Australia’s deputy prime minister under fire for affair with pregnant adviser

Vikki Campion got a major promotion, giving her a salary of €122,000

Barnaby Joyce: he had to resign in October from parliament when it emerged he was entitled to New Zealand citizenship through his father. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP/via Reuters

Barnaby Joyce: he had to resign in October from parliament when it emerged he was entitled to New Zealand citizenship through his father. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP/via Reuters

 

Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, has rarely been far from the headlines since he was first elected to parliament in 2004. Mostly they were headlines he craved in pursuit of being seen as rural Australia’s best friend. But the latest story is one he kept hidden for a long time.

Mr Joyce (50) announced last December, while speaking in parliament against same-sex marriage, that his own 24-year marriage had broken up. He did not reveal that the break-up was due to his relationship with his former media adviser, Vikki Campion (33), who is pregnant.

In October, Joyce had to resign from parliament when it emerged he was entitled to New Zealand citizenship through his father. There were rumours of an affair when he ran for re-election in December, but nothing was substantiated and he won with an increased majority. But things started unravelling for him when Sydney’s Daily Telegraph tabloid published a front page picture of a heavily pregnant Ms Campion.

It has since emerged Ms Campion was moved last year from office to office within the National Party, the junior partner in Australia’s Liberal-National coalition, which Joyce leads. One job was created specifically for her, while another move was a major promotion, giving her a salary of $191,000 (€122,000).

Code of conduct

The ministerial code of conduct stipulates that prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has to directly approve it when a minister hires the partner of another minister. But Mr Turnbull’s office said there was no breach of the code as Ms Campion was not considered Mr Joyce’s partner at the time she was changing jobs.

In a matter of days, Mr Turnbull’s good start to the year has been undone. Though still behind the opposition Labor Party in the polls, the coalition was making ground and the strength of the economy was part of the national conversation.

Not anymore. The national conversation is all Barnaby, all the time, and the media is happy to remind people of previous Joyce stories they may have forgotten about.

These include remaining in cabinet when he should have immediately resigned upon becoming aware of his New Zealand citizenship, and getting a $40,000 award from billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart for being a “champion of farming”. Mr Joyce gave that back, but only after pressure from opponents, and not before being filmed getting an oversize cheque for the amount from Ms Rinehart.

Pork barrelling

Mr Joyce has always claimed to be a fiscal conservative who wants to bring Australia’s budget back to surplus, but he has never been averse to pork barrelling in his own constituency. He angered many public servants when he, as agriculture minister, moved the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from the capital Canberra to Armidale in Mr Joyce’s rural electorate.

Amid the media hand-wringing about the rights and wrongs of exposing Mr Joyce’s affair, some have wondered if the man in this situation was the prime minister rather than deputy prime minister, he would still have his job. The answer to this may come next week, when Mr Turnbull is out of the country and Mr Joyce becomes acting prime minister.