Canberra’s Colosseum – aka The House of Representatives – is nothing compared to Armidale’s Wicklow Hotel.
Just ask Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce who cut his parliamentary teeth, and had his front ones knocked out, while working as a bouncer in the historic pub that lies in the heart of his New England electorate.
“I was playing first-grade footy at the time and I’ve always known how to look after myself. Most of the time I ‘bounced’ by talking. I’d say, ‘Mate, I don’t want the hassle. I wanna go home tonight and so do you. So I’m gonna walk around the other side and when I come back you’re gonna be invisible,” he said of his pre-political life in a new interview with GQ Australia.
Joyce, a farm kid turned accountant, turned leader of the Nationals, recommends all aspiring pollies try their hand at crowd control.
“It does help fine-tune your skills for working out who can really hurt you and who’s a bluff. And it sharpened my contempt for people who throw their ego around. I still find myself sizing rivals up and thinking, ‘You’re not that thick a wheel, mate.’ In politics, that sort of bravado usually comes from people who’ve never done a hard day’s work in their life. The Wicklow taught me that if they said that anywhere other than Parliament, someone would be handing them their teeth back on a plate.”
Joyce – considered federal parliament’s answer to Ireland’s mixed martial arts champion Conor McGregor and who has since gone 12-rounds with everyone from Tony Windsor to Johnny Depp – says he has now mellowed but not before needing several trips to the emergency room.
“I have 28 stitches in my head from those days. And yes, I got my front teeth removed by a bloke called Craig Morgan,” Joyce said.
Craig Morgan, someone Joyce remembers because: “When someone removes your front teeth, you remember their name”, isn’t the only bloke the deputy Prime Minister has “blued” with.
Joyce has also gone toe-to-toe with Malcolm Turnbull which also almost came close to ending with an urgent dentist appointment.
“[We] had a huge blue in the past over the carbon tax. And…Oh, god. Furious argument. Absolutely furious. Shouting, screaming, the whole lot,” Joyce said.
“Other people kept a cap on it by getting me out of the room. Bundling me out like I used to do folks [as a bouncer] at the Wicklow. So after that, it was raw but now we respect each other. We work well together. He completely trusts my confidence and I trust his.”
These days Joyce said the two respect each other and get together regularly to talk tactics over cups of tea or glasses of wine.
“We’re friendly…but we’re not close,” he said.
Joyce also used the interview opportunity, which came close to ending abruptly when he spotted, “a journo chatting up his daughter [20-year-old Bridgette],” to take a swing at marriage equality advocates and those calling for changes to the racial discrimination act.
“Certain members think ‘the world’s gonna collapse if we don’t change 18C’. No, the world will go on. The other one is gay marriage. Mate, I can assure you, on most streets of Australia, people do not give a shit about it. It’s an issue, but it’s way down the list of priorities. Where it’s dangerous is when it’s pursued to the cost of major issues and the public think, ‘These buggers don’t get us.’,” he said.
While he see Anthony Albanese as a potential political threat he labelled deputy leader of the opposition Tanya Plibersek as “off with the fairies” and suggested Tony Abbott is “talking to himself I think…and he’s got to stop.”
Justice Minister Michael Keenan was pressed on Joyce’s GQ feature on Monday and admitted he hadn’t seen the piece but warned: “It’s very important that everyone remains apart of the team and if that’s not the case then people are going to mark us down.”.
In the corresponding photo shoot, Joyce posed for the men’s magazine wearing his own suit, R.M. Williams boots and his favourite Akubra.
The August issue of GQ Australia is available now.