Joyce apologises to wife, girlfriend, daughters
DEPUTY Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has denied allegations he "pinched a woman's bottom" after a 2011 awards ceremony following claims he acted inappropriately.
The embattled Nationals leader this morning responded to The Daily Telegraph's reports an unidentified woman said she saw Mr Joyce after the Rural Women's Agricultural Awards in Canberra when he was in Opposition.
The woman claimed she went to speak to him about his conduct, saying: "I went over to the bar and he was very, very drunk and nearly falling over.
"I said, 'Barnaby, I think you should go home. You're very drunk.' He leant over and he pinched my bottom."
Addressing media outside Parliament, a furious Mr Joyce said the incident "did not happen".
"This is a story that has been brought about by a person unnamed, at a venue unnamed, at a time unnamed, seven years ago, and has been pedalled by the bitterest of political enemies to me," he said. "It is not something that I'm aware of ... it's just in the past."
In what was Mr Joyce's most comprehensive public statement since his affair with now-pregnant former staffer Vikki Campion was made public last week, Mr Joyce apologised to his new partner, as well as his wife and daughters.
"I would like to say to Natalie (his wife) how deeply sorry I am for all the hurt this has caused. To my girls, how deeply sorry I am for all the hurt it has caused them," he said.
"To Vikki Campion, how deeply sorry I am that she has been dragged into this. I would like to also say to my supporters, and the people in my electorate how deeply sorry I am that this personal issue has gone into the public arena."
Mr Joyce had already denied the "bum pinching" allegations with a spokesman saying he did not go a pub or nightclub after the event.
However the claim was backed by John Clements, a former staff member for Joyce's political rival Tony Windsor, who warned Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's senior adviser, Sally Cray, about the alleged incident in December 2015 in an "off record" text message exchange.
While Ms Cray noted the allegations sounded "inappropriate", there was no official complaint or evidence Mr Joyce had done anything wrong so the matter was dropped.
Mr Clements confirmed to The Daily Telegraph he approached Mr Joyce after the woman appeared "rattled".
"I've never seen her rattled and she said she had been pinched on the bum and she pointed at the man. It was Barnaby Joyce. I approached Joyce and asked him what he thought he was doing," he said.
The news follows a nightmare week for the Deputy Prime Minister which saw his relationship with former staffer Vikki Campion revealed, including their expected baby in April.
It has led to questions over how Ms Campion left Mr Joyce's office to work with Nationals Senator Matthew Canavan and then with the party's whip Damian Drum.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said no favours or rules were breached when Ms Campion changed jobs. Senior Nationals senator Nigel Scullion said the party tried to keep skilled staff employed when something happened to an MP.
"We make sure we look after our staff," Senator Scullion told Sky News. "My understanding is that Barnaby or Vikki Campion have absolutely nothing to answer for, although they appear to be paying the penalty pretty heavily no matter whether they've done anything or not."
Ms Campion left Mr Canavan's office when he was caught up the citizenship saga to become a senior adviser for Mr Drum, reportedly on a $190,000-a-year salary.
Mr Turnbull said the Nationals were given a specific number of personal staff positions as a share of the government's overall staffing pool.
"The distribution of those staff members between Nationals offices is a matter for the National Party," Mr Turnbull told parliament. "At no time did the Nationals fill all vacant staffing positions."
On Tuesday morning, Mr Joyce backed in the Prime Minister's office defence yesterday that no rules had been breached because Ms Campion was not officially Mr Joyce's "partner" when she worked for him or other Nationals MPs.
"It is without a shadow of a doubt that Vikki Campion is my partner now," he said.
"But when she worked in my office, she was not my partner. When she worked in Matt Canavan's office, she was not my partner, and Damian Drum was not a minister.
"I think it is vitally important in how we differentiate between the public and the private."
Ms Campion is now pregnant with Mr Joyce's child - his fifth - after he split last year from his wife Natalie, the mother of his four children. Mr Turnbull said Mr Joyce made it clear Ms Campion's employment was not discussed with him or the prime minister's office.
A spokesman for the PM told AAP Mr Joyce had not breached ministerial standards in regard to the employment of family and partners because Ms Campion was not the deputy prime minister's "partner" at the time of her appointments.
The ABC reports that Mr Joyce has not yet taken formal steps to declare his former media adviser is now his partner despite the pair living together with a baby due in April.
He has reportedly updated the formal register of interests to declare his split form his wife but not his new relationship.
Mr Turnbull confirmed Mr Joyce would be acting prime minister while he was in Washington next week for talks with US President Donald Trump. When asked if he had confidence in Mr Joyce, Mr Turnbull answered: "Yes."
Asked if Mr Joyce was an appropriate acting prime minister choice, Treasurer Scott Morrison said: "Of course he is."
He told ABC: "While events regarding Barnaby's private life, I'm sure are disappointing ... most importantly to his family and others, that doesn't change the fact that Barnaby, over a long period of time in his public life, has dedicated himself to public service and the people he represents."
- With wires