MELBOURNE (NYTIMES) - The partner of Australia's former deputy prime minister has said that she was pressured by members of the conservative National Party to have an abortion after she became pregnant during their extramarital affair.
The assertion was made during a prime-time television interview on Sunday (June 3), and represented a new twist in a scandal that has embarrassed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's coalition government.
"They came to me and they said, 'You're pregnant and you have to get an abortion,'" Vikki Campion told Channel 7's Sunday Night in her first joint interview with Barnaby Joyce, who was forced to step down from his role as deputy prime minister after the local news media revealed their affair. "And they said, 'If you don't, they're going to come after you,'" she continued.
Earlier in the interview, Campion said she came close to terminating her pregnancy. She gave birth to their son, Sebastian, in April.
During the interview, Joyce took aim at his political colleagues for their behaviour.
"Look, I'll be really frank: I don't believe in abortion," said Joyce, who described those behind the pressure on Campion as "absolute scum of the earth people."
The National Party's leader, Michael McCormack, who replaced Joyce in his role, said on Monday that he had known nothing of the allegations, and defended his colleagues.
"They are the finest people in regional Australia and I'm proud to serve with each and every one of them," he added. The National Party is a partner in Turnbull's coalition government.
The programme had already attracted controversy before its airing, after it was reported that Channel 7 paid Campion and Joyce A$150,000 dollars (S$153,000) for the interview.
Joyce is still a sitting Member of Parliament, raising further questions about the country's sometimes cozy relationship between journalistic outlets and the politicians they hold to account.
Campion worked for a decade as a journalist before joining Joyce's re-election campaign as a staff member in 2016. They began their affair late that year.
"As far as I see it, everyone else is making money out of Sebastian, except for Sebastian," Campion said, explaining that the money from the interview was going into a trust for their son.
Viewers criticised the interview for failing to address key questions, including why the pair was living in a rent-free apartment donated by a supporter of Joyce, and whether Joyce was trying to obfuscate his affair by securing Campion a job in another political department.
The paid interview was the latest in a string of controversies involving Joyce, who last year (2017) was forced to resign his seat after revelations that he held dual citizenship in Australia and New Zealand. He won back his seat in a subsequent election.
The news of Joyce's and Campion's affair led the prime minister to update parliamentary standards to rule that sitting ministers may not have sexual relations with their staff members.
Ratings for the Sunday Night programme suggested that the Australian public may have seen enough of Joyce's private life.
The heavily promoted interview drew lower ratings than local editions of MasterChef and The Voice, as well as Mystery Road, an outback neo-noir series.