Turnbull pledges to sack ministers who breach sex ban

Prime minister says: ‘I’d expect them to resign, I wouldn’t expect I’d need to sack them’

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) says his deputy prime minster Barnaby Joyce did not tell him he was in a a sexual relationship with a subordinate. Photograph: AP

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) says his deputy prime minster Barnaby Joyce did not tell him he was in a a sexual relationship with a subordinate. Photograph: AP

 

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says he would sack any minister in breach of his new ban on sexual relationships with staff, and is not sure whether Barnaby Joyce currently commands majority support in the Nationals party room.

In a radio interview ahead of his departure to the United States, and after a new poll showed a majority of Australians thought Mr Joyce should resign the leadership of the National party, the prime minister insisted that Joyce had never told him that he was involved in a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

Mr Turnbull acknowledged he had heard rumours about a liaison between the deputy prime minister and Vikki Campion, although couldn’t remember precisely when he’d first heard the internal speculation, and then he declined to answer a question about whether he’d asked Mr Joyce about the relationship.

Asked on radio station 3AW on Monday morning whether he would sack a minister in breach of his new ban on sexual relationships with staff, Mr Turnbull said: “Oh yes, certainly, absolutely,” before qualifying the statement with “I’d expect them to resign, I wouldn’t expect I’d need to sack them.”

Mr Turnbull’s warning followed an interview earlier on Monday in which the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, failed to give the ministerial sex ban proposal - which she has previously expressed some concern about - her full endorsement.

Asked by Sky News on Monday whether she supported the change to the ministerial standards, Ms Bishop said: “I will abide by the ministerial code of conduct.”

Australian deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce. Photograph: EPA
Australian deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce. Photograph: EPA

‘Interfering’

When the Victorian lower house crossbencher Cathy McGowan floated the regulation of relationships between parliamentarians and their staff in the week before Mr Turnbull unveiled the ban, Ms Bishop said dismissively at that time: “Government has no business interfering into people’s personal lives and we wouldn’t want to cross the line so that the moral police were able to dictate what happens between consenting adults.”

Ms Bishop acknowledged on Monday that Mr Turnbull’s ban would bring workplace standards in Parliament House in line with standards in private sector workplaces, but she noted there were “still areas of a politician’s life that are and should be private”.

“What the prime minister is seeking to do is ensure that there are not relationships within ministers’ offices that can lead to an improper influence over a minister’s decisions to conflicts of interest, to misuse of taxpayers funds,” Ms Bishop said.

While the prime minister continued on Monday to put a question mark over whether Joyce commanded majority support among his colleagues, he also continued efforts to paper over the extraordinary feud which exploded between the two men last week.

Mr Turnbull said he and Mr Joyce, who is on personal leave this week, had put “whatever tensions there were behind us”, and he said there was no conflict between the Liberal and the National parties.

He also denied that his public excoriation of Mr Joyce last Thursday was an effort by him to influence the National party room, which last week flirted with an insurrection against their leader after news of his marriage breakdown broke.

Mr Turnbull said the leadership of the National party was a matter for the Nationals.

The prime minister was asked whether he had contacted Mr Joyce’s estranged wife Natalie. He said he had not, but “Luce”, the prime minister’s wife, had reached out to her.

Mr Turnbull also told the Nine Network television station on Sunday night he had consulted his wife before unveiling the ban on sexual relations between ministers and staff.

“She, Lucy, absolutely agrees, and I mean, who would disagree? Do we think it’s a good idea for ministers to have sexual relations with their staff? No? Well, why don’t we just say so?” the prime minister told the program. - Guardian