An insider source has told the ABC the Prime Minister’s office intervened to ensure Barnaby Joyce’s girlfriend was moved from his office.
The Deputy Prime Minister began an affair with his media adviser Vikki Campion and was advised last year that it was inappropriate for her to continue working for him.
But the ABC has been told Mr Joyce initially resisted calls to distance himself from her professionally until the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) became involved.
After a high-level meeting between the PMO and the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Campion was moved into a newly created and unadvertised position in Nationals Minister Matt Canavan’s team, according to the source.
A spokesman for Mr Joyce has contradicted that account, saying it was false to claim Mr Joyce met with anyone from PMO to discuss shifting Ms Campion before she was moved.
Senator Canavan, himself a former staff member in Mr Joyce’s office, is a friend and ally of the Deputy Prime Minister.
“Ms Campion was employed in Senator Canavan’s office in April 2017 to fulfil a specific communications role,” a spokesperson for Senator Canavan told the ABC.
“Ms Campion was suitably qualified for this role, given her long history as a media professional.
“Ms Campion worked in Senator Canavan’s office up until all staff had their existing contracts terminated when Senator Canavan resigned from Cabinet in July 2017.”
When Senator Canavan lost his job in the citizenship saga later last year, Ms Campion was shifted again and moved into the staff of another Nationals parliamentarian, Damian Drum.
‘You are rushing to facts and assertions’
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was asked about his own actions at the time, during his Council of Australian Government’s media conference yesterday.
Mr Turnbull was asked to confirm suggestions he may have personally advised Mr Joyce to extricate himself from a workplace situation where he was in a romantic relationship with a junior staff member.
“You are rushing to facts and assertions,” Mr Turnbull replied.
“This is a deeply personal matter relating to Barnaby Joyce and his family and I do not wish to add to the public discussion about it.”
Mr Turnbull was further asked to give an undertaking that public money was not misspent in Ms Campion’s promotion to Senator Canavan’s office.
“I am not aware of any inappropriate expenditure of public funds,” he said.
Mr Turnbull went on to refer reporters to Mr Joyce’s own comments on the day his affair, and news he is expecting a new baby with his girlfriend, was splashed across the front page of The Daily Telegraph.
Joyce denies taxpayer money
In a Wednesday night interview, 7.30 host Leigh Sales pressed Mr Joyce to confirm whether there was any evidence he had used taxpayer-funded trips or hotels to conduct the relationship.
Mr Joyce replied that media outlets had “FOI-ed everything to do with my travel and they — and nothing is — has been turned up, because there’s nothing there.
“I mean, it’s not a case of conducting, you know, using taxpayers’ funds to conduct other things than what is your business,” he said.
“And my business is to represent the people of New England and to represent people in Australia.
“But, you know, obviously, where private issues come into one’s life, they are completely private.”
The ABC has been told a small amount of taxpayer money has been repaid by Mr Joyce, after he used a rental car to return to a holiday with Ms Campion. The difference between the cost of driving to his electorate and the further cost of returning to the holiday has been repaid.
Mr Joyce’s office has rejected the suggestion he pushed for Ms Campion to get a promotion when she was moved on from his staff.
It is often the case that ministerial staff appointments are signed off by the ministers involved and the so-called star chamber — a centralised team including the prime minister’s office — who vet potential candidates for new roles.
Nationals concerned about focus on Joyce
In the 7.30 interview, Mr Joyce said the end of his marriage was “one of the greatest failures” in his life.
He called for privacy, and members of the Government and Labor have also declined to comment on the personal matter.
Privately a number of Nationals are concerned about the continuing focus on Mr Joyce and his conduct. The situation has also been stressful for the other staff working in Mr Joyce’s office.
Ms Campion is due to have Mr Joyce’s baby in April. He already has four girls with his wife Natalie Joyce.
Mrs Joyce has engaged a media manager to deal with press inquires and declined to comment further after her initial statement earlier this week.
That original statement, released after The Daily Telegraph‘s story, outlined the hurt caused to the Joyce family by the Deputy Prime Minister’s affair.
“I am deeply saddened by the news that my husband has been having an affair and is now having a child with a former staff member,” she said.
“I understand that this affair has been going on for many months and started when she was a paid employee.
“This situation is devastating on many fronts. For my girls who are affected by the family breakdown and for me as a wife of 24 years, who placed my own career on hold to support Barnaby through his political life.”
No sympathy from fellow MPs
A number of Government MPs have said privately that they don’t have any sympathy for their colleague or his actions, but feel great sorrow for the damage that’s been done to his wife and daughters.
The situation prompted crossbench MP Cathy McGowan to suggest the Parliament consider a ban on sex between politicians and their staff.
“Good workplace practice includes clear expectations about behaviour,” Ms McGowan said.
She noted that United States Congress has recently dealt with the issue.
To address sexual harassment, Congress recently passed a bill that says in part that politicians may not have a sexual relationship with their staff.