Malcolm Turnbull’s office has rejected claims Barnaby Joyce breached the ministerial code of conduct when his lover was employed by fellow MPs, arguing Vikki Campion could not be considered the Deputy Prime Minister’s “partner” at the time.
Ms Campion left Mr Joyce’s employ in April last year when their affair – which ultimately ended his 24-year marriage – began creating tensions in the office.
The 33-year-old was then given a new well-paid role with Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a close ally and fellow former staffer of Mr Joyce. Reports have suggested the job carried a salary of about $190,000 a year. When Senator Canavan stood aside over dual citizenship doubts in 2017, Ms Campion then moved to the office of then-chief Nationals whip Damian Drum.
But the ministerial code of conduct makes it clear partners cannot be employed by any other minister without an explicit prime ministerial go-ahead.
Section 2.23 of the code states a minister’s “close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the executive government without the Prime Minister’s express approval”.
A spokesman for Mr Turnbull dismissed claims of anything wrongdoing, saying “the Deputy Prime Minister did not breach the ministerial code of conduct because Ms Campion was not his partner at the time of the staff appointments.”
The spokesman also said “the Prime Minister was not aware of the relationship” at the time of the appointments to the offices of Senator Canavan and Mr Drum.
“National Party staffing is a matter for the National Party,” the spokesman said.
It’s understood that Mr Joyce and Ms Campion have only moved in together in recent weeks. She is not yet considered his designated “spouse” for the purposes of travel and entitlements.
Nationals’ chief whip Michelle Landry said Mr Joyce’s travails had been discussed during Monday’s party room meeting.
“There was strong support for Barnaby to remain leader of the National Party,” she said after the meeting. “Barnaby is a once in a generation politician, he has been fantastic for people in the bush.”