Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce meet to resolve row

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 February, 2018, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 February, 2018, 10:59pm

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his disgraced deputy Barnaby Joyce met face-to-face in Sydney on Saturday to try to resolve the damaging public crisis engulfing the coalition government.

The pair are understood to have met at about midday for more than an hour.

Joyce has been under pressure to quit after it was revealed he has been having an affair with one of his staff, who is now pregnant. It’s just the latest controversy Joyce has managed to find himself in, after he was caught up in a dual nationality scandal that could have cost him his senate seat and the high-profile tit-for-tat row with Johnny Depp over the actors dog.

His meeting with Turnbull came as the internal rift in the coalition took a turn for the worse.

Liberal senator Ian Macdonald appeared on ABC and called on Joyce to resign to the backbench.

Macdonald said that by staying on as deputy prime minister, Joyce was giving opposition leader Bill Shorten a “free ride into the lodge”.

“He and I both know that having Shorten as prime minister would be disastrous for Australia,” Macdonald said. “But he would also know that the way he is handling this issue is just going to see our polls plummet.”

Former prime minister Tony Abbott also spoke out for the first time on Saturday, taking a veiled swipe at Turnbull’s handling of the scandal.

Abbott said it was always his “general rule” that one party never gave another party advice in public.

“I’m just not going to get into any details about personalities or specifics, but certainly as a general rule, certainly the general rule that I always observed, was that one party doesn’t give another party public advice,” he said.

The tensions between the two leaders escalated dramatically this week, after Turnbull said Joyce had displayed a “shocking error of judgment” in his affair with his staff member Vikki Campion.

Joyce immediately hit back, describing the prime minister’s comments as “inept” and “unnecessary”. Other National Party members expressed outrage at a perceived intervention by the Liberals into their internal affairs and declared it was “open season” on Turnbull.

Abbott declined to be drawn into whether Joyce should step down when asked whether he agreed with Macdonald’s comments.

“I’m not going to give Barnaby public advice, it’s not my job to give any of my colleagues public advice,” he said. “I think that if a member of parliament has something to say to another member of parliament, he or she should knock on the door or pick up the phone.”

Abbott also did not express support for Turnbull’s ban on ministers having sex with their staff. He said the existing code of conduct was a “perfectly good one”.

“I think all politicians, I think all people should act with propriety,” Abbott said. “There was a perfectly good code of conduct in place. I thought the code of conduct was a good code of conduct, and as I said the basic rule is to act honestly, to act sensibly, to be of good and strong character.”

Meanwhile, Labor is continuing to focus its attack on accusations that Joyce breached the ministerial code of conduct. The party is putting pressure on the government over Joyce’s acceptance of a rent-free flat from his friend, millionaire Greg Maguire, after being forced out of his family home.

Labor MP Pat Conroy said there had been a “clear breach of the ministerial code of conduct around seeking gifts”, because Joyce had asked Maguire for the flat.

Joyce has denied this in parliament, saying Maguire approached him.

“We’ve also got Barnaby admitting in question time, and Scott Morrison, that Barnaby authorises the movement of a staff member who he was sleeping with,” Conroy told ABC. “How can you have the leader of the Nationals party authorising the creation of positions in other offices for someone he was in a relationship with?”