Rather than retreat from public view, Barnaby Joyce has used his week of leave to go on a public relations offensive, giving his first interview with pregnant partner Vikki Campion to claim only her brothers knew of their affair.
Mr Joyce, who is vowing to stay on as Nationals leader despite intense pressure, gave the interview to a local paper owned by Fairfax Media, just days after the New England MP complained to Fairfax of a “witch hunt” against him.
“It’s time to move on,” was Mr Joyce’s latest plea, presumably to his own political colleagues as well as the media.
Ms Campion reportedly refused to be photographed for the interview – held in the couple’s rent-free Armidale apartment – and gave only one quote on the record, saying her baby boy would be named after her two brothers because of their support and because “only they knew”.
Ms Campion reportedly provided pay slips showing she received about $133,000 a year in Mr Joyce’s office, $138,000 in Senator Matt Canavan’s office, and $135,000 in former chief whip Damian Drum’s office.
The pair told Fairfax they have spent just 14 nights in their much-publicised rent-free apartment since early January, but media scrutiny was forcing them out.
Mr Joyce said the address was now widely known and media intrusion had made it difficult to stay there.
He reportedly gestured to the front gate, where a local television crew had been waiting that morning, saying: “Because of that.”
Mr Joyce also criticised News Corp for publishing a photo of a heavily-pregnant Ms Campion on the front page of the Daily Telegraph.
“Ms Campion – who has missed medical appointments because she has not wanted to go out in public – plans to focus on setting up a nursery again when the couple find a new home,” Fairfax reported.
Mr Joyce was quoted as saying that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had never directly asked him about his relationship with Ms Campion before it was revealed by The Daily Telegraph.
And he appeared to insinuate he may have been willing to mislead Mr Turnbull.
“He never asked any direct questions, and to be honest, if I believed it was private, I wouldn’t have told him either,” Mr Joyce said.
The pair also insisted that Senator Canavan did not know about the relationship when he allowed Ms Campion to transfer into his office.
“No one ever asked us. Don’t ask, don’t tell. I wasn’t in breach of the code [of conduct]. We weren’t partners. I knew the ministerial code,” Mr Joyce said.
“She wasn’t my partner when she started, she wasn’t my partner when she worked for Matt. We didn’t breach the code.”
Mr Joyce said did not know if he would face a spill motion when Parliament resumes next week, but said he’s “never scared of democracy”.
In addition to his multiple interviews with Fairfax, Mr Joyce also spoke to a local TV station, Prime 7 Tamworth, on Wednesday, saying he would be going to a party branch meeting, and meeting with people in Armidale that night.
“It’s unsurprising that after a period like that, you’d want to take a week off, and I’m doing that,” he told the station.
EXCLUSIVE: @Barnaby_Joyce is back in the region and will be meeting with people while he takes a week of personal leave. See what else he has to say only on PRIME7 Local News at 6pm. #PRIME7 pic.twitter.com/CeBWHrDv32
— PRIME7 News Tamworth (@PRIME7Tamworth) February 21, 2018
Mr Joyce’s office said last week that he would take personal leave, rather than serve as acting PM, because “he wanted to support his family and partner after such intense public focus on personal matters”.
News that Mr Joyce had spoken to Fairfax initially broke after a journalist at the company’s local New England paper, the Northern Daily Leader, revealed in a tweet on Wednesday evening that an interview with the couple would be published by the paper soon.
The tweet was quickly removed, fuelling speculation that Fairfax’s metropolitan news desks had intervened after getting word one of its local papers had secured the national scoop.
— Samantha Maiden (@samanthamaiden) February 21, 2018
— Bevan Shields (@BevanShields) February 21, 2018
The story was eventually published on the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Northern Daily Leader, and carried the byline of Fairfax’s chief political correspondent James Massola.