Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon has demanded traditional sparring partner Barnaby Joyce immediately step down from politics, calling the embattled Deputy Prime Minister’s decision to take leave next week “the ultimate vote of no confidence” from his own party.
Mr Fitzgibbon made the call on Thursday after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Mr Joyce would take personal leave next week as he deals with the fallout of his affair with former staffer Vicki Campion.
Mr Joyce was due to be acting prime minister while Mr Turnbull travels to the United States.
Mr Fitzgibbon lashed the decision to grant Mr Joyce leave, saying it was a deliberate ploy to relieve pressure on the Deputy Prime Minister and the Government.
“His own party have forced him to take leave to avoid him being acting Prime Minister,” Mr Fitzgibbon said, minutes after Thursday’s spirited question time session.
“The question becomes how long will he be banned from being acting Prime Minister for?”
Mr Fitzgibbon claimed that question marks over the timing of Mr Joyce’s relationship with Ms Campion, as well as issues stemming from the rent-free use of a Tamworth apartment, warranted his resignation or, at least, a stronger explanation from the Prime Minister.
“Malcolm Turnbull has to give a better explanation than he has to justify not sacking him, but my advice to Barnaby Joyce is to just go,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
The Shadow Minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry said the Government’s defence of Mr Joyce by debating the definition of when Ms Campion became his partner was a “frivolous technicality”.
“In many ways it’s in the Labor Party’s interest for him to stay because every day he brings the party down,” he added. “(But) it’s very clear that he is shockingly distracted from his ministerial responsibilities and it’s very clear to me he’s breaching ministerial standards.”
Mr Joyce’s National Party colleague and Lyne MP Dr David Gillespie has been contacted for comment.