Does Barnaby pass Centrelink test?

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce remains in the hot seat over his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, as both he and the Government face accusations of breaching the ministerial code of conduct. In question are the positions created for Ms Campion after the pair’s relationship become known within the Coalition.

Ms Campion left her position as media adviser shortly after the affair was exposed, and was moved to a newly created role serving fellow National Matt Canavan. When Mr Canavan stepped down over dual citizenship concerns, she was moved to the office of Nationals’ chief whip Damian Drum.

Labor has called for transparency over Ms Campion’s employment, saying the Government breached ministerial standards for not abiding by the code of conduct and not going through due process when creating the new roles.

Section 2.23 of the Statement of Ministerial Standards says that “Ministers’ close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices, and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the Executive Government without the Prime Minister’s express approval”. On this point, the Opposition believes the breaches seem clear cut.

However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claims that, because Mr Joyce was married, no standards were breached because Ms Campion was not Mr Joyce’s official partner at the time. The PM also claims that he had no knowledge of the affair, and that any staffing issues were the responsibility of the Nationals.

While the PM may have skirted direct breaches of the code with his rationale, as reported by Osman Faruqi in Junkee, Centrelink would have no problem designating Mr Joyce’s lover as his ‘partner’.

Regardless of whether a couple is married or in a registered relationship, Centrelink assesses a couple’s relationship by their living situation, taking into account financial aspects of the relationship, the nature of the household, social aspects, whether it is a sexual relationship, and the nature of the commitment.

Clearly, Mr Joyce qualifies for one of these criteria, warranting Labor’s assertions and begging the question: should Mr Joyce be held to the same scrutiny as taxpayer-funded Centrelink recipients?

“As we learnt from the #FakeDebt saga, Centrelink doesn’t tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. They act first and ask questions later,” writes Mr Faruqi.

“So, to see politicians come up with ways to protect each other, even though everyone involved clearly knew Joyce and Campion were having an affair, is pretty jarring.”

Opinion: Are our MPs above the law?

The question is: why are our MPs not held to the same standards as those they govern?

The Nationals are reportedly making plans to oust their leader from his seat at the head of the party table. Little wonder with what is coming out in the wash. Mr Joyce is on leave this week, in an attempt to ponder his position – as will, it seems, his party.

With allegations of abuse of taxpayer money to the tune of almost $30,000 and severe scrutiny of Mr Joyce’s decision-making as deputy head of the country – the Federal Deputy Prime Minister’s reputation is in tatters and in danger of bringing his party down with him.

Mr Joyce’s personal life is his own only to a certain extent. When personal decisions affect professional standards, and when his significant salary is paid with the public purse, he crosses a line where he should be judged the same way as others being funded by taxpayers.

Ministerial standards state that no partner should be appointed to a position within a minister’s office. These are the rules that are meant to govern the governors. If Mr Joyce’s position is upheld, it shows a government clearly operating above the law. According to Centrelink rules – and let’s remember that this is another government department – Mr Joyce was in a relationship and, therefore, in breach of the code.

Whichever way the Nationals judge Barnaby’s personal life, it should follow the same guidelines as those that rule the people and find Mr Joyce – and the Government – in breach of ministerial standards.

What do you think? Should Mr Joyce be excused for his personal actions? Or should he face the same scrutiny as welfare recipients? 

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