair – in both senses of the word – was always destined to have a wider impact.

The toppling of the deputy prime minister and the announcement of PM Malcolm Turnbull’s ban on sex between ministers and their staff was meant to draw a line under this unfortunate episode and ensure we didn’t see something similar again.

Instead, it seems to have dragged our federal politicians deeper into the muck.

But we could have seen that coming, couldn’t we?

In the hand-to-hand combat that is Australian federal politics, our representatives will generally use whatever weapons their fingers can find.

There have previously been limits, though, as to how far they would go – and a politician’s personal and family life was not considered to be fair game.

You could see this unspoken rule in play as Labor politicians, in the early days of the reporting on Mr Joyce’s controversy, showed a great reluctance to get involved.

“My criticisms of him are of his job and, frankly, his personal situation is none of my business and, with respect, it’s none of anybody else’s business,” Labor’s Chris Bowen said in early February. 

With the subsequent questions about the new jobs found for Mr Joyce’s new partner and the deputy PM’s use of travel entitlements, however, the story became about more than Mr Joyce’s family life – and Labor became more and more involved.

Mr Turnbull’s subsequent ban on sex between ministers and their staff was final confirmation – if any was needed – that something significant had now shifted, and our representatives’ personal lives had ceased to be personal.

And some of the consequences of that shift are only just starting to play out.

Government headkicker Peter Dutton last week said the Coalition was getting tired of the moralising from Labor, mentioning two of those on the other side of the chamber whose own first marriages had failed.

And then there was Michaelia Cash’s threat to reveal rumours about young female staff in Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s office – a shameful new low that was, unfortunately, entirely inevitable in this new political climate.

Rumours. Broken marriages. Hearsay. If these are the new weapons in Canberra, how many of us are going to be able to stomach the fight?