Resurrected Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has vowed he is a “better person” after he resigned in a storm of controversy three years ago in the wake of a romantic affair with a staffer and allegations of sexual harassment that he firmly denies.
The father of six again rejected the sexual harassment allegations on Monday as “spurious and defamatory” but he told reporters that he had also had time to reflect on his own behaviour after spending three years on the backbench.
It was Mr Joyce’s romance with his former press secretary Vicki Campion, who is now the mother of his two sons, that prompted former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to implement a “bonk ban” for ministers to preclude them having sex with their own staff.
Under the rules there is no prohibition on having sex with staff who work in other offices for cabinet colleagues.
Mr Joyce told reporters on Monday that he had resigned from the leadership in 2018 in the best interests of the National Party.
“Well, I acknowledge my faults. And I resigned as I should and I did,” Mr Joyce said.
“I’ve spent three years on the backbench and you know, I hope I come back a better person. I don’t walk away from the fact that you have to have time to consider, not only the effect on yourself, but more importantly, the effect on others. I’ve done that.
“I don’t want to dwell on the personal, except to say – hopefully one learns from their mistakes and makes a better person of themselves.”
Asked about the specific allegation of sexual harassment that was investigated by the Nationals, Mr Joyce said he “completely denied it” but felt he needed to resign at the time to end the speculation.
“Let’s start with the most difficult one first. I believe that you had to clear the air, that even though I absolutely clearly say that if there was ever an issue of that sort, it should be taken to the police, I completely deny it,” he said.
“(I) said that they were spurious and defamatory. Nonetheless, for the sake of my party, I did not want to be litigating that one at the dispatch box. With other issues, I can and I won’t start telling other people how they should start thinking of other people. I will always try to be the better person. I acknowledge my faults. I resigned, I’ve spent three years on the backbench. I don’t walk away from making sure that I can be a better person to do a better job. And I’m reminded by that by the people that I love dearly – my four daughters and my two sons and Vicki.”
Mr Joyce attended the press conference with his deputy, David Littleproud, and Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie.
“I’d like to say to my colleagues how humbled I am that the task going ahead first and foremost is to make ourselves a team that is formidable for the next election,’’ he said.
Asked if he supported the Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “preference” for a net zero by 2050 climate change target, Mr Joyce said his discussions with the PM were ongoing.
“I’ve already had a meeting with the Prime Minister, as one should. And we will have further discussions, I imagine, as we go forward,’’ Mr Joyce said.
“That is part and parcel of when you have a new leader, you have a new agreement. And I’ll be making sure that I talk to my colleagues in The Nationals about the issues that they see as pertinent, and I will be making sure that that respect is given to the party room. And then I can, at a later stage, tell you how we’re going.
“I will be guided by my party room. It is not Barnaby policy – it’s Nationals policy. And Nationals policy is what I will be an advocate for and if the National Party room believes that the best deal for regional Australia is to make sure that we secure their jobs.”
Mr Joyce was re-elected Nationals leader after a leadership spill in Canberra today.
The outcome means that Mr Joyce will be returned to the job as deputy prime minister and acting PM when Mr Morrison is overseas.
Mr Morrison remains confined to the Lodge and will participate in Question Time remotely via video link after a day of drama within the Coalition.
The spill motion was moved by Matt Canavan, who left the party room meeting just before 11.25am. He declined to discuss the outcome of the meeting.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the leadership crisis was a vote of no confidence in the government.
“This government had just two jobs this year. They had to roll out the vaccine, and they had to fix national quarantine. Now instead of rolling out the vaccine to the Australian people, they just concentrated on rolling each other,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, before the spill, Mr Morrison praised Mr McCormack for providing “stable leadership”.
Speaking after his spill today, Mr McCormack lashed the white-anting against his leadership but insisted he did not hold grudges.
“I am a very loyal person. I have never ever held grudges,’’ Mr McCormack said.
He conceded he had not made a final decision on whether he will contest the next election.
To those that did background reporters against him, he urged MPs to stop the destabilisation.
“Put your name to – for the sake of good government – and not just good government, for the people of Australia, if you are go say something, have the guts and gumption to put your name to it. Don’t background against your colleagues. It is not good for the Parliament. It is not good for democracy,’’ he said.
Mr McCormack declined to be drawn on the concerns of two female Nationals MPs that Mr Joyce may be a turn off for some female voters.
“You would have to ask women in regional Australia that,’’ he said.
“I am a man from regional Australia. You would have to ask a woman in regional Australia. Again, Barnaby has been elected democratically according to party traditions and all of the rest. He’s got more numbers than me this morning. Good luck to him. I respect that.”