Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has taken almost 11 weeks personal leave from his parliamentary duties, effective immediately, as details of his tell-all television interview emerge.
Mr Joyce, now a Nationals backbencher, was granted leave until the end of June, but won’t be needed back at parliament until August 13, after the winter break.
The leave comes six weeks after his staffer-turned-partner Vikki Campion welcomed a baby boy and amid growing discontent among his parliamentary colleagues over the reported $150,000 they will receive for their interview with Channel Seven.
“You can’t help … I couldn’t help it … you can’t help who you fall in love with,” Ms Campion said in an excerpt of the interview aired Tuesday night.
The full interview is scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday night.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Member for New England said it was Ms Campion who made the decision to accept payment for the interview because she was being “screwed over” by the constant media attention.
“In the last fortnight we’ve had drones over our house, we’ve had paparazzi waiting for us outside Armidale airport, we’ve had people following us to Uralla,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“We tried just burning this out and that didn’t work.”
Labor has granted Mr Joyce a “pair” during his leave — meaning his absence will not affect votes in the Lower House.
The former Nationals leader’s coalition colleagues have been dismayed by his involvement in the interview, with Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer saying “most Australians are pretty disgusted by it”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he’ll raise the matter privately with Mr Joyce.
“It’s not something that I would have encouraged him to do, in fact quite the contrary,” Mr Turnbull told Tasmanian radio station LAFM.
Mr Joyce’s Nationals colleagues, meanwhile, have shown support for their former leader.
“Obviously he’s been under a fair bit of stress in the last six or 12 months, and he’s taking some time with his family, so I can understand that,” Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester told ABC radio.
“I think Barnaby can come back stronger than ever, but I think it’s appropriate [he takes leave] and I respect him for taking a break now.”
Nationals backbencher Andrew Broad said Mr Joyce had been through “a pretty harrowing time”.
“If he needs some leave, give him some leave, leave him alone, and hopefully he’ll come back and contribute to the direction of the country in his time,” he said.
However, Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester, who was dumped by Mr Joyce from cabinet in December, has proposed a ban on serving politicians receiving cash for media comment.
“This is unprecedented in my time in parliament and I’m open to the conversation about banning MPs from benefiting personally from selling stories to the media,” Mr Chester told The Daily Telegraph.
He said Ms Campion was entitled to seek payment as a private citizen, but said Mr Joyce could no longer complain about a breach of privacy.
Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek doubts a ban on politicians being paid for interviews would prove a solution, likening it to a prohibition on sex with staff.
Late last year, Mr Joyce confirmed he had split with his wife of 24 years, and in April he announced he and Ms Campion had a son.
The baby boy, named Sebastian, is Mr Joyce’s fifth child.