It was a story the mainstream media wouldn’t touch for six months, they believed Barnaby Joyce’s marriage break up and affair with staffer Vikki Campion was a private matter and not in the public interest. Only Sharri Markson of the Daily Telegraph had to courage to break the press gallery political protection racket and report not only the affair but that Campion was pregnant with Joyce’s child.
Debate ensured for several days about whether the story should have been reported, public opinion was polarized on it and Labor would not touch the matter at all. However when it was revealed that Campion had been shifted around in taxpayer funded jobs created specifically for her, first in Matt Canavan’s office then in Damian Drum’s office earning up to $191,000 a year questions were raised of the preferential treatment she was receiving because of her relationship with Joyce.
Labor has now decided to pursue the matter in Question Time and there are now questions of how much the Prime Minister office knew of Joyce’s affair and the fact this office shifting was occurring because of that. Partners are banned under the Ministerial code of conduct from being employer in their own or other MPs’ offices. The conclusion that Barnaby Joyce is in the clear because Campion was not his partner at the time but instead his mistress has been viewed as a farcical technicality. The Prime Minister’s Office has denied it had knowledge of the affair.
It is clear given the further revelations that have unfolded Sharri Markson’s courageous decision appears to have been vindicated. We learned on the weekend that Joyce is staying rent free with Vikki Campion in a house owned by Armidale businessman Greg Maguire. Many in the media have labelled Joyce a hypocrite for his previous advice to first home buyers to move to regional Australia or be more prudent with with their finances.
After not wanting to report the story it is clear today the mainstream media smells bloody against Joyce and are going in for the kill. Today both Fairfax and NewsCorp papers have reported on an allegation from 2011 that Joyce pinched a women’s bottom at Rural Women’s Agricultural Awards in Canberra.
This woman’s allegation was promoted by Joyce’s political opponent Tony Windsor, it was raised with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s principal private secretary Sally Cray in December 2015. Both Joyce and the Prime Minister have rejected this allegation. This allegation would appear to be the least relevant matter in regard to the Ministerial impropriety alleged against Joyce and by extension the Prime Minister’s Office. But it is a sign that the media scrunity of all of Joyce’s conduct is going to be more intense and the political pressure will remain.
Now leadership speculation is in full swing, this was not just brought on by the current scandal but also relates to the animosity created by the Cabinet reshuffle last year which saw National Darren Chester dumped from Cabinet for no real crime other than he helped Bridget McKenzie be elected Deputy Leader against Joyce’s wishes. Barnaby Joyce took Chester’s portfolio of Infrastructure and first term MP David Littleproud was promoted straight into Cabinet as Agriculture Minister.
Joyce has now apologized to both the Nationals and Coalition Party room for his conduct and has stated his intention to stay on as Deputy Prime Minister and recover from his scandal. There is no current number counting happening in the Nationals partyroom and all Nationals MPs have stated their support for Joyce as leader.
Malcolm Turnbull has this morning been calling Nationals MPs to gauge the mood in the partyroom, although the fallout from the Joyce scandal affects the government as a whole and Liberal MPs are dismayed at his conduct Turnbull is powerless to take any action against Joyce since the leadership of the Nationals is a matter for Nationals MPs.
Malcolm Turnbull leaves for the United States next week which leaves Barnaby Joyce as acting Prime Minster. Parliament is sitting this week which means if there is to be a move against Joyce it will happen this week. With the media going in hard the past 24 hours who knows what other news they may dig up against Joyce and escalate the crisis even further. It is sucking up all the political oxygen for the government and it is naive to think something as salacious as this will simply blow over.