Sex scandal exposes faultline in Australia

Sex scandal exposes faultline in Australia

SYDNEY – Reuters
Sex scandal exposes faultline in Australia

A major rift opened up in Australia’s fragile ruling coalition on Feb. 16 as Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce refused to quit over an affair with a staff member and derided Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s condemnation of his behaviour as “inept.”

Turnbull, who introduced a ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff on Feb. 15, said Joyce had shown “shocking error of judgment” by conducting an affair with his former press secretary, who is now pregnant.

Turnbull, whose coalition holds a razor-thin majority of just one seat, also called on Joyce to consider his position.

The comments were seen as a thinly veiled call for the National Party leader to resign from the cabinet, but Joyce, a married father of four who had campaigned on “family values”, said on Feb. 16 that he had the support of his colleagues. Joyce leads the rural-based National Party, the junior partner in the centre-right government led by Turnbull’s Liberal Party, a political alliance that has existed since 1923.

“Comments by the prime minister yesterday at his press conference, I have to say that in many instances, they caused further harm,” Joyce told reporters in Canberra, wearing his trademark bushman’s hat.

“I believe they were in many instances inept and most definitely in many instances unnecessary... All that is going to do is basically pull the scab off for everybody to have a look at.”

Turnbull refused to comment on Joyce’s criticism but the public spat fuels pressure on him to sack his deputy, which would put the government’s one-seat majority at risk should he choose to leave parliament.