Australia’s scandal-hit deputy prime minister will take leave next week, it was announced Thursday, avoiding him assuming the role of acting leader while Malcolm Turnbull is in the United States.
Barnaby Joyce has been under immense pressure over an affair with a younger former staffer, who is now pregnant with their child, and allegations that he breached ministerial rules.
The crisis has dominated the front pages and parliament question time for a week, with calls mounting for him to resign.
Turnbull has so far stood by Joyce, whose National Party is in a coalition with the prime minister’s Liberals, but with the heat showing no signs of abating he said the 50-year-old would not be filling in for him while he was away.
Turnbull leaves for Washington next Wednesday for meetings with President Donald Trump and is scheduled to be overseas for four days.
“The deputy prime minister will be taking leave from Monday, February 19 to February 25. And accordingly will not be able to be acting prime minister while I’m overseas,” he told parliament.
Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten questioned whether this meant Turnbull had lost confidence in Joyce or “are we simply meant to believe it is all a big coincidence”.
Turnbull—who reportedly feared Joyce being in the leaders’ role would add to the spiralling crisis—simply reiterated that he was taking a vacation.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, as deputy Liberal leader, would normally step in if Joyce was unavailable. But she will also be travelling, which means Senate leader Mathias Cormann will take the position.
Joyce has admitted to an affair with 33-year-old Vikki Campion, who used to work in his office, leaving his shattered wife of 24 years and their four daughters.—APP