Joyce, however, did not merely deny any malfeasance. He denied himself any agency whatsoever, arguing that he as a federal cabinet minister was helplessly bound to the recommendations of his department and the whims of the Queensland government.
“We followed their precedent, you fleas, we followed their precedent,” he thundered. “The Labor Party – Labor Labor Labor Party – were the first people to buy off this vendor, recommended by the Queensland government.”
In years to come, political tragics might use the interview as the basis for a drinking game in which they sip every time Joyce says the word “Labor” or “Lynham” – the Queensland Labor minister Anthony Lynham at the time of the buyback. Any such imbiber would likely require hospitalisation before Joyce is even halfway through.
Lynham, Joyce said, had gone “hand over fist, shoulder over toes” to get the Commonwealth to buy water from Eastern Australian Irrigation. No doubt he also went head over heels.
Throughout the exchange, Joyce’s minimisation of his own agency was total. He said it was not the job of a minister to “second guess” department officials by questioning whether their proposed buyback was good value, or inquiring into the beneficiaries of the vendor.
“You’re not asking about what clothes they wear, you’re not asking who they’re married to – you’re asking if they have water to sell,” he said.
Joyce even insisted he had no right to an opinion about whether uncensored documents related to the deal should now be publicly released.
“I’m a … humble old backbencher winning the seat of New England, knocking up corflutes,” he protested, as if this ipso facto robbed him of the capacity to formulate a view. “It’s like saying: do you believe that Mrs Smith should vacuum her living room?”
Karvelas, having already endured nearly half an hour of obfuscation and evasion, persisted. “No, it’s not like that,” she said. “It’s a specific question – should they be released?”
Joyce said he had no problem with documents being published and was willing to front a royal commission into the deal. He denied any knowledge of Taylor’s involvement in the company Eastern Australian Irrigation – in fact, he denied any contemporaneous knowledge of Taylor at all.
“I never knew Angus Taylor,” Joyce said. “I wouldn’t have known him if he stood up in my cornflakes before he came into Parliament.”
And so it went, for almost 30 high octane minutes, until there were simply no questions left to not answer. Joyce contended that the interview went for so long because he and Karvelas “get along so well”.
“That’s why people like listening to us,” he said. “We’re exciting. We’re exciting people.”
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.