After much speculation about his future Barnaby Joyce at a press conference at Armidale in his New England electorate this afternoon announced that at the National Partyroom meeting on Monday he will step down as party leader and Deputy Prime Minister. the He will not resign as the member for New England and will sit on the backbench.
His affair with his former media advisor Vikki Campion who is now pregnant with his child had dominated the news cycle over the past two weeks. At first many deemed it to be a private matter however the fact that Campion had been moved around to various Nationals MPs’ offices in positions created for her raised allegations of the appropriate use of taxpayers’ money.
There was also controversy that he was now living rent free in a property owned by his businessmen friend Greg Magiure and the fact that he had sold himself as a social conservative yet had destroyed his marriage that produced four children with an affair.
There had also been unsubstantiated allegations in the national newspapers that he pinched a girl on the bottom at an after party for the Rural Women’s Awards in 2011. Last night it was reported that the National Party had received a formal complaint of sexual harassment against Joyce from a Western Australian women associated with the WA National Party. Joyce stated at the press conference it was this allegation which was the circuitbreaker in his decision to resign.
Since the story of the affair was broken by the Daily Telegraph we had seen him come to blows with the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week, Liberal MPs publicly criticised him and his support slowly chipped away amongst his National Party colleagues. His feature interview with Fairfax Media when he was supposed to be on personal leave was heavily criticized. He had consistently refused to resign and his detractors never had the numbers to roll him.
This week the WA Nationals withdrew their support even though they had no federal members in the parliament, Victorian MP Andrew Broad posted inflammatory tweet which called on Joyce to resign, later in the day Broad told ABC Radio he would move a motion to resolve the party leadership.
The resignation of Joyce will likely unleash a smorgasbord of candidates for National Party leader, many commentators have suggested it is the lack of a clear alternative that was keeping Joyce as leader. Possible leadership contenders (if the leader will still come from the lower house) are Michael McCormack, David Littleproud, David Gillespie and former Cabinet Minister Darren Chester.
Despite the political firestorm he had created and criticism amongst many conservatives that he had become too close to Malcolm Turnbull and sold out his values his supporters still regarded him as their greatest party asset. George Christensen tweeted that it was a sad day for Regional Australia.
He also took the opportunity in his resignation press conference to put up a stirring defence of Regional Australia and also thanked the people of New England for their continued support.
The Turnbull Government would appear to have got its wish to be rid of Joyce and will hope their policy agenda can now be front and centre. Given that Senate Estimates begins next week with Labor set to pursue the moving of Campion from Nationals MPs’ offices it might appear to be wishful thinking. Many are also speculating that now he is on the backbench Joyce could return to being a maverick MP unafraid to speak out and even vote against the government.