Aussie Deputy PM resigns following uproar over affair

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has admitted to having an affair with staff member Vikki Campion. He has also faced claims of sexual harassment and that he misused expenses.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has admitted to having an affair with staff member Vikki Campion. He has also faced claims of sexual harassment and that he misused expenses.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has admitted to having an affair with staff member Vikki Campion. He has also faced claims of sexual harassment and that he misused expenses.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has admitted to having an affair with staff member Vikki Campion. He has also faced claims of sexual harassment and that he misused expenses.

Move likely to bring relief to Turnbull, with saga being a political distraction and dominating media headlines

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce resigned yesterday after a tumultuous fortnight in which he admitted to having an affair with a staff member, who is pregnant, and faced claims of sexual harassment and that he misused expenses.

Following relentless pressure and a lack of support from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Joyce said he would resign from the Cabinet and as leader of the rural-based National Party, the junior member of the ruling coalition, from Monday.

He insisted that the harassment claims were false, but admitted that the "litany of allegations" had been damaging for his parliamentary colleagues as well as for his wife Natalie, their four daughters and his former media adviser Vikki Campion, with whom he now lives.

"It is 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," he told reporters. "This has got to stop. It is not fair on them."

Thanking his supporters, he said: "I don't deserve the support that you have given me."

Mr Turnbull will likely welcome the resignation, as the scandal involving his deputy has been a political distraction and dominated media headlines for weeks.

The series of stories about Mr Joyce's private life, including claims he misused travel expenses to spend time with Ms Campion, led to a further erosion of support for the coalition in the opinion polls.

Mr Joyce, 50, has faced intense pressure after a Sydney tabloid newspaper revealed earlier this month that Ms Campion, 33, is pregnant. The pair had an affair even while Mr Joyce, a social conservative and devout Catholic, rallied against legalising same-sex marriage, saying the change would affect family stability.

Following the revelation of the affair, Mr Turnbull, who heads the Liberal Party, criticised his deputy's conduct as "appalling", and announced a ban on ministers having sex with staff.

Mr Joyce hit back, describing the Prime Minister as "inept", creating a sharp divide between the nation's two most powerful politicians.

But Mr Turnbull was effectively unable to sack Mr Joyce, whose position as party leader and Deputy Prime Minister is decided by National MPs, who in recent days began to withdraw support.

Mr Joyce, who lives in north-west New South Wales and wears a cowboy hat, is perhaps best known internationally for his threat in 2015 to kill Pistol and Boo, the pet dogs of actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The pair had brought the dogs into Australia without properly declaring them, and later publicly apologised.

Mr Joyce will remain in Parliament as a backbencher. His party will elect a new leader on Monday.

Mr Turnbull, who is visiting the United States, insisted that relations between his party and the Nationals remained strong.

Analysts believe Mr Joyce's resignation will bring short-term relief to the government. But the saga could leave lasting tensions between the two parties that make up the ruling coalition.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'Aussie Deputy PM resigns following uproar over affair'. Print Edition | Subscribe