Barnaby Joyce has capitulated to intense pressure and announced he will stand down, declaring the government needs clear air and he could not continue on the frontbench with an allegation of sexual harassment hanging over him.
He told a news conference in Armidale he would quit as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister on Monday at an 8am party meeting, where a new leader will be chosen.
After hanging tough for more than a fortnight, Joyce said the final straw was the harassment allegation, by a Western Australian woman, that was made to the Nationals federal president Larry Anthony and revealed on Thursday.
He had asked that the allegation, which he denies, be referred to the police. “But it’s quite evident that you can’t go to the despatch box with issues like that surrounding you.”
Malcolm Turnbull, who last week said Joyce “has to consider his own position” and will be relieved at his departure from the frontbench, quickly affirmed in a statement that the Coalition “partnership is undiminished”.
The crisis over Joyce, sparked by revelations in the Daily Telegraph of his affair of his former staffer and now pregnant partner Vikki Campion, has consumed and distracted the government, wiping out what promised to be a good start to the year.
The favourite to replace Joyce as leader is Michael McCormack, a junior minister from New South Wales. He is minister for veterans’ affairs and minister for defence personnel.
Joyce informed Acting Prime Minister Mathias Cormann and his Nationals colleagues before his announcement. He did not speak with Turnbull, who is in Washington. A week ago, Joyce denounced Turnbull’s very personal attack on him.
Today he said it was “incredibly important that there be a circuit-breaker, not just for the parliament but more importantly a circuit breaker for Vikki, for my unborn child, my daughters and for (wife) Nat”.
He said that over the past half a month there had been a litany of allegations. “I don’t believe any of them have been sustained.”
He condemned “the leaking, the backgrounding … it will destroy not only our government. It will destroy any government.”
Joyce confirmed he would stay in the parliament, and said he wouldn’t snipe from the backbench. “I have a lot of things I need to do,” he said. He was writing a book, and he wanted to assist his colleagues where he could to keep their seats. And his baby would be born in April. So “I’ll have other things on my mind”.
Joyce’s exit to the backbench means another reshuffle, hard on the heels of the December changes. Meanwhile John McVeigh, a Queensland Liberal who is minister for regional development, will act in Joyce’s infrastructure portfolio.
Joyce has been leader of the Nationals and deputy prime minister since February 2016.
While Joyce’s stepping down will relieve pressure on the government, there will still be intense questioning next week in Senate estimates about the employment arrangements for Campion, who was transferred from Joyce’s office to that of Resources Minister Matt Canavan, and later to the office of then-Nationals whip Damian Drum.
You can’t help loving how the boy from Belgium is relishing his chance to walk in prime ministerial shoes, even if they’re borrowed ones and he can occupy them only briefly.
Mathias Cormann, whose glory moment has been picked up back in his home country, swarms over the media at any available opportunity, so it’s not surprising he’s taking full advantage of this rare moment as acting prime minister.
Luckily for Malcolm Turnbull – who’s having virtually no luck at the moment – Cormann is a man of detail, who treads carefully (even if he did have that brain-snap in the 2016 election, heaping praise on Bill Shorten, when he meant Turnbull – a slip that mortified him).
While many in the government were groaning at Barnaby Joyce’s self-serving media appearances while on “leave”, Cormann cast the deputy prime minister as moving to “put some order into some deeply personal matters that previously have spilled over into the professional domain”.
A Joyce loyalist noted the contrast between Cormann’s measured and quite sympathetic tone and Turnbull’s moral denunciation (and sex ban) that last week re-inflamed the crisis. If Turnbull had sounded more like Cormann the matter mightn’t have got such new life. But Turnbull was playing to his own political needs, as he saw them.
Cormann’s skills will be important next week, when the government faces Senate estimates, with probing about the arrangements for Joyce’s former staffer, now partner, Vikki Campion.
In the lower house Turnbull, fresh from his US trip, and Joyce, reeling from his faux leave, will face days of ferocious questioning.
That’s assuming Joyce is not removed by his party. Or doesn’t capitulate to the pressure, belatedly citing the good of the government.
His position appears to have been weakened rather than strengthened by his publicity tactic. On Thursday, Victorian Nationals MP Andrew Broad called for him to stand down, declaring he would raise the leadership in the partyroom on Monday (not all 21 Nationals will be there – a spill would require a separate meeting).
Joyce received another blow on Thursday, with the revelation a woman had made a complaint of sexual harassment against him (which he denies) to Nationals federal president Larry Anthony.
It’s unclear whether Joyce’s apparent command of the numbers up to this point would change if the Nationals had a spill motion before them.
If Joyce is still in his seat at the end of next week, the Nationals will have little choice but to bunker down behind him, in the vain hope that his claim his skin will repair is correct.
As of now, the Nationals are a party in shock, paralysed by an extraordinary, fluid and unpredictable situation.
On another front, the government this week was clumsy in its handling of Tony Abbott’s call for immigration to be slashed.
The former prime minister’s proposal might be judged bad policy – certainly that is my opinion – and seen as deliberate provocation, but it will resonate with many Coalition voters and potential supporters on the right.
It was a mistake to let Treasurer Scott Morrison lead the charge against Abbott – a better strategy would have been to leave it to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, whose portfolio includes immigration.
Abbott remains bitter about Morrison, a residue of the events of 2015. That turned Morrison’s takedown on immigration into something personal for Abbott, who countered by accusing Morrison of being prisoner of his department and declaring: “Scott should have the gumption to think for himself”.
If Dutton (who did make some comments) had carried the counter-case, the issue might have been lower-key. After all, it was not the first time Abbott has waded into this debate and it didn’t have to become such a big noisy story.
With the volume at full blast from both the Joyce and Abbott issues, the government drowned out Labor, where Shorten is trying to manage the party’s Adani policy, buffeted by the Batman byelection and the demands of the Queensland constituency, including a possible future byelection in Longman.
Early this month, at the start of the Batman campaign, Shorten appeared to be moving toward opposing the Adani project. He highlighted a claim that Adani put in an altered laboratory report when appealing a fine for contamination of wetlands, and said if Adani was “relying on false information” the mine didn’t deserve to go ahead.
Shadow cabinet discussed the Adani issue without reaching a decision.
Labor now appears to have walked back to a “let things take their course” line, in the expectation that Adani will fall over of its own accord.
Labor’s infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese said this week that government should set the broad policy framework, rather than deal project by project, and also pointed out that Adani has previously received the necessary approvals.
“What you don’t do is single out particular projects and then retrospectively change existing laws which would have ramifications across the board,” he said. “Very clearly the economics of the [Adani] project haven’t stacked up” so it had not been able to get finance.
Shorten this week was in northern Queensland announcing initiatives on jobs, hoping to inoculate Labor against allegations that by not supporting Adani it would cost the region employment.
As Shorten returns to the seat of Batman, which Labor is desperate to hold against the Greens’ push, there will be keen interest in whether he sticks to his line that Adani’s future depends on whether it stacks up commercially and environmentally, or he declares that Adani is already dead because it hasn’t jumped the commercial hurdles.
In the meantime, Labor can only be relieved that at least nationally, the government’s woes have given it useful cover as it struggles with its awkward Adani juggle.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is under intense new pressure following a call from backbencher Andrew Broad for him to stand down and an allegation that he sexually harassed a woman.
Broad said he would raise the leadership issue at Monday’s party meeting, saying that Joyce’s going to the backbench would be in the best interests of Joyce, the party and the government.
Meanwhile, a woman has made a complaint to Nationals federal president Larry Anthony accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.
Joyce strongly denied the allegation, saying it was “spurious” and “defamatory”, and went back to something 18 months ago.
“I ask the person to refer it to the police because I deserve my opportunity of defending myself,” he said.
After Broad’s salvo, the party’s Senate leader, Nigel Scullion, locked in behind Joyce. Its deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said: “There is no stronger advocate for regional Australia than Barnaby Joyce”.
But while Joyce earlier seemed to have shored up his position, there is now once again great doubt that he can survive. A self-justifying interview he gave to Fairfax defending himself appears to have backfired.
Eyes will now be on whether junior minister Michael McCormack signals he is willing to challenge Joyce. McCormack is considered the only viable alternative. He trailed his coat in a Sky interview earlier in the week, refusing to back Joyce multiple times before finally doing so.
Broad, who is the member for the Victorian seat of Mallee, on Thursday said in an interview on ABC Radio Statewide Drive Victoria: “It’s about having your mind clear to do the job”.
He said that at this point, Joyce’s “judgement is erred, he’s not thinking in a place where he can be put up as the acting prime minister of Australia. Some time out and hopefully some time to regroup and he may come back to make a further contribution.”
Broad, who spoke to Joyce before making his call, said he would be taking a resolution to the meeting from the local party members in his electorate saying Joyce should stand down.
He criticised Joyce for the high media profile he has adopted this week when he is supposedly on leave.
“He’s meant to be taking a break and he’s clearly playing to the media. You know, this is an issue that we should have let quietly die, and let’s get on with the core job but he’s not prepared to do that.”
Earlier – after the death of evangelist Billy Graham – Broad tweeted:
Scullion said: “If I was a betting man I’d think that Barnaby Joyce will still be deputy prime minister through the end of Monday”.
Scullion told the ABC he disagreed completely with Broad. “I’ve worked closely with Barnaby and I can tell you that right up to when he took leave … he had his mind completely on the job.”
“So we’ll get back on Monday and I hope and I trust that the National Party will return Barnaby to the leader[ship],” Scullion said.
“I have to say to Broado … he didn’t actually have to do that. I’m quite sure when Barnaby would have come in, let me tell you Barnaby is not a man who is afraid of democracy, so I suspect he would have come in and said by the way I’m going to spill my position just so you can all have a clear run at it,” Scullion said.
McKenzie said all Nationals MPs were welcome to bring issues to the partyroom. She also pointed out in a statement that Monday’s meeting would not be a full partyroom meeting, because of Senate estimates hearings.
Party sources noted there could not be a spill motion moved at that meeting. There would need to be a meeting of all 21 MPs for that to happen.
Barnaby Joyce has dismissed a call from the Western Australian state Nationals for him to stand down, bluntly telling their leader they are irrelevant to the issue.
WA Nationals leader Mia Davies contacted Joyce on Tuesday to tell him he no longer had the support of the WA parliamentary National Party as the Nationals’ federal leader.
Davies said in a statement she was concerned as WA leader at the “ongoing damage” Joyce was causing the Nationals’ organisation.
“The Nationals’ brand across regional Western Australia has suffered as a result of Mr Joyce’s actions and he has become a distraction at both the federal and state level,” she said.
The state MPs urged him to consider his position “in the best interests” of both the federal party and its state branches, believing that position “no longer tenable”.
In his reply Joyce pointed out the WA Nationals didn’t have a federal MP – their last member (Tony Crook) spent his time “almost exclusively as an independent”. The WA Nationals were also not in a state coalition and prided themselves on “their ferocious independence”, he said.
“Therefore I find it surprising that a federal issue has so much momentum in the west when people in the east in the National Party have in the majority a different view – and to be quite frank, vastly more skin in the game,” he said.
The state Nationals in Victoria and New South Wales are staying out of the battle within the federal party, with Victorian leader Peter Walsh saying: “The federal leadership of the National Party is a matter for the federal partyroom”.
The Nationals crisis was no closer to resolution on Tuesday. If anyone wants to challenge Joyce next week there will have to be a move for a special party meeting because some senators will be missing from the routine Monday meeting, given that Senate estimates hearings are on.
By making it clear he would have to be blasted out, Joyce has transferred the burden of a leadership change squarely onto his colleagues, a number of whom had hoped he would just go quietly, saving them angst.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a strong Joyce supporter, said Joyce had the majority of support in the partyroom. “They see first-hand what he has done here in Canberra, the fights he takes up for us on our behalf, sometimes difficult ones to deliver big projects.”
“It’s my assessment the vast majority of my colleagues want to see Barnaby there and want to see him fight for regional Australia,” he said.
Canavan employed Joyce’s former staffer and now partner Vikki Campion when the Joyce office was seeking to move her on because her relationship with her boss was causing difficulties. Asked on Sky whether at that time he knew she was having an affair with Joyce, Canavan said: “Absolutely not”.
Campion had got the job on her skills and experience, Canavan said. “We were looking to expand our digital media presence.”
NSW Nationals senator John Williams said the feedback he was getting was that “you must stick with Barnaby” and that people were “over the media running [the story] all the time”.
In the US – for which Malcolm Turnbull leaves on Wednesday – comedian John Oliver has ridiculed the Joyce saga on his show Last Week Tonight. Joyce was already comedy fodder in America after his colourful threats to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs after they were brought to Australia illegally.
Former Nationals deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has added his voice to those pressing for a rapid resolution of the Nationals crisis, as Malcolm Turnbull admits he doesn’t know whether Barnaby Joyce retains his partyroom’s support.
“It has to be resolved quickly,” Fischer told The Conversation. Earlier on Monday another former deputy prime minister, John Anderson, speaking to The Australian, advised Nationals MPs to act swiftly to exercise their responsibility and urged Joyce to think through his situation very carefully.
But the Nationals remained apparently paralysed, with Joyce on leave, dug in and defiant, feedback coming from the party’s grassroots that he should step down as leader, and his support eroding in the officialdom of the party.
Sources in the Joyce camp say there is no way he will step down before Monday’s party meeting.
They say if Michael McCormack – considered favourite to succeed Joyce if he quits or is ousted – wants the job, he will have to challenge in the partyroom and the parliamentary party will have to own the decision it makes.
In face of Monday’s Newspoll, in which 65% said he should stand down, the Joyce sources argue the election is still more than a year away, giving time for the fallout from the current furore to pass.
Nationals federal president Larry Anthony held a phone hook up of party officials late on Monday to take soundings.
McCormack, who is veterans’ affairs minister, on Monday trailed his coat in an awkward Sky interview in which he repeatedly dodged giving backing to Joyce.
Asked multiple times whether Joyce had his support, McCormack avoided answering. “I’m sure that members of the National Party are listening to our constituent,” he said.
“Barnaby Joyce is the leader, there is no spill, there is no vacancy at the moment and certainly Barnaby Joyce will continue to be the leader as long as he gets the support of the National partyroom,” he said. “There is no challenge at the moment.” And there was plenty more of the same.
Finally, a cornered McCormack said: “Of course I support Barnaby Joyce. He is our leader”.
On 3AW, Turnbull was asked whether Joyce was safe as leader. “Are you asking me whether he commands the support of the majority of members of the National Party? … I don’t know. He says he does and others have said he does, but these are all matters in the gift of the National partyroom,” Turnbull said, adding, “a partyroom, I might add, which I have never sought to influence in any way”.
Meanwhile Turnbull is coming under media pressure over precisely what he knew and when about Joyce’s affair with his former staffer, Vikki Campion, his now-pregnant partner.
The timing question has become particularly pertinent since Turnbull’s very personal denunciation of Joyce’s behaviour on Thursday, because the rumours of the affair including the pregnancy had already been rife when Turnbull appeared with Joyce to celebrate the New England byelection win in Tamworth on December 2.
Pressed on when he initially knew about the affair Turnbull repeated that Joyce had “at no time said to me that he was in a sexual relationship with this woman … He never made that admission … to me.”
Turnbull said he couldn’t recall when he first heard a rumour about it.
Asked whether he did not consider asking him, Turnbull was evasive: “I’m not going to go into the private discussions I have had with him, other than to say that at no stage did he say to me that he was having a sexual relationship with this lady”.
Pushed on whether he had been misled, Turnbull said: “I’m not going to go into those discussions”.
Bill Shorten moved to keep all attention on the Coalition by cutting off the government’s attempt to put him in the spotlight because he had not clarified Labor’s position on Turnbull’s ban on ministers having sexual relationships with their staff.
“If we get elected, we’re not going to overturn it,” he said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made it clear she was less-than-impressed with the ban, having condemned any such idea when asked a week before Turnbull announced it. She said the change brought the code in line with many workplaces across Australia. Pressed on her attitude, she said: “I will abide by the ministerial code of conduct”.
Newspoll has found that 64% of voters back the ban.
Victorian Liberal backbencher Sarah Henderson told Sky the standard should apply in every MP’s office.
Barnaby Joyce is coming under fresh pressure to stand down with 65% of voters saying he should quit as Nationals leader, in a Newspoll that shows the scandal hitting the government and Malcolm Turnbull.
The two-party vote has the Coalition trailing Labor 47-53%, compared with 48-52% a fortnight ago, halting the improvement the government had at the start of the year. This is the 27th consecutive Newspoll in which the Coalition has been behind Labor.
The poll comes as softer weekend messaging from Turnbull added to the confusion around the crisis, and how it will play out remains uncertain.
Turnbull and the Liberals want to see Joyce step down or be rolled by his party. But Turnbull is treading more carefully now that it is clear the Nationals could take umbrage and dig in behind Joyce if they think the Liberals are trying to dictate to them.
There is an increasing feeling in Nationals circles that Joyce’s position is untenable. The party’s MPs will get electoral feedback this week when parliament is not sitting and they are in their electorates. Joyce is desperately trying to hang onto his job despite the huge political fallout from his affair with his former staffer, now his pregnant partner. He is on a week’s leave.
In the Newspoll published in Monday’s Australian, Turnbull’s better prime minister rating fell five points to 40% and Bill Shorten’s rose two points to 33%, narrowing Turnbull’s lead to seven points. The Coalition’s primary vote declined two points to 36%; Labor remained steady at 37%.
The Australian reports that in the breakdown of voters wanting Joyce gone, 29% say he should step down as Nationals leader but stay in parliament as a backbencher; 15% believe he should step down and not contest the election; and 21% say he should leave politics at once. Only 23% said he should remain in parliament as Nationals leader.
Regional voters were more inclined to say he should go from parliament at once (25%) than city voters (20%). Men were more inclined than women to say he should leave politics immediately (23-20%).
After Turnbull denounced Joyce on Thursday and said the deputy prime minister “has to consider his own position”, followed on Friday by a counterattack from Joyce, the two men met for more than a hour in Turnbull’s Sydney office on Saturday.
On Sunday Turnbull described the talks as “frank and warm, friendly, good, constructive”, and said “of course” he could continue to work with Joyce.
He had not apologised to Joyce – “there was nothing to apologise for”, he said.
Turnbull said it was important “to meet, to work through the various challenges and issues that we face. Now the important thing is Barnaby and I are working closely together as we always have, he’s obviously taking leave coming this week and we look forward to him returning from that at the end of the week.”
He stressed “there are no issues between the Liberal and National Parties at all”.
Speaking on Nine’s 60 Minutes program, Turnbull said of his Thursday remarks: “I think Australians wanted to hear their prime minister’s heartfelt views about these events – they wanted to know what I felt about them. They wanted to hear it from my lips but also from my heart.”
He said he felt the values he expressed and the action he took “would have the overwhelming endorsement of Australians. I felt it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Turnbull said he had discussed with wife Lucy his ban, announced on Thursday, on ministers having sexual relationships with staff and she absolutely agreed with it.
Treasurer Scott Morrison, asked whether it could be “business as usual” if Joyce stayed Nationals leader, said: “It has to be. We’re a professional government.”
Morrison dismissed suggestions that the sex ban would be hard to enforce.
“You set out a standard that says, don’t sleep with your staff”, he told the ABC. “The point of a code is preventative. If you have a code you’re telling people, ‘you do this, understand by doing it, that you’ll be gonski’.”
“Now I’m happy to have a prime minister who’s been prepared to call out a political culture in this country that has been going on for decades, if not generations.”
His message to people who argued “private is private” was “I’m sorry, if you sleep with your staff, it’s not private any more, it’s public, because you’re a minister in a position of responsibility and power over those who work for you”.
Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen posted on Facebook: “The bonk ban is bonkers! And it shows that the whole attack on Barnaby Joyce is driven by one thing: sex. As interesting as that topic is, it’s his private life.”
The Barnaby Joyce saga has given a great boost to what might be called “shake-the-tree” journalism: you shake the tree by running a sensational story and see what falls out.
The Daily Telegraph’s original public-interest case for publishing the first story of Joyce’s relationship with ex-staffer Vikki Campion was weak when weighed against the privacy intrusions on Joyce, his estranged wife, his daughters, and Campion.
However, that story has resulted in the emergence of three genuine public-interest justifications.
The first is whether Joyce breached the ministerial code of conduct by employing his partner in his office. On this he has prevaricated, saying that his partner was not so employed. Here he was clearly referring to his wife, not Campion. In the circumstances, this was a distinction without a difference.
The second matter of public interest concerns the expenditure of public money on jobs said to have been found for Campion when her presence in Joyce’s office became untenable. Her salary is reported to be about A$190,000.
The third is whether the Prime Minister’s Office was informed of this or whether Joyce misled them by omission.
Once the story came out in The Daily Telegraph, the media as a whole piled into a story they had all known about for months. And they have done so with a kind of shamefaced gusto, making up for lost time.
How much better it would have been if someone – anyone – in the Canberra gallery had succeeded in establishing at least one of those substantial public-interest justifications and broken the story framed around that.
Instead, the story that broke was coloured by the salacious moralism beloved of tabloid newspapers since time began.
It featured a large picture of Campion, heavily pregnant, a gross violation of privacy if ever there was one.
Here it was: the fruit of sin. The impregnated mistress, to borrow some of the vulgar moralising language that has disfigured the coverage.
The photo has been defended by The Daily Telegraph’s editor as proving the truth of the story that Barnaby Joyce had got his staffer pregnant. It proves nothing of the sort. It shows a woman pregnant. It says nothing about paternity.
Then on Valentine’s Day, The Daily Telegraph was at it again, this time with a page-one picture taken in 2016 in which Joyce and Campion are sitting next to each other at an official function.
Campion is in the foreground and Joyce, according to the caption, “eyes off” his media adviser. The headline says: “Bad look”.
There are many ways of interpreting this picture and headline. One of them is that Joyce had sexual designs on Campion back then, which from the caption is clearly the main message The Daily Telegraph wished to convey, regardless of truth or context.
But the picture is also about Campion. Although she is oblivious of the glance from Joyce, the reader is given the opportunity to inspect her as the “other woman”: we get a good look at her face, her figure and her legs.
Put the “bad look” headline with that, and the reader is invited to draw negative conclusions about her appearance and her character.
This judgemental tone, redolent with sexual possibilities and consequences, is a throwback to the busybody moralising of the 1950s and 1960s.
Then – before the sexual revolution and the rise of second-wave feminism – it was a staple of middle-class morality to take a gossipy and often hurtful interest in marital breakdowns and pregnancies out of wedlock.
So why is this throwback happening?
Professor Alison Dagnes, a political scientist at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and editor of a textbook on sex scandals in American politics, proposes a theory that goes like this: there is a well-documented loss of trust in institutions, one consequence of which is that the public is inclined to regard all politicians as scumbags.
Digital technology has equipped everyone with a camera and social media has provided everyone with the means of publishing. This has created a competitiveness of unprecedented intensity among media.
Scandals pique everyone’s interest, even among those who are not usually interested in politics. So any scandal that shows politicians to be the scumbags we suspect, guarantees lots of “likes” and “shares” on social media, generating a frenzy in traditional media and opening up the scandal to instant and reiterative public judgements.
This, in turn, adds to public distrust in institutions.
To this theory might be added two more possible factors.
The first is the shift in norms of privacy induced by social media and the ubiquity of mobile phones with cameras. Old understandings of the boundaries between private and public have been obliterated and new ones have not yet taken their place.
The second is people’s sense of entitlement to pass judgement on matters of which they have personal experience: intimate relationships, the primary school curriculum, the quality of driving on the roads. This is not new, but it is a powerful driver of attitudes.
Doubtless there are other factors, but whatever they are, Western society does appear to be in the grip of a new moralism, and the tabloid media are adept at making the most of it.
Barnaby Joyce has lashed out at Malcolm Turnbull, accusing him of “pulling the scab off” Joyce’s personal life and interfering in National Party affairs.
As the crisis within the Coalition over the Joyce affair deepens, Joyce held a news conference to respond to Turnbull’s Thursday denunciation of his personal behaviour.
Turnbull – who has announced a ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff – accused Joyce of a “shocking error of judgement” over his affair with his former staffer, Vikki Campion, who is now his pregnant partner.
Turnbull also said Joyce should “consider his own position”, in effect flagging he would like the deputy prime minister to stand down.
Joyce on Friday said Turnbull’s comments were “inept” and “unneccessary”.
“I listened to it and thought that it was completely unnecessary – all that is going to do is basically pull the scab off for everyone to have a look at.”
In regard to the National Party, “there is nothing that we dislike more than implied intervention into the party processes”.
“We are our own independent political unit – we make our own decisions, especially around those who are the office-holders.”
That outside interference “locks people in … behind the leader. So I would not be making comments or implied comments about the leadership of the Liberal Party, and we don’t expect to get implied comments about the leadership of the National Party.”
The plunge in relations between the two leaders is now threatening Coalition unity, with uncertainty about how the situation will play out. While Turnbull is putting pressure on Joyce to go, some Nationals predict it will be counter-productive, as Joyce is saying.
Visiting Tasmania, Turnbull told reporters: “Joyce has my confidence as deputy prime minister”.
But he also said: “Barnaby has been considering his position and I do not think there is any question about that, but I have not called on him to resign. I have not asked him to resign – he has to form his view on his circumstances.
“He has a lot to reflect on given what has happened, and I say again, he has made some big errors of judgement and he acknowledges that.”
Turnbull dodged attempts to pin him down on when he first learned of Joyce’s affair with Campion. “I can’t recall when I first heard rumours but I can say to you that he did not say to me that he was having an affair with this woman – I’m not going to go any further than that.”
Joyce said that he was intending to make sure his relationship with Turnbull “get backs onto an even keel”.
He again made it clear he has no plans to resign.
“My colleagues support me. This was a personal issue – a personal issue that has been dragged into the public arena and I don’t believe that people should be resigning in any job over personal issues.”
Later Friday, Turnbull, obviously alarmed about the increasing fracture between the Coalition partners, told reporters he had not sought in any way to influence the deliberations of the National Party.
“Neither I nor my colleagues have made any criticism of the National party.”
He said criticism of Joyce’s conduct was not criticism of the National Party.
The recent revelation of a sexual relationship between Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and a young woman working in his office has created considerable embarrassment for the government and those involved. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded by announcing that sexual relations between ministers and their staff will be prohibited under a change to the ministerial code of conduct.
Turnbull gave several justifications for the ban. These included that although ministers were entitled to privacy in personal matters, they must lead by example because they occupy positions of responsibility and trust.
Inappropriate and unlawful sexual behaviour at work
To judge whether workplace relationship bans are an effective or appropriate response to alleged or actual sexual misconduct, we must first understand the difference between “inappropriate” sexual relationships and unlawful sexual behaviour.
Unlawful sexual conduct includes sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour that makes someone feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It is not interaction, flirtation or friendship that is mutual or consensual.
In contrast, inappropriate relationships – while not explicitly unlawful – are usually associated with unequal power relationships.
Organisational codes of conduct often set out guidelines around the behaviour of supervisors and managers over their subordinates. A power imbalance between two employees may arise due to age, seniority or other factors, such as the capacity to influence outcomes.
The development of a sexual relationship in particular – even if it is apparently consensual – creates the potential for abuse of position, for damage to the less-empowered and potentially vulnerable individual, and for conflicts of interests to arise.
A common requirement in codes of employee conduct is for the person with the greater power to notify their supervisor of the relationship and immediately cease any decision-making role in respect of the subordinate. Such guidelines raise awareness of the potential for workplace relationships that may lead to later problems for those involved, and raise risks for organisational reputation and functioning.
By providing a clear course of action, such codes of conduct also acknowledge that workplace relationships do occur.
In contrast, outright bans on consensual sexual relationships at work are likely to be seen by many employees as over-reaching into their private lives. They may also perceive that it undermines their autonomy and dignity.
Retail fashion chain American Apparel recently introduced a policy barring managers from engaging in romantic relationships with employees over whom they had a perceived or actual influence. The policy also mandated the disclosure of such relationships – not to the person’s supervisor, but the human resources department.
Romantic relationships were defined broadly, and included both casual dating as well as committed relationships.
In recent years, a considerable blurring of public/private boundaries in organisational life has occurred. Examples include the installation and monitoring of CCTV in workplaces, the enforcement of wearable surveillance devices that measure employees’ productivity in real time, and the “profiling” of job applicants through searches for private online information.
These employer actions have reshaped the boundaries between the relatively public sphere of work and the private lives of employees.
Workplace relationship bans may also be impractical and have unintended consequences. Many people meet their future partners at work or engage in short- or long-term consensual relationships that run their course.
The prospects of an employer effectively standing between two adults who are attracted to each other, or who fall in love, and preventing a relationship developing between them, seems slim.
Worse, bans may drive relationships underground. Employees who fear punitive consequences from ignoring a codified directive will likely conduct the relationship in secret. This may obfuscate loyalties and threaten the development of trust among co-workers. Engaging in a secretive relationship when those involved would prefer it was open may also prove stressful.
At its most extreme, regulating workplace relationships may damage women’s careers rather than contribute to them through a raising of professional standards.
Some male executives and senior politicians such as US Vice-President Mike Pence have been said to avoid working with women altogether to avoid being accused of inappropriate behaviour. This constrains opportunities for sensitive and strategic workplace discussions, and holds women back from key advancement opportunities.
Balancing competing interests
Joyce’s case raises several important issues insofar as preventing fall-out when colleagues engage in romantic and/or sexual relationships.
Banning relationships is likely to be ineffective and may result in disengagement, secrecy and resentment by employees of the encroachment of employment policies into genuinely private matters.
Outright bans also imply a connection between sexual misconduct and romantic relationships that is dubious at best. For example, although some sexual harassment cases arise following the breakdown of a former consensual relationship, most do not.
Preventing and redressing sexual harassment and achieving gender equality requires far more nuanced and multi-faceted approaches.
However, relationships of unequal power clearly need to be carefully managed to avoid the harmful consequences that may result for those involved. This can be achieved through carefully crafted and implemented policies and practices that raise awareness among employees of expectations about professional behaviour and where the greatest risks lie.
However, power comes in many forms. And it can only be judged on the basis of the particular circumstances and people involved.
Policies must also be sensitive to balancing the competing interests of employees and employers. This includes employees’ interests in privacy and autonomy, and employer interests in promoting workplace harmony and avoiding reputational damage.
Responses need to also acknowledge the reality that relationships between consenting adults are an inevitable and almost certainly enduring feature of many contemporary workplaces. Attempting to ban them is unlikely to be a panacea.