Australia's deputy prime minister resigns following new case of sexual harassment

AUSTRALIA'S deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has decided to step down after being involved in a sex scandal that involved him having an affair with a now-pregnant former aide and now facing fresh sexual harassment claims.


Mr Joyce, 50, whose National Party rules alongside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals, has been front-page news in Australia for two weeks since it emerged he had left his wife of 24 years for his younger former media adviser, who is now expecting their baby boy. He had insisted he would ride out the storm but his position became untenable today when a sexual harassment complaint against him, which he denies, was lodged with the party by an unnamed woman.


Mr Joyce said at a press conference in Armidale, his rural New South Wales seat, that he would step down as National Party leader and deputy prime minister at a party meeting on Monday. Among other things, he has been criticised for living in an apartment rent-free with now partner Vikki Campion after splitting with his wife and was due to become acting prime minister this week with Mr Turnbull meeting US President Donald Trump in Washington.


“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 my wife. This has got to stop as it’s not fair on them and it’s just completely and utterly unwarranted, the sort of observation that’s happened,” Mr Joyce added.


With foreign minister Julie Bishop also out of the country, the role of acting president has been assumed by Senate leader Mathias Cormann. Ahead of Mr Joyce’s decision, Mr Cormann  had said that any harassment claim must be taken seriously.


He added: “Any allegation of sexual harassment is a very serious allegation. I understand that a formal complaint has been made and that that complaint is being investigated.”


However, Mr Joyce called the claim spurious and defamatory and said he wanted it investigated by the authorities, asking that the case be referred to the police. Mr Joyce added that it had been the straw that broke the camel’s back, pointing out that he could not go to the despatch box with issues like that surrounding him.