Australian government in chaos as deputy blasts PM for ‘pulling the scab off’ his affair with adviser

Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s deputy prime minister, has launched an extraordinary attack on Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister, for making hurtful and “inept” comments  about his affair with an adviser, who is pregnant, as the scandal descended into all-out war in the ruling coalition. 

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Rejecting Mr Turnbull’s suggestion that he should consider resigning, Mr Joyce, the leader of the rural-based National party, held an angry press conference, in which he accused Mr Turnbull, leader of the Liberal party, of worsening his family’s turmoil.  

Mr Joyce, 50, has left his wife of 24 years – and the mother of his four daughters – after having an affair with his adviser, Vikki Campion, 33.

“Comments by the prime minister yesterday at his press conference, with regards to that, I have to say that… they caused further harm,” Mr Joyce said.

“I believe they were in many instances inept and most definitely in many instances unnecessary. All it does is reinvest in the hurt that’s being felt by other people. All that is once more going to do is pull the scab off.”

Mr Joyce refused to resign despite Mr Turnbull publicly scolding his “shocking error of judgment” and repeatedly demanding that the deputy leader consider his position.

The revelation of Mr Joyce’s affair – broken by a Sydney tabloid last week with the headline “Bundle of Joyce” – has dominated front pages and led to a series of claims about whether Mr Joyce misused expenses or breached ministerial guidelines. 

But the scandal is now causing serious political damage and has created a rift between the two parties that make up the Coalition.

Mr Joyce, who wears a cowboy hat and has long been known for speaking his mind,  criticised Mr Turnbull for intervening in internal National party matters. 

Barnaby Joyce launched an extraordinary attack on Malcolm Turnbull, the prime ministerCredit:

“There is nothing that we dislike more than implied intervention into the party processes of the National party,” he said.

Mr Turnbull rejected the accusation that he had "sought in any way to influence the deliberations of the National party".

Saying he understood it was a very "stressful time" for Mr Joyce, the prime minister thanked him for "his support for my change to the ministerial standards".

"There is a need to have more respectful workplaces consistent with standards that are applied to parts of our community."

Mr Joyce, a social conservative, is best known internationally for his threat in 2015 to kill Pistol and Boo, the pet dogs of Jonny Depp and Amber Heard, after the pair smuggled the pets into Australia. The pair later appeared at court, where Heard faced charges, and eventually apologised.

Asked about his current relations with Mr Turnbull, Mr Joyce said: "I am intending to make sure that, like all relationships, this relationship gets back onto an even keel.”

Mr Joyce has so far received the backing of his party. He is popular in rural areas  though surveys indicate that the news of his affair is damaging his approval ratings.

Attempting to bring an end to the crisis, Mr Turnbull on Thursday held a sudden press conference and announced a ban on ministers having sex with staff. The ban was greeted by headlines on Friday such as “No, Minister” and “The End of the Affair”.

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Mr Turnbull said such relationships – whether involving married or single ministers – were a poor workplace practice and “no good comes of it”.

Most commentators supported the ban, which follows a similar move in the United States House of Representatives, but noted that it may be hard to enforce.

Asked how sexual relations would be defined, Mathias Cormann, the finance minister, told Sky News: “I’m not going to get into the weeds of all of this. I think that people know what’s what.”

Analysts said Mr Turnbull’s public admonishment  of Mr Joyce had created a schism in the Coalition and was likely to end with Mr Joyce’s resignation.

“The Turnbull-Joyce rupture can end only in Joyce’s demise, the questions being how long that takes, and how much damage is done in the interim,” wrote veteran commentator Paul Kelly in The Australian.

“Have no doubt, scars from this upheaval cannot heal easily. They will pose a long-run threat to Coalition stability.”