Australia’s beleaguered deputy prime minister has resigned from the Cabinet over allegations that he sexually harassed a woman, but has said he will not resign from parliament.
By yesterday staying in parliament, Barnaby Joyce made sure Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s single-seat majority in the House of Representatives was maintained.
The allegation of sexual harassment adds to scrutiny Mr Joyce has faced since details broke earlier this month that he and his former media secretary Vikki Campion are expecting a baby in April.
Questions have been raised about her employment in two government jobs after working in Mr Joyce’s office last year and the rent-free apartment owned by a wealthy political donor where the deputy prime minister and Ms Campion now live.
Mr Joyce said his Nationals party – the junior partner in the ruling coalition – will pick a new leader on Monday.
“It’s 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 Nat,” he said, referring to his estranged wife of 24 years and mother of his four daughters, Natalie Joyce.
Whoever Nationals lawmakers choose as their new leader on Monday will replace him as deputy prime minister.
Mr Joyce, a political maverick who has led his party since elections in mid-2016, said he would not accept any ministerial portfolio. As well as deputy prime minister, he was minister for infrastructure and transport.
He said media reports that an unidentified woman had made a sexual harassment complaint against him was the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”. He denied the allegations and said he requested they be referred to police for investigation.
Mr Joyce has also denied a media report that he pinched a woman’s buttock while drunk in a Canberra pub several years ago.
Nationals president Larry Anthony – the party’s senior bureaucrat – said in a statement: “The party will greet this news with a heavy heart, but we understand and respect his decision to stand down as leader.”
Mr Turnbull said in a statement that the coalition government “partnership is undiminished” by the Nationals’ leadership change.
Mr Joyce and Mr Turnbull have openly attacked each other since revelations of the deputy prime minister’s office affair broke.
Mr Turnbull accused his deputy of making a “shocking error of judgment” by having an office affair.