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Barnaby Joyce: Rise and fall of Australia's former deputy PM

Following relentless pressure and a lack of support from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce (pictured) resigned last week from the Cabinet and as leader of the rural-based National Party.
Following relentless pressure and a lack of support from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce (pictured) resigned last week from the Cabinet and as leader of the rural-based National Party. PHOTO: REUTERS

With his cowboy hat and no-nonsense manner, Australia's former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has long presented as something of an anti-politician whose loutish outspokenness was apparently a symptom of his fierce loyalty to old-fashioned, conservative rural values.

But it is this image that has compounded his personal woes as he find himself in recent weeks entangled in relevations he had an affair with a staffer, who is now pregnant, charges of sexual harassment and claims of misuse of expenses.

Following relentless pressure and a lack of support from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Joyce resigned last week from the Cabinet and as leader of the rural-based National Party, the junior member of the ruling coalition.

Mr Joyce will remain in Parliament as a backbencher. His party on Monday (Feb 26) elected former journalist Michael McCormack as its new leader.

A former accountant who once worked as a bouncer at a pub, Mr Joyce entered parliament as a senator for the rural-based National Party in 2005 and did not take long to gain national attention. In his maiden speech, he attacked politics for talking in riddles and "telling half the story".

A social conservative, he soon began to adopt stances on privatisation and student unions that were sometimes at odds with the more pro-market policies of the ruling Liberal-National Coalition.

But his sincerity and stubbornness won him support and he soon rose through the ranks, eventually becoming National Party leader and the country's second most powerful politician in 2016.

Throughout, there was nothing to suggest that this 50-year-old devout Catholic and father of four would one day find himself at the centre of a damaging national scandal.

But Mr Joyce's relationship with his former media adviser Vikki Campion, 33, has hurt his career and divided the ruling Coalition.

Mr Joyce has left his wife of 24 years and has faced days of questions over whether he misused travel expenses to spend time with Ms Campion or helped to secure her jobs with fellow National ministers.

As he struggles to retain the support of his party colleagues, he has conducted a public tit-for-tat with Mr Turnbull, who described Mr Joyce's decision to have an affair with a staffer 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.

In recent days, Mr Joyce's party colleagues began to withdraw support.

On Feb 23, the 50-year-old father of four threw in the towel.

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

"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," he told reporters.

"This has got to stop. It's not fair on them."

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

This torrid scandal and its messy aftermath could end the career of a roguish politician, who has long been popular in rural areas and, with his straight-shooting style, was never far from the national political spotlight.

Born in Tamworth, a large rural town in New South Wales, he worked as a farm labourer and rural banker before becoming an accountant and, eventually, a senator.

Eight years after becoming an MP, Mr Joyce switched to the Lower House in 2013 and became a Cabinet minister.

As Minister for Agriculture, not usually a job that attracts fame, he made international headlines when he threatened to kill the pet dogs of actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, who had smuggled the pets into Australia.

The pair later appeared in court, where Heard faced charges and eventually apologised.

Mr Joyce eventually took over the leadership of the National Party in 2016. This position, the head of the junior member of the Coalition, made him Deputy Prime Minister.

Last year, he was one of several MPs forced to resign after it emerged that they were dual citizens, a status barred by the Constitution. Mr Joyce, it emerged, was a New Zealander via his father, who moved to Australia in 1947.

He insisted that he had not known that he was a New Zealander and easily won a by-election in December to regain his seat.

Appearing triumphant alongside Mr Turnbull in his hometown, he said: "Running the country is a bit harder than running sheep through a gate, let me tell you that."

At the time, unknown to the rest of the nation, Mr Joyce's new partner was several months pregnant and his unravelling personal life was soon to become a matter of intense public scrutiny.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2018, with the headline 'Australia's anti-politician struggling to save his career'. Print Edition | Subscribe