SYDNEY, (Reuters) – A major rift opened up in Australia’s coalition government on Friday as Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce refused to resign over an affair with a staff member, and blasted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s condemnation of his behaviour as “inept”.
Turnbull on Thursday said Joyce, a married father of four, had shown a “shocking error of judgment” for conducting the affair with his former press secretary, who is now pregnant, and called on his deputy to consider his position.
The comments were seen as a thinly veiled call for the National Party leader to resign from cabinet, but Joyce said on Friday he had the support of his colleagues to continue.
“Comments by the prime minister yesterday at his press conference, I have to say that in many instances, they caused further harm,” Joyce said at a press conference 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.”
Joyce leads the rural-based National Party, the junior partner in the centre-right government led by Turnbull’s Liberal Party.
The Senate on Thursday passed a motion for Joyce to resign over the affair, saying he had breached standards of behaviour expected of a minister.