Besieged Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of being “inept” and causing his family “further harm” in his comments yesterday about the end of his marriage and relationship with a former staffer.
The extraordinary attack in a media conference in Canberra before Joyce takes a week of personal leave puts the relationship between the country’s most senior government leaders in an untenable position as Turnbull prepares to leave for the US and a meeting with President Donald Trump.
The visibly angry Nationals leader made it clear he would not be resigning from the role and had the support of his party, essentially telling the PM to butt out of the affairs of the junior coalition partner as the two sides appear to be in escalating conflict.
“There is nothing we dislike more than implied intervention into the party processes of the National Party,” Joyce said.
“We are our own independent political unit. We make our own decisions, especially around those of who are the office holders.”
He said the PM’s comments essentially “locks people in” around his leadership.
“So I would not be making comments or implied comments about the leadership of the Liberal Party and would not expect to get comments about the leadership of the National Party,” he said.
Asked how the two men could continue to work together, Joyce said he was determined to ensure that “this relationship gets back on an even keel”.
Yesterday in announcing a ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff as part of a new ministerial code of conduct, Turnbull said Joyce made “a shocking error of judgment” and “appalled us all” when the married Nationals leader began an affair with a former staffer, who is now pregnant.
Joyce once again apologised to his wife and daughters, as well as his new partner, Vikki Campion.
I am incredibly sorry for the hurt I have caused,” he said, also apologising to his electorate for the “inconvenience and hurt”.
The Nationals boss said that Turnbull’s comments last night were “in many instances inept and most definitely in many instances unnecessary”.
“The reason I say that is it was public knowledge what was being repeated, it ran on the front pages of papers, and all it does is reinvest in the hurt that is held by other people,” Joyce said.
He said what the Prime Minister did last night was “basically once more pull the scab off for everybody to have a look at”.
Joyce said his party would support the PM’s new code of conduct banning sex with staff and “we will do our best endeavours to see it through”, but added it would “create immense fodder” for the media.
Addressing the issue of receiving $14,000 worth of free accommodation from a millionaire friend and businessman Greg Maguire, Joyce said he was living with his sister when the offer was made and he was “neither a minister nor member” at the time and “that seemed a more stable arrangement”.
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