Barnaby Joyce quit as Australia’s deputy prime minister after having an extramarital affair with his former media adviser, leading to allegations that he breached ministerial guidelines.
Joyce, 50, said he will also step down as leader of the National party, the junior coalition partner in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government, but remain in parliament.
The resignation may relieve some pressure on Turnbull, whose ruling Liberal-National coalition has slumped further behind in opinion polls amid the scandal. The prime minister last week accused his deputy of making a “shocking error of judgment” after the story broke this month that Joyce was expecting a baby with his new partner Vikki Campion.
“It’s incredibly important that this be a circuit breaker not just on the parliament, but more importantly that it be a circuit breaker for Vikki, it be a circuit breaker for my unborn child, it be a circuit breaker for my daughters, it be a circuit breaker for Nat,” father-of-four Joyce said, referring to his now-estranged wife of 24 years, Natalie.
The revelations have damaged Joyce’s credibility as a family man and he’s also faced claims he allowed Campion to work in his and another ministerial office during the affair — potentially breaching the ministerial code of conduct.
Joyce said Friday that none of the “litany of allegations” had been sustained.
The issue has dominated headlines in Australian media this month, taking the spotlight away from the prime minister’s policy agenda, including his bid to legislate corporate and personal tax cuts. The affair has also spurred a debate about what parts of a parliamentarian’s life are private and should be off-limits to media reporting.
The Nationals will need to vote on a new party leader, with Michael McCormack, Darren Chester and David Littleproud expected to be among the frontrunners.
Turnbull, who is in the U.S. for talks with President Donald Trump, issued a statement thanking Joyce for his service and for being a “fierce advocate for rural and regional Australia.” He said John McVeigh would take on Joyce’s infrastructure and transport portfolio until the Nationals elect a new leader.
The son of sheep and dairy farmers, Joyce has led the rural-based Nationals for two years. He’s been a vocal critic of foreign investment by state-owned Chinese companies, and made international headlines in 2015 when he threatened to euthanize Johnny Depp’s Yorkshire terriers after the movie star brought the dogs into Australia, bypassing quarantine.
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