Labor will continue to pursue Barnaby Joyce over what special treatment may have been afforded his now-pregnant partner – but insists it doesn’t want to cause any more distress to the deputy prime minister’s family.
The government maintains there was nothing untoward about the jobs Vikki Campion held in National Party MPs’ offices after she entered a relationship with Mr Joyce.
According to widespread media reports, Ms Campion was on a salary of nearly $200,000 a year.
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said the opposition would continue to ask questions about the use of taxpayer funds, after it was revealed Mr Joyce began an affair with Ms Campion while still working for him.
Ms Campion, a former journalist, was initially a media advisor in the deputy prime minister’s office before working for cabinet minister Matt Canavan.
When Senator Canavan stepped down from the front bench awaiting a High Court ruling on his citizenship status, she shifted to the office of then-Nationals whip Damian Drum.
“Was this job necessary? Was there work to be done at this skill level? What was the case made for having to hire someone additional into those offices?” Ms Plibersek asked on ABC TV.
She said it would be fine to transfer someone internally if they had the right skills, but she stressed there would normally be a process where other candidates could apply for a position.
“It might be that there is no case to answer here, but I think the deputy prime minister and the prime minister should be prepared to answer questions about taxpayer money,” Ms Plibersek said.
Media reports have suggested Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was involved in approving the two appointments.
But Mr Joyce told AAP in a statement the Nationals were responsible for all staffing for party MPs.
He had had not discussed Ms Campion’s employment with Mr Turnbull or his staff, although the prime minister’s office has an administrative role in informing the Department of Finance of changes, he said.
And Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, whose department oversees the hiring of political staff, says everything was done appropriately.
“She’s clearly somebody who is qualified to do the job and she was hired in certain positions based on merit and there’s nothing really further to add,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“All of my advice is that everything was absolutely above board.”
Veteran Liberal senator Eric Abetz said it was an “untidy situation” but Ms Campion was a “highly valuable staff member” who would be an asset in anyone’s office.
Mr Turnbull has said he was not aware of any inappropriate spending of public funds relating to the affair.