Thursday, 15 February 2018
This week, most attention has been focused on Barnaby Joyce and his conduct. There has been a lot of discussion about whether he complied with ministerial standards. Whether he complied with the requirements for disclosing use of government entitlements. Barnaby has given me - as I said in the House - an unequivocal assurance that he has complied with the ministerial standards and with both the use and reporting of ministerial and other entitlements.
But I think we know that the real issue is the terrible hurt and humiliation that Barnaby by his conduct, has visited on his wife, Natalie and their daughters and indeed, his new partner.
Barnaby made a shocking error of judgement in having an affair with a young woman working in his office. In doing so, he has set off a world of woe for those women and appalled all of us.
Our hearts go out to them. It has been a dreadful thing for them to go through in the glare of publicity. Marriage break-ups are dreadful, but to do it, to have to experience it in the full glare of the spotlight, is a dreadful business.
Now, Barnaby knows he made that shocking error of judgement. He knows that he let down his wife and daughters and he has apologised for that and to them. He is taking leave next week and I have encouraged him to take that leave. I think that he needs that leave. He needs that time to reflect. He needs that time to seek forgiveness and understanding from his wife and girls. He needs to make a new home for his partner and their baby, who is coming in April.
But, this raises today, as this has raised this week, some very serious issues about the culture of this place, of this Parliament.
There has been a lot of discussion about the Ministerial Code of Conduct. It’s a document that was drafted a long time ago and it gets amended from time to time.
But the truth is that it is deficient. It is truly deficient. It does not speak strongly enough for the values that we all should live, values of respect, respectful workplaces, of workplaces where women are respected. I recognise that respect in workplaces is not entirely a gender issue, of course. But the truth is, as we know, most of the ministers, most of the bosses in this building if you like, are men and there is a gender, a real gender perspective here.
I am making today, some changes to the ministerial standards. I want to say that these will not be the last ones I will make. I will be working through this rather old document and making sure that it speaks clearly about the values of respect in workplaces, the values of integrity that Australians expect us to have.
Now let me read now the additional words that I am including as of today:
“This statement is not and cannot be a comprehensive statement of rules. Ministers need to exercise their judgement and their common sense in complying with both the principles and spirit of the standards and their letter.
Ministers must recognise that while they are entitled to privacy in personal matters, they occupy positions of great responsibility and public trust. The public have high expectations of them in terms of their personal conduct and decorum.
Ministers should be very conscious that their spouses and children sacrifice a great deal so they can carry on their political career. Their families deserve honour and respect. Ministers should also recognise that they must lead by example. Values should be lived.”
So as you will see, I have today added to these standards a very clear and unequivocal provision:
Ministers, regardless of whether they are married or single, must not engage in sexual relations with their staff. Doing so will constitute a breach of the standards.
While this new standard is very specific, ministers should be acutely aware of the context in which I am making this change and the need for them always to behave in their personal relations with others. Especially their staff, the staff of other ministers or members of the Australian public service, with integrity and respect.
Now, I think we all know that Barnaby's error of judgement, that is the foundation of the woes that have followed, particularly for his family and indeed for his new partner.
That error of judgement is something that for a very long time, people in this building and indeed even in the Press Gallery, have regarded as being a personal or a private matter. I have no interest in prying into people's personal or private affairs, at all.
I am not here to moralise, but we must recognise that whatever may have been acceptable, or to which a blind eye was turned in the past, today in 2018, it is not acceptable for a minister to have a sexual relationship is with somebody who works for them. It is a very bad workplace practice. Everybody knows that no good comes of it. Of course, you know what attitudes in the corporate world and elsewhere are, to this kind of thing. So, it is about time that this change was made. Probably should have been made a long time ago.
While I have inherited this ministerial code from other authors and other Prime Ministers, ultimately, it is my signature on it and mine alone. This is the standard that I will hold, from this day forth all of my ministers to.
Why would you not urge Barnaby Joyce to resign now?
Well Barnaby Joyce is the leader of the National Party, the leader of the party, member of the Coalition. Our Coalition partner. Barnaby has acknowledged his fault, his error, his grief about his conduct. He has to consider his own position obviously. These are matters for Barnaby Joyce to reflect on. He has made a very grave error of judgement, in an area that traditionally I suppose, has been regarded as private and personal and you can understand the reasons for that. Everyone has been anxious - whatever they may have thought about Barnaby's conduct - everyone has been anxious to try to avoid any further hurt or distress to his wife and daughters.
I mean, again, this situation is not uncommon. Marriages do break up. People do have affairs with others, of course. But we have to recognise that here in this place, we have such important responsibilities. We don't, in practical terms, have the privacy that many others do. We have to acknowledge that we must have a higher standard. So henceforth, that is why I am making this change.
It is uncommon to create two new jobs for your girlfriend though, it isn’t just a matter of an affair. Why not ask Martin Parkinson to investigate whether there has been any breach of ministerial standards, which you have previously done with other ministers like Sussan Ley and Jamie Briggs?
On the ministerial standards, there have been a number of claims about a breach of ministerial standards made. Barnaby has given me an unequivocal assurance that he had not breached those standards. You can see from the debate in the house today regarding for example, the apartment in Armidale, if he had asked for a gift, that would have been a breach of the ministerial standards. He says he didn’t. Apparently the man who provided it to him, says he didn't. Again, those who believe he has breached ministerial standards or want to believe that, should actually make the case for where the breach has occurred. That, bluntly, is the point.
Greg MaGuire told both me and another journalist Rick Morton at the Australian, that Barnaby Joyce rang him looking for accommodation, so why not just refer it to Martin Parkinson to clear up for certain whether there has been a breach of these standards?
Sharri, I don’t want to spend the afternoon talking about this particular matter, the breach of the standard would be if he had gone and asked for a free apartment, right? From what Barnaby has said, he did not do that. He has said that and pointed to examples of Mr MaGuire confirming that. I should also note that he said - Barnaby said and I have no reason to doubt him - that at the time he had a conversation with Mr MaGuire, he was not only not a Minister, but not a Member of Parliament.
If Mr Joyce’s actions are so profoundly wrong that they force a rewrite of the ministerial standards, isn’t that the most powerful argument that Barnaby Joyce should not be a Minister?
Well, Barnaby is the leader of the National Party, okay? They are our Coalition partners. They have a Coalition Agreement and you all know - every single one of you know - that the standard I have set out today is a big change. You all know and many of you have written it. You have said that these thing is a private matters, personal matters, right? Fair enough. And you know what? I do not want to get into a debate about whether that approach was appropriate in the past or at any time. I'm not interested in an archaeological exercise.
I know there are all sorts of stories about former ministers and former leaders and colourful tales that find their way into books. I am saying that from today, this change is being made in a way that is very, very clear. It couldn't be clearer.
This is a bright line.
I am saying that in these workplaces here, the Minister's offices, Ministers must behave accordingly and they must not - I don’t care if they are married or single, I don’t care - they must not have sexual relations with their staff. That's it.
Isn’t the fact that you have changed the code such that Barnaby Joyce's actions would now form a breach of the Code, show that you have lost personal confidence in him?
No, it shows that if he did what he did last year, tomorrow or today, he would be in breach of the code. Look, again, let's not kid ourselves. There was a different culture here that had gone on for a long time. I think many women in this building, who work in this building understand very powerfully what I am saying. This is a change I am making from today.
You can argue it should have been made years ago, but you can’t live your life backwards. The change is being made today. That is the standard I am setting as Prime Minister of Australia, today.