Pressure mounts on Australia deputy PM over affair

2018-02-13 18:18
Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. (William West, AFP, File)

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. (William West, AFP, File)

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Sydney - Pressure was mounting on Australia's deputy prime minister on Tuesday amid fresh allegations that his affair with a younger former staffer, who is pregnant with their child, breached ministerial rules.

Barnaby Joyce has been under intense scrutiny since the relationship was splashed across the front page of Sydney's Daily Telegraph last week, with his wife of 24 years making clear she and their four daughters were devastated.

He made a public apology to them on Tuesday and defended the two jobs, one for a minister, that his 33-year-old lover Vikki Campion was given after she stopped working for him in 2017.

READ: Deputy PM's affair with staffer grips Australia

Joyce - internationally renowned for threatening to euthanise Hollywood star Johnny Depp's dogs over a quarantine violation - denied he breached the ministerial code of conduct.

It stipulates that "partners" of ministers cannot be given jobs in ministerial offices without the express approval of the prime minister.

"I am very aware of the ministerial code of conduct," Joyce, head of the National Party which is in a coalition with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals, told reporters in Canberra.

"It is without a shadow of a doubt that Vikki Campion is my partner now. But when she worked in my office, she was not my partner. When she worked in (Resources Minister) Matt Canavan's office, she was not my partner.

Joyce reportedly updated his formal register of interests last month to say he was separated from his wife, but has not added Campion, who is expecting their baby in April, as his partner.

Joyce's position in question

The growing scandal has seen the Labour opposition question whether it is tenable for Joyce to continue in his position, while the Greens have demanded he resign. Breaching the code of conduct could be grounds for him to be removed from office.

New claims in the Telegraph on Tuesday of inappropriate behaviour by Joyce at a pub after an official function in 2011 were slammed by the 50-year-old as "serious defamation".

Turnbull and the Liberals have sought to distance themselves from the saga, which comes just months after the coalition survived a crisis over lawmakers' citizenship that threatened their slim parliamentary majority.

"The Deputy PM... said that he had not discussed Ms Campion's employment with me or my office. He confirmed that the Nationals were responsible for decisions relating to staffing," Turnbull told parliament on Monday.

Joyce was also embroiled in the nationality saga that saw a host of parliamentarians resign over a once-obscure rule barring dual citizens from federal office, and he had to stand for re-election in his rural constituency.

He campaigned on a platform of being a pillar of the community who upheld conservative values, including marriage, and comfortably won the crucial by-election.

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