Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull bars ministers from sex with staff amid scandal
Canberra: Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull overhauled the code of conduct for government ministers and barred them from sexual relations with their staff, as he sought to contain a scandal engulfing his deputy Barnaby Joyce.
Joyce, 50, this week made a televised apology to his wife and four daughters after conducting an extramarital affair with his former media adviser, which has ended his 24-year marriage. The deputy prime minister, who’s confirmed his now partner Vikki Campion is pregnant with his child, is taking a week’s leave and has resisted calls to resign.
Seeking to draw a line under the matter, Turnbull told reporters Thursday that Joyce had caused “terrible hurt and humiliation” to his family and Campion, and made a “shocking error of judgment.”
The ministerial code will be updated to require government ministers to exercise judgment, recognize the public has high expectations of them and that “regardless of whether they are married or single must not engage in sexual relations with their staff,” Turnbull said.
The saga has made front-page headlines in Australia for days and is an unwanted distraction for Turnbull, who is seeking to give renewed momentum to his Liberal-National government that’s trailing in opinion polls.
The prime minister visits Washington for talks with US President Donald Trump next week and in a breach with tradition, Joyce won’t be acting prime minister while he is away.
“Turnbull’s move shows he’s trying to get this off the front pages as quickly as possible and put attention on more substantive policy issues,” said Jill Sheppard, a political analyst at the Australian National University in Canberra. “It may come across to some voters as a bit heavy handed, not as a well-intended move to shore up public morality but as an act of political desperation.”
Joyce’s affair has spurred a debate in Australia about what parts of a parliamentarian’s life are private and should be off-limits to media reporting. Turnbull’s overhaul of the ministerial code comes after the US House last week voted to approve rules banning sex between members and their staff.
While the revelations have damaged Joyce’s credibility as a family man, he’s also under pressure amid allegations he allowed Campion to work in his and another ministerial office during the affair. The ministerial code of conduct bans ministers from employing their “partner.”
Turnbull said he had been assured by Joyce that he’d complied with current ministerial standards.
“I think we know that the real issue is the terrible hurt and humiliation” Joyce has caused to his wife, daughters and new partner, Turnbull told reporters. “Barnaby made a shocking error of judgment in having an affair with a young woman working in his office, in doing so he has set off a world of woe for those women and appalled all of us.”
The son of sheep and dairy farmers, Joyce has led the coalition’s rural-based partner the 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 without fulfilling proper quarantine procedures.
Before news of the scandal broke, Joyce had been attempting to rebuild his reputation, damaged when he was ruled ineligible to remain in parliament after discovering he was also a citizen of New Zealand. His absence meant the government lost its majority for more than a month; after renouncing his dual citizenship, he easily won a special election in December and returned to parliament.
The latest saga has caused renewed friction between Turnbull’s Liberals and Joyce’s Nationals, according to Sheppard, with no guarantees Joyce will be able to put the scandal behind him and survive as leader.
“The relationship between the Liberals and the Nationals is sometimes fraught but it does seem particularly strained right now,” she said. Bloomberg
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