Barnaby to go on leave as affair row continues
BARNABY Joyce will be taking leave next week as the scandal surrounding his affair with a former staffer continues to damage the government.
Matthias Cormann will be Acting Prime Minister when Malcolm Turnbull travels to the US to meet President Donald Trump next week instead of Mr Joyce.
The Prime Minister announced in a short statement to Parliament in Question Time today that Mr Joyce would be taking personal leave from Monday, February 19 to Sunday, February 25.
Under usual procedures, the Deputy Prime Minister would step in to be Acting PM if he travelled overseas.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop would be next in line as deputy Liberal leader.
Senator Cormann will take on the role as Ms Bishop will be in the United Kingdom, Slovenia and Hungary next week.
Mr Turnbull's announcement today comes after he stated for the past three days that Mr Joyce would be taking over from him as Acting Prime Minister.
The move comes after Mr Joyce told Parliament he did not breach ministerial standards by accepting an offer to live rent-free at the townhouse of his multi-millionaire friend Greg Maguire.
The Deputy Prime Minister made the statement this morning after Labor moved a motion calling for him to resign over the gift, estimated to be valued at $12,000, arguing it breached official standards for ministerial conduct.
Questions have now risen over the truth of Mr Joyce's claim during the statement that Mr Maguire approached him with the offer.
Mr Maguire told The Australian on Monday that Mr Joyce had approached him about a place to stay "because we are mates and he knew I had property around town".
The Deputy Prime Minister will now come under pressure in Question Time at 2pm to explain the contradiction in what is the latest development in the scandal surrounding his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion.
He told Parliament in the statement this morning that Mr Maguire approached him during the New England by-election to offer his support as a friend.
"At the time, in the discussions, he said, 'You're living out of a suitcase and this is basically something that I should try and help you with," Mr Joyce said.
"I took him up on the offer but I offered to pay for it.
"He said basically 'Mates don't pay for things when they're helping other mates out' and that's precisely what happened."
News Corp has approached Mr Maguire for clarification about the contradiction in their comments.
Labor's motion for the Deputy Prime Minister to resign failed, with the government using it's numbers to vote it down.
But Labor is expected to continue to pursue Mr Joyce, after also calling on the government to hand over the details of any special purpose flights taken by ministers in the past 18 months.
The details will be used to establish whether there has been any misuse of taxpayer funds on flights taken by Mr Joyce and Ms Campion.
The government has agreed to table the latest update on flights today.
Mr Joyce denied he breached ministerial standards over the gift of tenancy in his statement this morning.
He said he was told he did not need to declare the offer after he was re-elected as it was from a friend, but did so anyway.
Mr Joyce also said he was not a minister at the time he accepted the offer as it was made during the New England by-election.
"I believe that I did everything that I believe was fully transparent," Mr Joyce said.
Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen told the House as he seconded the motion for Mr Joyce to resign that it was an "open and shut case".
"This Deputy Prime Minister chose not to make a full declaration to the Australian people," Mr Bowen said.
"He's entitled to make arrangements for his accommodation ... but it's rent-free.
"If he's receiving a benefit, then the ministerial guidelines are crystal clear.
"This is not a grey area. This is not a matter of nuance ... this is an open-and-shut case and that case says this Deputy Prime Minister should resign."
As Mr Joyce arrived at Parliament House today he appeared more upbeat amid the ongoing scandal over his relationship with former staffer, Vikki Campion.
"I've got the support if my party room, we're back into business, we're working hard, we're doing what we're supposed to do," Mr Joyce told reporters as he arrived.
Asked if he was confident he would remain Nationals leader after the party's federal MPs did not move to replace him yesterday, Mr Joyce said: "Yes, I am, I am very confident."
'IMMORAL NOT ILLEGAL'
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said today Mr Joyce had "acted immorally" in his affair with a staffer but had not broken the law.
Mr Dutton said it would be up to the National party to decide his future.
"It's a mess of his own making, he admits that," he told 2GB radio.
"Has he broken the law, no, has he acted immorally, yes.
"The other story could have been he'd been having an affair with someone, the girl got pregnant, and he abandoned her or walked away from that arrangement."
Mr Dutton said he had not broke the law and it was not up to the Prime Minister to decide his fate.
"Malcolm Turnbull doesn't hire and fire the leader of the National Party, our Coalition partner," he said.
"The Nationals will make a decision about their leadership and it's an issue for them.
"He has very great strength being able to cut through, tell it how it is in relation to certain issues. He has been able to deliver a lot for regional Australia.
"His party room will weigh up all of those issues."
JOYCE'S JOB 'UNTENABLE'
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Bill Shorten declared Mr Joyce's position had become "untenable" this morning after reports that he accepted the offer of his friend, millionaire businessman Greg Maguire, to live for six months rent-free in a townhouse in Armidale.
Mr Shorten said he agreed with most Australians that Mr Joyce had a right to a private life but that apparent conflicts of interest were being revealed "daily".
Calling on Malcolm Turnbull to intervene, Mr Shorten said: "The Prime Minister has a ministerial code of conduct which if he doesn't uphold is not worth the paper it's written on."
His comments come after The Daily Telegraph reported Labor would step up its attack in Question Time on Mr Joyce today, arguing the ministerial code of conduct did not allow ministers to accept gifts from friends such as Mr Maguire's rent free deal.
The Statement of Ministerial Standards on gifts states: "Ministers are required to exercise the functions of their public office unaffected by considerations of personal advantage or disadvantage.
"Ministers, in their official capacity, may therefore accept customary gifts, hospitality, tokens of appreciation and similar formal gestures in accordance with the relevant guidelines, but must not seek or encourage any form of gift in their personal capacity."
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, an ally of Mr Joyce's, said today that it was time to stop focusing on his personal life and allow Mr Joyce to continue to deliver for rural and regional Australians.
"Barnaby Joyce has been the greatest Deputy Prime Minister for rural and regional Australia in our history," Mr Littleproud told the ABC.
"The delivery of infrastructure and services to people of rural and regional Australia is second-to-none since he became Deputy Prime Minister.
"I think he obviously wants to continue to do that and so long as he continues to deliver the infrastructure and the services that people expect, it's time to put this aside, stop focusing on someone's personal life."
Mr Littleproud told News Corp he had said all he intended to on his party leader's situation when asked about reports Mr Joyce had received a salary from the National Party for six weeks when he contested the New England by-election last year.
Fairfax Media reports that party funds were used to provide Mr Joyce a wage while he campaigned to win the December 2 by-election after he was kicked out of Parliament for being a dual citizen.
The Nationals confirmed to Fairfax that Mr Joyce was paid a salary but said it was "not unprecedented for candidates to receive a form of income in exceptional circumstances".
However, Liberal MP John Alexander was not paid a salary when he had to fight to regain his seat of Bennelong after he was forced out of Parliament during the dual citizenship fiasco.
Six weeks of his $416,000-a-year salary would work out to be $48,000 for that period, however Mr Joyce's spokesman said that estimation was "substantially incorrect" and that "terms of contracts and decision making process of the party should be referred to the federal director".
Mr Joyce's position seems to be safe for now after Nationals MP fell in behind their leader after support from Nationals president Larry Anthony and Mr Joyce's deputy Bridget McKenzie.
"It is most important that the parliamentary team never makes a decision about the leadership in the heat of the moment," Mr Anthony told The Australian. "It is important the MPs and senators get back to their constituencies next week and test the feeling of the voters."
The Australian also reported that Labor will use Senate estimates hearings this month to query why Mr Joyce's former media adviser-turned-partner was promoted to Resources Minister Matt Canavan's office in April and transferred to then chief whip Damian Drum's office in August.