Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Steps Down Over Intimacy Scandal

Barnaby Joyce
Barnaby Joyce

Barnaby Joyce,  Australia’s deputy Prime Minister said, today, that he would step down on Monday, February 26, 2018, following a sex scandal which began when a newspaper revealed he had impregnated an ex-staffer during an extra-marital affair. The 50-year-old conservative politician had been under growing pressure to step down after his party, the Nationals, confirmed Thursday it had received a sexual harassment complaint against him.

He said Friday the allegation was “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” and that he had asked that it be referred to police.

“On Monday morning, at the party room meeting, I will step down as the leader of the Nationals party and the deputy prime minister of Australia,” Joyce told reporters in Armidale, in his New England constituency.

Joyce said he had already informed Mathias Cormann, who is acting prime minister while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visits the U.S. For the past two weeks, Joyce had become the subject of intense public scrutiny due to his affair with his now-pregnant media advisor, who is 17 years his junior.

The affair led to questions about two jobs she was later given in another other Nationals’ lawmakers offices and about free accommodation Joyce was given by a wealthy businessman.

Joyce said he would not be endorsing his replacement at the party room meeting to elect a new leader on Monday. The news of the affair was first made public by an Australian tabloid, which published a photo of the visibly pregnant advisor, Vikki Campion, 33, on its front page.

“Over the last half a month, there has been a litany of allegations. I don’t believe any of them have been sustained,” Joyce said Friday.

He said the government and his family needed a “circuit-breaker” to stop the flood of stories.

“It’s incredibly important that there be a circuit-breaker, not just for the parliament but more importantly a circuit-breaker for Vikki, for my unborn child, my daughters and for Nat (Joyce’s wife).”

“This has got to stop. It’s not fair on them,” he said.

The scandal culminated in a public falling out between Joyce and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who chastised Joyce over the affair, calling it “a shocking error of judgment” and forced him to take a week of leave.

Turnbull also announced a ban on sex between ministers and staffers. Joyce then hit back at his boss, describing Turnbull’s criticism as “inept” and “unnecessary.” After Joyce’s announcement on Friday, Turnbull praised his deputy, and insisted the coalition government was “undiminished.” Turnbull leads a wafer-thin coalition government with the Nationals.

“I thank Barnaby for his service as deputy prime minister and in his various ministerial roles in which he has been a fierce advocate for rural and regional Australia,” Turnbull said in a statement.

“This partnership is undiminished and will continue to deliver opportunity and security for all Australians,” said Turnbull, who is currently in the United States on an official visit.

Joyce promised Friday he will not snipe from the backbench. He also said he was writing a book and ahead of his baby’s birth in April. Warren Truss, a former Nationals leader, told Australian broadcaster ABC that many of Joyce’s supporters were unhappy about the breakdown of his marriage and the extra-marital affair, but they were also happy with what he did for their rural towns.

“Barnaby has made mistakes but I am sure he will recover, learn and be a better person from them,” Minister for Resources and fellow Nationals, Matt Canavan, said in a statement.

“He now has a new partner and a new child to care for and that is much more important than any of his achievements in public life.”

The leader of the opposition, Labour’s Bill Shorten, used the moment to attack the government, saying the coalition relationship “is fundamentally damaged, irreparably.”

“The fact that the deputy prime minister has resigned and not even told the prime minister shows you there is a deep division at the heart of this chaotic government.”

In December, Joyce won a by-election and returned to parliament after he was disqualified from office because he held dual New Zealand citizenship. He attained global fame in 2015 when he threatened to euthanize two dogs belonging to Hollywood actor Johnny Depp and his then partner Amber Heard because they brought them into the country without proper quarantine paperwork.