SYDNEY – Australia’s deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, who had recently admitted to a relationship with a former employee, criticized on Friday Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s comments on the sex scandal.
Turnbull had announced a ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff and called the affair “a shocking error of judgment” on part of Joyce.
Joyce, leader of the National Party, told reporters that Turnbull’s comments were inept, unnecessary and, “in many instances, they caused further harm.”
Joyce, 50, has faced severe criticism since he admitted last month that he was expecting a child with his former media adviser, 33-year-old Vikki Campion.
Joyce had recently separated from his wife of 24 years, Natalie Abberfield, the mother of his 4 daughters.
The deputy PM was also criticized for promoting Campion to various posts in the party while living with her in a mansion offered for free by a millionaire friend, acts which might have flouted ministerial code of conducts.
Joyce accused Turnbull of interfering in the internal affairs of his party, a conservative formation with deep penetration in rural areas of the country.
“There is nothing that we dislike more than implied intervention into the party processes of the National party,” said Joyce.
Turnbull defended his statement, saying his comments were not directed at the National Party but at the personal conduct of the deputy PM.
The prime minister also announced on Thursday that Finance Minister Mathias Cormann will be the acting PM during his visit to the United States and urged Joyce to take a few days off to reflect on the situation.
The Australian Senate passed on Thursday a symbolic motion, supported by the opposition Labor Party and Green Party, calling on the deputy PM to resign.