SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - The Australian government's poll ratings have fallen in the wake of the deputy prime minister's extramarital affair with a former aide, which has threatened to fracture the ruling coalition.
The Liberal-National government now trails Labor 47 per cent to 53 per cent, compared with a 4 percentage-point gap two weeks ago, according to a Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper Monday (Feb 19). The poll also showed two-thirds of voters believe Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce should resign as Nationals leader, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's own approval ratings have declined.
Relations between Turnbull and Joyce were strained after the prime minister last week publicly lambasted his deputy over the affair that ended his 24-year marriage and accused him of making a "shocking error of judgment."
Joyce hit back by saying the criticism was "inept" and "unnecessary," and the pair met at the weekend in a bid to ease tensions.
The saga has played out on the front pages of Australia's newspapers for almost two weeks, with Joyce, 50, confirming that his now partner Vikki Campion is pregnant with his child.
The revelations have damaged father-of-four Joyce's credibility as a family man and he's also facing claims he allowed Campion to work in his and another ministerial office during the affair - potentially breaching the ministerial code of conduct.
"It's distracting and unhelpful," Turnbull said of the saga in a radio interview on Monday. It was up to Joyce's Nationals to decide whether he should continue as party leader, he said.
The weekend meeting between the two was constructive and they agreed to work better together in future, Turnbull said.
As well as distracting from the government's policy agenda, the issue seems to be taking a toll on Turnbull's own popularity. His 14-point lead over Labor leader Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister halved in the latest Newspoll to 7 points.
Veterans' Affairs Minister Michael McCormack - considered the most likely National lawmaker to replace Joyce - did not rule out a leadership challenge on Saturday but said he didn't want to get "too far ahead of myself," the Sun-Herald reported. Any challenge to Joyce would most likely happen at a party room meeting when Parliament returns in just over a week.