Malcolm Turnbull ordered the head of his department to investigate Barnaby Joyce over possible breaches of the ministerial code of conduct, nine days into the growing scandal over his affair with a staffer, despite publicly resisting a probe.
After saying an external probe into the growing controversy around Mr Joyce’s affair with former staffer Vikki Campion was unnecessary, Mr Turnbull asked Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Martin Parkinson to investigate any possible breaches on February 21.
It was revealed in Senate estimates hearings on Monday that Dr Parkinson had told Mr Turnbull he was dropping the previously undisclosed investigation, saying there was little to be gained from continuing in the wake of the former Nationals leader’s resignation announced on Friday.
Facing lengthy questions about when Mr Turnbull and senior ministers first knew about the affair and Ms Campion’s subsequent redeployment to two other Nationals MPs offices, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the hearings Mr Turnbull had ordered the investigation with Mr Joyce’s cooperation.
Days earlier, Mr Joyce used a press conference to slam Mr Turnbull’s intervention into the scandal as “inept” and “causing further harm”.
Mr Joyce announced his intention to resign on February 23, three weeks into the controversy.
On Monday he moved to the backbench, replaced by NSW National Michael McCormack as deputy prime minister.
Dr Parkinson wrote to Mr Turnbull on Monday morning to say there was “little to be gained” from continuing the investigation, but a separate investigation into Mr Joyce’s travel claims and other spending related to Ms Campion was continuing by the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority.
‘It was appropriate’
Mr Turnbull told question time in the lower house it was appropriate for an investigation by Dr Parkinson to be ordered.
“There were constant claims that the member for New England had been in breach of the statement of ministerial standards but no particulars were being given,” Mr Turnbull said.
“It was appropriate and I discussed it with the member for New England, then deputy prime minister at the time, that this work would be undertaken and it was undertaken by the secretary.”
Senator Cormann said Mr Turnbull had changed his mind about the need for investigation because of days of fresh allegations in media reports.
Department deputy secretary Stephanie Foster told the committee Mr Turnbull had decided it was necessary for Dr Parkinson to offer advice on any breach of the standards.
Senator Cormann struggled to explain if Mr Turnbull had the power to seek Mr Joyce’s resignation as a minister and deputy prime minister before he instituted a ban on ministers having sex with their staff on February 15, stressing the Coalition agreement made the leader of the Nationals the deputy prime minister in a Coalition government.
Labor’s Penny Wong pressed Senator Cormann for details, saying the public was entitled to know what Mr Turnbull knew about the affair and when.
“I don’t really care to traverse at all what rumours there were about people’s personal lives. I think what is reasonable is the extent to which staff who are funded by taxpayers engaged in managing those rumours in the New England by-election and subsequently,” she said.