PM’s revealing handwritten notes
IF PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull was hoping his brutal personal take-down of Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce would be the final nail in his deputy's political coffin, the plan has backfired already.
Far from limping into the sunset, Mr Joyce is said to be furious with the very public dressing down and is now even more determined to remain in position. In a hastily convened doorstop on Friday morning, he called Mr Turnbull "inept".
Earlier, a Nationals MP said the humiliating missive was "too much", particularly following Mr Joyce's staunch support of the Prime Minister throughout a difficult 2017.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr Turnbull publicly undermined Mr Joyce's standing by announcing he would not be Acting Prime Minister in his absence next week. As he spoke to reporters, Mr Turnbull's furious hand scrawled notes could clearly be seen suggesting his barbs at Barnaby had only be finalised minutes before he faced the press.
As well as announcing the ban on ministers having sex with their staff, Mr Turnbull was also savage in his assessment of Mr Joyce's private affairs and the hurt to his estranged wife Natalie and their four daughters.
"Barnaby made a shocking error of judgment in having an affair with a young woman working in his office," Mr Turnbull said.
"In doing so, he has set off a world of woe for those women and appalled all of us."
TV cameras revealed the Prime Minister was reading from handwritten notes, suggesting the harsh words for his deputy were heartfelt.
It was a deliberate bid to distance himself and the Government from the outrage in the broad electorate over Mr Joyce's handling of his breakup with his wife of 24 years and his new
relationship with a former adviser, Vikki Campion, who is pregnant with their child.
Mr Turnbull said Mr Joyce should "consider his position" during his leave of absence next week.
They have interpreted Mr Turnbull's comments as a push by the Liberals to pressure their Coalition partners to oust Mr Joyce.
Senator John Williams said Mr Joyce's future was a matter for the Nationals, not the Liberals.
"It was too much ... to give the Deputy Prime Minister a personal bucketing in front of the media, doesn't help heal the wounds," he said.
Mallee MP Andrew Broad made light of the sex ban, reported Fairfax.
"My wife ironed my shirts this week ... does that make her staff?" he asked. "If the new guidelines means that ministers can't have sex with their wives, it will lower aspirations."
He scoffed at the idea the Parliament was full of "people doing naughty things".
Mr Turnbull's chiding of Mr Joyce is in stark contrast to what had been an unlikely romance between the city slicker and boy from the bush. The partnership reached its peak at the 2 December New England by-election where the pair stood side-by-side in Tamworth, Mr Joyce in his trademark hat and Mr Turnbull clutching a beer.
A beaming Mr Turnbull congratulated Mr Joyce on his thumping victory, following revelations he was a New Zealand citizen, and called him, "the hero of the hour, the very shortly to be once again, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia - my friend, my partner, Barnaby Joyce".
Ms Campion was already pregnant with Mr Joyce's baby at the time.
Mr Joyce's success in New England helped secure Mr Turnbull's position when there had been multiple calls from him to step down following dismal opinion polls and the dual citizenship scandal.
In early November the prime ministerial adulation also appeared. "It's a big nation, you need a big heart to lead it. Barnaby and I together, have been the closest, best team you've seen between a Liberal and National Leader for many, many years. We work closely together," he said.
Those smiles are now gone with Mr Turnbull's support of Mr Joyce weak at best.
Labor on Friday emphasised the split at the top of the Coalition by recalling the high praise Mr Turnbull had for Mr Joyce over the past few months.
Asked by reporters on Thursday if his deputy should resign, the PM said "these are matters for Barnaby Joyce to reflect on".
However, a cabinet minister told the ABC that Mr Joyce's sexual proclivities had caused harm to the Coalition and his future as leader of the junior partner was now "untenable".
On Thursday, Mr Turnbull said the Ministerial Code of Conduct would be beefed up in response to the Joyce saga.
"Ministers, regardless of whether they are married or single, must not engage in sexual relations with staff," he said.
The Prime Minister said while Parliament and the press gallery did "for a very long time" regard Mr Joyce's affair as a "personal and private matter", from now on things were going to be different.
"I am not here to moralise," Mr Turnbull said. "But, we must recognise that whatever may have been acceptable or to which a blind eye was turned in the past, today, in 2018, it is not acceptable for a minister to have a sexual relationship is with somebody who works for them.
"It is a very bad workplace practice."
The outburst is being seen as a sign Mr Turnbull was struggling to control the issue which he had been aware of for months.
Government front bencher Christopher Pyne on Friday appeared to confirm the issue was not troubling the Prime Minister as much before Mr Joyce's situation went public.
"It was a private matter last year that has spilt out into the public, humiliating Natalie Joyce and their daughters, humiliating Barnaby and Ms Campion," he said.